Some liberal principles

From a presentation by Karl Popper to the Mont Pelerin Society in 1954. Public Opinion and Liberal Principles.  This registers Popper’s alarm at the spectacle of a US presidential election that he saw in 1950 when he was in the US for the launch of the American edition of The Open Society and Its Enemies.

(1) The state is a necessary evil and its powers should be kept to the minimum that is necessary.
 
(2) A democracy is a state where the government can be changed without bloodshed.
 
(3) Democracy cannot confer benefits on people. “Democracy provides no more than a framework within which the citizens may act in a more or less organised and coherent way”.
 
(4) Democracy does not mean that the majority is right.
 
(5) Institutions need to be tempered and supported by traditions.
 
(6) There is no Liberal Utopia. There are always problems, conflicts of interests, choices to be made between the lesser of evils.
 
(7) Liberalism is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. It is about modifying or changing institutions and traditions rather than wholesale replacement of the existing order. The exception to this is when a tyranny is in place, that is a government that can only be changed by violence and bloodshed.
 
8) The importance of the moral framework.
 
“Among the traditions that we must count as the most important is what we may call the ‘moral framework’ (corresponding to the institutional ‘legal framework’) of a society. This incorporates the society’s traditional sense of justice or fairness, or the degree of moral sensitivity that it has reached… Nothing is more dangerous than the destruction of this traditional framework. (Its destruction was consciously aimed at by Nazism).”
He ended with some random thoughts on the use and abuse of public opinion.
 
“It may sometimes assume the role of an enlightened arbiter of justice. Unfortunately it can be managed. These dangers can be counteracted only by strengthening the liberal tradition. Public opinion should be distinguished from the publicity of free and critical discussion which is (or should be) the rule in science, and which includes the discussion of moral and other issues. Public opinion is influenced by, but is not the result of, nor under the control of, discussions of this kind. Their beneficial influence will be the greater the more honestly, simply, and clearly, these discussions are conducted.”
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30 Responses to Some liberal principles

  1. These principles are only relevant/meaningful to the sane, not the insane of the Left.

  2. duncanm

    Smart man, that Popper

    Nothing is more dangerous than the destruction of this traditional framework

    libtards are the useful idiots of the day.

  3. Suburban Boy

    Presumably the US presidential election in question was that of 1952, as there was none in 1950.

  4. flyingduk

    How about we just go back to ‘dont hurt people and dont take their stuff…’

  5. The BigBlueCat

    By posting this, you will be upsetting the trolls ….

  6. Iampeter

    (1) The state is a necessary evil and its powers should be kept to the minimum that is necessary.

    The state is a necessary GOOD and its powers should be kept to protecting individual rights and nothing else. The alternative is just anarchy.

    (2) A democracy is a state where the government can be changed without bloodshed.

    Democracy is mob rule and always ends in bloodshed. That’s why America was founded as a Republic.

    (3) Democracy cannot confer benefits on people. “Democracy provides no more than a framework within which the citizens may act in a more or less organised and coherent way”.

    This is irrelevant as per above point.

    (4) Democracy does not mean that the majority is right.

    Also irrelevant. America is not a democracy and if this isn’t clear then there’s more learning required on the subject.

    (5) Institutions need to be tempered and supported by traditions.

    Why?

    (6) There is no Liberal Utopia. There are always problems, conflicts of interests, choices to be made between the lesser of evils.

    Only to those who don’t understand the subject and so don’t know what the correct choice is in the first place.

    (7) Liberalism is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. It is about modifying or changing institutions and traditions rather than wholesale replacement of the existing order. The exception to this is when a tyranny is in place, that is a government that can only be changed by violence and bloodshed.

    No, liberalism is about rights-protecting government. Nothing else.

    8) The importance of the moral framework.

    Yep, but given the rest I’m sure he doesn’t know what a “moral framework” even looks like, nor where to begin on the subject.

    None of the above points need explaining to someone who actually knows what he’s talking about – they are entry-level – so Popper might not be the guy you want to turn to on these topics, to put it mildly.

  7. Roger

    (1) The state is a necessary evil and its powers should be kept to the minimum that is necessary.

    The state is a necessary GOOD and its powers should be kept to protecting individual rights and nothing else. The alternative is just anarchy.

    I’ll have a go:

    The state is necessary because people are evil.

    Not that everybody is as evil as they could be, but we are all inherently ‘selfish’. In such a world institutions are necessary – preferably as few as possible – to provide order and justice.

  8. Paul W Parker

    Look at where Governments claim as justified their exemptions to Basic Principles…

  9. herodotus

    Shiteater might not be the guy you want to turn to on these topics, to put it mildly.

  10. pbw

    “Among the traditions that we must count as the most important is what we may call the ‘moral framework’ (corresponding to the institutional ‘legal framework’) of a society.

    The institutional ‘legal framework’ is frequently in conflict with the ‘moral framework.’

    Nothing is more dangerous than the destruction of this traditional framework.

    If he’s talking about the moral framework, then yes. But all too often recently, the legal framework has acted to destroy the moral framework.
    To take a case at the margin, consider the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the US.

    Civil Rights Act, (1964), comprehensive U.S. legislation intended to end discrimination based on race, colour, religion, or national origin. (Brittanica Online)

    This act was widely believed by conservatives to be in violation of the Constitution, but the Supreme Court ruled otherwise. This Act, and the Simon Says response elsewhere, including here, via “international conventions” and home-grown inanities, set the stage for the dismantling of the Western moral framework through legislation. Nine years later that Court foisted Roe vs Wade on an unsuspecting country, with similar Western shock effects. More recently, Obergefell and just the other day, the redefinition of “sex” for the purposes of “sex discrimination.” All good fun, and violently destructive of the moral framework.
    These decisions by a group called by the late, lamented, Justice Scalia “our robed masters” then have a pedagogical function of creating a new “moral framework” corresponding to the wet-behind-the-ears “legal framework,” to the extent that the corresponding ignorance of the Red Guards can be recruited to any kind of insanity with the ferocious “moral” convictions of jihadis.
    This is a rich topic, but I have to leave.

  11. Iampeter

    The state is necessary because people are evil.

    If everyone’s just evil then there’s no such thing as evil in the first place.
    Moral concepts don’t exist outside of volition in the face of alternatives.
    This is just “original sin” and the justification to do anything to anyone. Only horrific authoritarian governments can be built on such a foundation.

    Shiteater might not be the guy you want to turn to on these topics, to put it mildly.

    Not if you’re only interested in merely pretending to be interested in topics you actually have no interest in, no.

  12. Roger

    This is just “original sin” and the justification to do anything to anyone. Only horrific authoritarian governments can be built on such a foundation.

    On the contrary, most Western governments were built on this foundation, which goes back to Augustine, although it was adapted as we moved from the medieval period into the modern.

    It is the lack of belief in original sin which invites notions of perfectionism in human affairs and leads to authoritarian governmnets which regard human beings as dispensible on the road to whatever brand of utopia they envision.

  13. Roger

    If everyone’s just evil then there’s no such thing as evil in the first place.

    That’s a non sequitur. You admit the possibility of people being evil, but then suggest this means there is no such moral categorty as evil at all. That conclusion is plainly at odds with the first statement.

    Moral concepts don’t exist outside of volition in the face of alternatives.

    Moral concepts are extra nos, thus they can be and are recognised by human beings from widely different cultures and traditions. Volition simply means the power of the will to adhere to a moral precept or not to.

  14. Lee

    That’s a non sequitur.

    Roger, you’re referring to a past master of them.
    As well as proof by assertion.

  15. Democratic and Republic aren’t mutually exclusive. They can and do exist together, like in America.
    Democracy as opposed to Meritocracy or Theocracy.
    Republic as opposed to Monarchy or Dictatorship.

    The USA is a Federated Democratic Republic. Democracy is exercised within and BETWEEN states. That’s why the smallest state has the same number of senators as the largest state. In federal affairs, the vote of each state is equally weighted. Democracy.
    Within each state, districts are drawn so that the vote of each citizen is equally weighted.
    Democracy that exists within a federated republic.

    In Australia we do almost exactly the same, except we are a monarchy and not a republic.
    If only men are allowed a vote, or only property owners are allowed to vote, then you have a type of meritocracy.

  16. Roger

    Roger, you’re referring to a past master of them.
    As well as proof by assertion.

    Just wondering if he can be brought to acknowledge his ignorance, Lee.

  17. Iampeter

    On the contrary, most Western governments were built on this foundation, which goes back to Augustine, although it was adapted as we moved from the medieval period into the modern.

    How is it “on the contrary” and what do you mean by “western governments?”
    America certainly wasn’t founded on any notions of original sin and it doesn’t get anymore “western government” than America.

    It is the lack of belief in original sin which invites notions of perfectionism in human affairs and leads to authoritarian governmnets which regard human beings as dispensible on the road to whatever brand of utopia they envision.

    Clearly it’s the other way around so I don’t know what more can be said here.
    It’s hard to create justifications for meddling in the affairs of innocent people, but if everyone is guilty then you have a convenient reason to do whatever you want to anyone. Like I already said.

    That’s a non sequitur. You admit the possibility of people being evil, but then suggest this means there is no such moral categorty as evil at all. That conclusion is plainly at odds with the first statement.

    It’s a contradiction, not a non-sequitur and the point of that turn of phrase was to point out the contradiction in suggesting everyone is evil.

    Moral concepts are extra nos, thus they can be and are recognised by human beings from widely different cultures and traditions.

    Speaking of non-sequiturs.
    But the bigger problem of course is that morality is absolutely NOT extra nos.
    Morality is simply the code required to help volitional beings choose between alternatives. If there are no alternatives and no choices possible, then there is no issue of morality.
    In other words, if everyone is evil, then there’s no such thing as good and evil anyway.

    And we’ve come full circle.

    Roger, you’re referring to a past master of them.
    As well as proof by assertion.

    Never get tired of dishonest posts like this that pretend the threads don’t exist or something.

  18. Kneel

    “The state is a necessary GOOD…”

    If the state is a good rather than an evil, why do you seek to restrict it?

    No, it is an evil, that’s why it needs to be restricted.

    It is necessary because some people are even worse and require the application of force – even violence – to protect the rights of others.

    (7) Liberalism is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. It is about modifying or changing institutions and traditions rather than wholesale replacement of the existing order. The exception to this is when a tyranny is in place, that is a government that can only be changed by violence and bloodshed.

    No, liberalism is about rights-protecting government. Nothing else.

    No, like all human artifacts, it is imperfect. Evolution, carefully applied, can help it asymptotically approach perfection (at least, that is the hope), but revolution throws out the baby with the bath water, and so we need to start again.

    Furthermore, revolutionary change will happen outside the political arena (eg, the printing press, the internet, digital signatures) and therefore adaptations to previously unimagined scenarios are required – evolution is a better alternative because it keeps what has been shown to work.

  19. Lee

    Never get tired of dishonest posts like this that pretend the threads don’t exist or something.

    Coming from you, that is vomit inducing.

  20. Roger

    Just wondering if he can be brought to acknowledge his ignorance, Lee.

    Iampeter
    #3504183, posted on July 5, 2020 at 4:38 pm

    That’s a no then.

  21. Iampeter

    OK, I’ll leave you babbling and dishonest idiots to get back to pretending to discuss politics or whatever it is you’re do here.

  22. Tim Neilson

    In other words, if everyone is evil, then there’s no such thing as good and evil anyway.

    Poor old conceited stupid ignorant Iamashiteater, once again mired in the excrement of his own inability to think except in cartoon-like binary dogmatic absolutisms.

    It’s utterly beyond his comprehension that evil people might sometimes do good deeds, and that distinction between good and evil deeds is therefore possible even if there’s no such thing as a “good” person.

  23. Sean

    It’s always worth remembering the time at which Popper was talking. When societies had tried national socialism and communism and the disasters that followed. Makes sense to say government is a an evil but not one we can do without.

  24. Rafe Champion

    Yes, a good point, to consider the context. Also he wanted to set the scene for a discussion and he wanted to raise some of the critical issues.

    The state is a necessary GOOD and its powers should be kept to protecting individual rights and nothing else. The alternative is just anarchy.

    That is pretty close to Popper’s position, he was never a zero state anarchist and I think that he may have called the state a necessary evil to flag the danger of the state getting out of control, especially under the influence of social democrat parties as they evolved after WW2.

  25. David Brewer

    The “necessary evil” bit is that the State has a monopoly on legal violence. Violence is evil, but State violence is necessary to repress crime and repel enemies, in order to protect the freedom of citizens.

  26. Rafe Champion

    The thing is to keep the state from being captured by vested interests, hence the importance of the minimum state and also the moral framework. As the state is grows and becomes increasingly captured by special interests and the moral framework dissolves – here we are!

  27. pbw

    America certainly wasn’t founded on any notions of original sin and it doesn’t get anymore “western government” than America.

    On the contrary, the USA is the prime example. The constitution is built on the presumption of it, which is why it has been successful, by comparison with other polities.

  28. A very good post.

    However, I suppose I am a *postmodern liberal*.

    I view the above with the following constraints or amending preferences:

    Demarchy and classical republicanism over democracy
    Subsidiarity over centralisation
    Individual sovereignty as the moral basis for political organisation
    Confederalism over Federalism
    Anarchy as a starting point, every single dollar spent by the state requires justification

  29. Tel

    The “necessary evil” bit is that the State has a monopoly on legal violence.

    Completely wrong … every Western legal code accepts the necessity of self defense, although some put practical barriers in the way.

    No even remotely democratic state has ever clammed monopoly on violence. Heck, not even Medieval Feudal kingdoms claimed that.

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