The Viennese Socrates and Marxism: Karl Popper and the reconstruction of progressive politics
This dissertation examines Karl Popper's confrontation with Marxism and his attempt to develop a progressive political and ethical philosophy that drew upon Socratic fallibilism and commitment to ethical autonomy while preserving the sociological insights and activist commitment of Marxism. I show that Popper has been misrepresented as a conservative Cold Warrior and that his best-known contributions to political thought should be understood as having their roots in Marxist Revisionism and the progressive political search for social justice. I argue that Popper's critical treatment of Marxist theory was largely a critique of its positivist and uncritical rationalist entanglements. I suggest that Popper's supposedly non-political work on scientific method, the propensity theory of probability, and the body-mind problem, may be interpreted as part of his endeavor to resolve problems arising both from Marx's attempted transcendence of the idealist-materialist dichotomy and from a theory of praxis freed from Marxist historicism. I defend Popper against the charges of positivism and scientism leveled by the Frankfurt School (Adorno, Marcuse, Habermas, etc). I propose that the conception of totalitarianism employed in Popper's treatment of Plato and Hegel is best understood in the context of corporativist and authoritarian tendencies present in interwar Catholic central and southern Europe. While in no sense an apologist for Popper's commentary on the classical tradition of philosophy, I contend that Popper's philosophical contribution is of classical breadth and significance, and that it continued and advanced “the great conversation” that is the substance of the classical tradition.