Popper's Return Engagement

Karl Popper, the champion of the open society, still speaks to the struggle between tolerance and repression in an era of globalization and in our post-September 11 world.

Issue: Spring 2002

The notion of a contrast between open and closed societies, which was introduced by Henri Bergson and made popular by Karl Popper, is now familiar even to people who have read neither the former's The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932) nor the latter's The Open Society and its Enemies (1945). We all make the rough and ready ideal distinction between an open society that admits anyone who will comply with several abstract general requirements, and in which, once admitted, we can see most of what is going on and freely express our opinion about it; and a closed society that imposes unquestioning conformity with a tangle of concrete obligations, and in which members cannot know much of what is going on at the top and could not express an opinion if they did know.

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