Monday, December 19, 2011

Nick Clegg turns to Karl Popper

David Boyle welcomes Nick Clegg's speech on the open society today because of its implicit recognition that Karl Popper is the critical Liberal philosopher of the 20th century:
I kept saying so during the process that produced the Liberal Democrat philosophy document It's about freedom, but still failed even to get him a name check. 
But also because he is the central figure of Nick Clegg's important speech today on the open society to Demos (though again Popper only gets one name check). The speech is vague about Popper, vague about precisely why Popper said open societies work and closed ones grind to a halt, but it chooses exactly the correct philosopher - exactly the right underpinning to make Liberalism distinct now. 
It is also, as it happens, the philosophical justification for Liberal-style localism - it is about "setting free the critical powers of man".
Karl Popper has been one of my philosophical heroes ever since I came across him as an undergraduate. The fact that he was not quite approved of by my lecturers only made him more attractive.

I am proud to have contributed the entry on him to Duncan Brack and Ed Randall's Dictionary of Liberal Thought.

For an introduction to Popper's thought I can recommend the excellent short book in the Fontana Modern Masters series by Bryan Magee. And not just because Magee turns out to be a fellow member of the Market Harborough school of philosophy.

Finally, to return to Nick's speech, I was particularly pleased by this passage:
Opponents of localism brandish the phrase "post code lottery" to dramatise differences in provision between areas. But it is not a lottery when decisions about provision are made by people who can be held to democratic account. That is not a postcode lottery -- it is a postcode democracy.
In part 2 of the Cohesive Communties pamphlet that David Boyle and I wrote in late 2003 we promised:
The Liberal Democrats will ... eliminate the phrase ‘postcode lottery’ from political discourse.
A bold promise, but we should at least eliminate it from our own discourse. And I am glad that Nick wants to do so.

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