Saturday, August 19, 2006

Open Society condensed Chapter 13

In order to press on with the core of volume 2 on Marx I will leave the additional work on essentialism that was planned and also bypass the long chapter 12 on Hegel. Recalling the architecture of the book:

Marx’s Method
Chapter 13. Sociological Determinism.
Chapter 14. The Autonomy of Sociology.
Chapter 15. Economic Historicism.
Chapter 16. The Classes.
Chapter 17. The Legal and Social System.

Marx’s Prophecy
Chapter 18. The Coming of Socialism.
Chapter 19. The Social Revolution.
Chapter 20. Capitalism and its Fate.
Chapter 21. An Evaluation.

Marx’s Ethics
Chapter 22. The Moral Theory of Historicism.

The Aftermath
Chapter 23. The Sociology of Knowledge.
Chapter 24. Oracular Philosophy and the Revolt against Reason.

Chapter 25. Has History any Meaning?

In the 1950 preface to OSE Popper wrote:
Marx has too often been attacked on personal and moral grounds, so that here the need is, rather, for a severe rational criticism of his theories combined with a sympathetic understanding of their astonishing moral and intellectual appeal. Rightly or wrongly, I felt that my criticism was devastating, and that I could therefore afford to search for Marx’s real contributions, and to give his motives the benefit of the doubt.
It appears that Popper was wrong in his assessment of Marx’s humanitarian intentions, and more significantly, he may have been wrong in his generous assessment of Marx’s role as a pioneer of social thought. In any case, my treatment of volume 2 will be more critical of Popper’s interpretations than was the case with the Plato volume.

Chapter 13: Marx’s Sociological Determinism has only eight pages, starting with a somewhat melodramatic blast at the enemies of the open society who penetrated the humanitarian under cover of various “trojan horses” such as Plato’s idea of (totalitarian) justice, the Christian authoritarianism of the middle ages, and Rousseau’s theory of the general will. Yet this method of penetrating, dividing and confusing the humanitarian camp and of building up a largely unwitting and therefore doubly effective intellectual fifth column achieved its greatest success only after Hegelianism had established itself as the basis of a truly humanitarian movement: of Marxism, so far the purest, the most developed and the most dangerous form of historicism.
It is tempting to dwell upon the similarities between Marxism, the Hegelian left wing, and its fascist counterpart. Yet it would be utterly unfair to overlook the difference between them. Although their intellectual origin is nearly identical, there can be no doubt of the humanitarian impulse of Marxism. Moreover, in contrast to the Hegelians of the right wing, Marx made an honest attempt to apply rational methods to the most urgent problems of social life. The value of this attempt is unimpaired by the fact that it was, as I shall try to show, largely unsuccessful.

Science progresses through trial and error. Marx tried, and although he erred in his main doctrines, he did not try in vain. He opened and sharpened our eyes in many ways. A return to pre-Marxian social science is inconceivable. All modern writers are indebted to Marx, even if they do not know it. This is especially true of those who disagree with his doctrines, as I do; and I readily admit that my treatment, for example of Plato and Hegel, bears the stamp of his influence.
One cannot do justice to Marx without recognizing his sincerity. His open-mindedness, his sense of facts, his distrust of verbiage, and especially of moralizing verbiage, made him one of the world’s most influential fighters against hypocrisy and pharisaism. He had a burning desire to help the oppressed, and was fully conscious of the need for proving himself in deeds, and not only in words. His main talents being theoretical, he devoted immense labour to forging what he believed to be scientific weapons for the fight to improve the lot of the vast majority of men. His sincerity in his search for truth and his intellectual honesty distinguish him, I believe, from many of his followers.
I think that is not a paragraph that would survive a serious revision of OSE although Popper allowed it to stand even after he read Schwarzchild’s book and stated that the evidence was shattering. Popper went on...
Marx’s interest in social science and social philosophy was fundamentally a practical interest. He saw in knowledge a means of promoting the progress of man. Why, then, attack Marx? In spite of his merits, Marx was, I believe, a false prophet. He was a prophet of the course of history, and his prophecies did not come true; but this is not my main accusation. It is much more important that he misled scores of intelligent people into believing that historical prophecy is the scientific way of approaching social problems. Marx is responsible for the devastating influence of the historicist method of thought within the ranks of those who wish to advance the cause of the open society.
But is it true that Marxism is a pure brand of historicism? Are there not some elements of social technology in Marxism? The fact that Russia is making bold and often successful experiments in social engineering has led many to infer that Marxism, as the science or creed which underlies the Russian experiment, must be a kind of social technology, or at least favourable to it.
What successful experiments in social engineering?

“The vast economic researches of Marx did not even touch the problems of a constructive economic policy, for example, economic planning.”

In other words Marx had no valid theory, so what does that make of his vast economic researches? The vast researches largely consisted of reading secondary sources.
As Lenin admits, there is hardly a word on the economics of socialism to be found in Marx’s work — apart from such useless slogans as ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’. The reason is that the economic research of Marx is completely subservient to his historical prophecy. But we must say even more. Marx strongly emphasized the opposition between his purely historicist method and any attempt to make an economic analysis with a view to rational planning. Such attempts he denounced as Utopian, and as illegitimate. In consequence, Marxists did not even study what the so-called ‘bourgeois economists’ attained in this field. They were by their training even less prepared for constructive work than some of the ‘bourgeois economists’ themselves.
The economics of Marx is a travesty, given that the complete works of Bastiat (1800-1851) were available to shred the many and varied forms of interference with markets that had been invented to that time. And other so-called bourgeois economists such as J S Mill had made signal contributions that were never answered by Marx or his followers.
Marx saw his specific mission in the freeing of socialism from its sentimental, moralist, and visionary background. Socialism was to be developed from its Utopian stage to its scientific stage; it was to be based upon the scientific method of analysing cause and effect, and upon scientific prediction. And since he assumed prediction in the field of society to be the same as historical prophecy, scientific socialism was to be based upon a study of historical causes and historical effects, and finally upon the prophecy of its own advent.

Marxists, when they find their theories attacked, often withdraw to the position that Marxism is primarily not so much a doctrine as a method. They say that even if some particular part of the doctrines of Marx, or of some of his followers, were superseded, his method would still remain unassailable. I believe that it is quite correct to insist that Marxism is, fundamentally, a method. But it is wrong to believe that, as a method, it must be secure from attacks. The position is, simply, that whoever wishes to judge Marxism has to probe it and to criticize it as a method, that is to say, he must measure it by methodological standards. He must ask whether it is a fruitful method or a poor one, i.e. whether or not it is capable of furthering the task of science. The standards by which we must judge the Marxist method are thus of a practical nature. By describing Marxism as purest historicism, I have indicated that I hold the Marxist method to be very poor indeed.
Marx himself would have agreed with such a practical approach to the criticism of his method, for he was one of the first philosophers to develop the views which later were called ‘pragmatism’. He was led to this position, I believe, by his conviction that a scientific background was urgently needed by the practical politician, which of course meant the socialist politician. Science, he taught, should yield practical results. Always look at the fruits, the practical consequences of a theory!

This stress on scientific prediction, in itself an important and progressive methodological discovery, unfortunately led Marx astray. For the plausible argument that science can predict the future only if the future is predetermined — if, as it were, the future is present in the past, telescoped in it — led him to adhere to the false belief that a rigidly scientific method must be based on a rigid determinism. Marx’s ‘inexorable laws’ of nature and of historical development show clearly the influence of the Laplacean atmosphere and that of the French Materialists. But the belief that the terms ‘scientific’ and ‘determinist’ are, if not synonymous, at least inseparably connected, can now be said to be one of the superstitions of a time that has not yet entirely passed away.
Adherence to determinism was the rule among the best scientists of the time so Marx could hardly be expected to anticipate future developments in the philosophy of physics in rejecting determinism.
It must be noted that it is not so much the abstract, theoretical doctrine of determinism which led Marx astray, but rather the practical influence of this doctrine upon his view of scientific method, upon his view of the aims and possibilities of a social science. The abstract idea of ‘causes’ which determine ‘social developments is as such quite harmless as long as it does not lead to historicism. And indeed, there is no reason whatever why this idea should lead us to adopt a historicist attitude towards social institutions, in strange contrast to the obviously technological attitude taken up by everybody, and especially by determinists, towards mechanical or electrical machinery.
The piecemeal tinkering approach to social and political institutions was ruled out of court in progressive circles by Marx’s insistence that this was “Utopian”
Marx’s thought was in many respects a product of his time, when the remembrance of that great historical earthquake, the French Revolution, was still fresh. (It was revived by the revolution of 1848.) Such a revolution could not, he felt, be planned and staged by human reason. But it could have been foreseen by a historicist social science; sufficient insight into the social situation would have revealed its causes. That this historicist attitude was rather typical of the period can be seen from the close similarity between the historicism of Marx and that of J. S. Mill.
Despite the similarities which Popper identified, Marx had no time for the “insipid bourgeois syncretism of bourgeois economists such as J S Mill”.
There are more similarities between Marx and Mill; for example, both were dissatisfied with laissez faire liberalism, and both tried to provide better foundations for carrying into practice the fundamental idea of liberty. But in their views on the method of sociology, there is one very important difference. Mill believed that the study of society, in the last analysis, must be reducible to psychology; that the laws of historical development must be explicable in terms of human nature, of the ‘laws of the mind’, and in particular, of its progressiveness.

The agreement between the views of Marx and of Mill is therefore the more striking. Thus when Marx says in the preface to Capital, ‘It is the ultimate aim of this work to lay bare the law of motion of modern society’, he might be said to carry out Mill’s programme: ‘The fundamental problem of the social science, is to find the law according to which any state of society produces the state which succeeds it and takes its place.’ Mill distinguished fairly clearly the possibility of what he called ‘two kinds of sociological inquiry’, the first closely corresponding to what I call social technology, the second corresponding to historicist prophecy, and he took sides with the latter, characterizing it as the ‘general Science of Society by which the conclusions of the other and more special kind of inquiry must be limited and controlled’. This general science of society is based upon the principle of causality, in accordance with Mill’s view of scientific method; and he describes this causal analysis of society as the ‘Historical Method’.

Mill, we can now say, believed in psychologism. But Marx challenged it. ‘Legal relationships’, he asserted, ‘and the various political structures cannot .. be explained by .. what has been called the general “progressiveness of the human mind”.’ To have questioned psychologism is perhaps the greatest achievement of Marx as a sociologist. By doing so he opened the way to the more penetrating conception of a specific realm of sociological laws, and of a sociology which was at least partly autonomous.

In the following chapters, I shall explain some points of Marx’s method, and I shall try always to emphasize especially such of his views as I believe to be of lasting merit. Thus I shall deal next with Marx’s attack on psychologism, i.e. with his arguments in favour of an autonomous social science, irreducible to psychology.


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