Karl Popper Saw it Coming

Gary Johns wrote a lucid and compelling book to support the resistance to The Voice (The Burden of Culturewhich can be ordered here.) He pointed out that the demand went far beyond fixing obvious problems to something very different – the demand for self-determinism for a particular ethnic and racial group.

Popper sounded an alarm about this movement in the Sixth Eleanor Rathbone Memorial Lecture, delivered at the University of Bristol in 1956. Eleanor Rathbone was a British MP and a stalwart campaigner on issues including female circumcision in Africa, child marriage in India and forced marriage in Palestine. The theme of his lecture was “an optimist’s view of modern history.”

At the time Popper considered the optimist’s view had considerable rarity value because “the wailings of the pessimists have become somewhat monotonous”. Responding to the progressive intelligentsia who gave the impression that the world was a vale of tears, even before radical environmental alarmism was invented, he asserted “that our free world is by far the best society which has come into existence during the course of human history.” But much work remained to be done, much of it cleaning up the mess caused by ideologues who wanted to destroy both the moral framework and the institutions of democratic capitalism that made the modern miracle possible.

In 1956, with Russian tanks in the streets of Budapest, Popper considered that there was no need for further criticism of the communist system and he turned to the racist doctrine of ethnic/racial/national self-determination. The principle amounts to the demand that each state should be a nation-state: that it should be confined within a natural border, and that this border should coincide with the location of an ethnic group.

He noted that apart from the possible example of Iceland there are virtually no nation states of that kind and the attempt to realise that state of affairs has caused endless conflict and strife when ethnic minorities demanded that they be allowed to break away or join an adjacent state where they would be part of the majority.

For example Czechoslovakia was formed under the principle of national self-determination but as soon as it was formed the Slovaks demanded (in the name of the same principle) to be free, and finally it was destroyed by the German minority, in the name of the same principle. The latest example is the demand for a Palestinian nation state which is used as a rationale for waging war on Israel.

There are ethnic minorities everywhere. The proper aim cannot be to “liberate” all of them, rather it must be to protect all of them. The oppression of national groups is a great evil; but national self-determination is not a feasible remedy… Few creeds have created more hatred, cruelty, and senseless suffering than the belief in the righteousness of the nationality principle; and yet it is still widely believed that this principle will help to alleviate the misery of national oppression. My optimism is a little shaken when I look at the near-unanimity with which this principle is still accepted — even by those whose political interests are clearly opposed to it.


WITH the benefit of hindsight it is apparent Popper was wildly over-optimistic. Who would have predicted that, with the disasters of Stalinism about to be admitted by the Soviet leadership, within a few years radical youth in the West would make brutal thugs like Che and Mao into cult figures?

That the “liberation” of the Third World from Western colonisation, and the delivery of untold billions of aid would result in the worst famines and genocides that Africa has ever seen?

That left liberalism would become a religion with all the attendant intolerance and prejudice, and be widely promoted in the universities of the West?

That a civilisation which produced Shakespeare, Milton, Mozart and Donald Bradman would produce generations that would assign cult status to the purveyors of narcissistic and self-indulgent entertainment provided by the Beat generation and the aftermath.

That Popper’s ideas would be marginalised in the academic community by a series of fads and fashions – logical empiricism, language analysis, POMO?

A summary of Popper’s key points from the Rathbone lecture can be found here

7 thoughts on “Karl Popper Saw it Coming

  • Rafe Champion says:

    Eleanor Rathbone was a British MP and a stalwart campaigner on issues including female circumcision in Africa,

    That topic has been out of the news for years; I wonder what is going on these days; I suppose it would be Islamophobic to mention it.


    Not my favourite topic but someone had to say it.

    While there is animated discussion about the mutilation of girls who have been persuaded that they want to be boys there is another kind of female mutilation that has been under the radar for some time. What is going on?

    I don’t have time to do more research, just putting it out there.

    A few references to get started, an ABC report from five years ago, a Federal Government fact sheet. And [triggerwarning] Hirsi Ali on the practice.

    • David Isaac says:

      13th May. 9:56 eastern.
      Allowing that in the 1950s Britain was in the process of relinquishing empire and still ruled much of Africa, I would suggest that Mrs Rathbone and we should have paid a lot more attention to interracial conflicts, affecting native English and brought about by one world policies, that were deliberately injected into post-war England. Muslim grooming gangs preying on thousands of working class English maidens in Rotherham and elsewhere are our direct concern. The treatment of people according to their own customs in nominally sovereign countries is not, although we ought to make very sure not to import the problem. It’s Dickens’ Mrs Jellyby on a grand scale.

  • Davidovich says:

    I was puzzled by the acronym POMO but presume it means post-modern or post-modernism. Perhaps over-use of acronyms could be added to the fads and fashions listed.

  • Watchman Williams says:

    The questions that you raise at the end of your article, Rackstraw, were all foreseeable, even in 1956, and are the direct consequence of abandoning the nation/state model in favour of multiculturalism. The nation state is not racial, but cultural, something that is misunderstood by multicultural zealots, who described those who were opposed to the multicultural balkanisation of Australia as “racists”, whereas Australia has, of course, been a multi-racial country since European settlement.
    It is a natural human desire to dwell amongst those with whom one shares the same cultural values. Political ideologues may seek to establish national boundaries that ignore cultural considerations, but it is always without success. Even the Shunamite woman, of the Bible’s second book of Kings, when asked by the prophet Elisha whether he could speak to the king on her behalf, answered “I dwell amongst my own people”.
    A modern example of the devastation caused by ignoring the power of cultural association, was the post WW1 amalgamation of the culturally heterogeneous remnants of the former Austro/Hungarian Empire, into the nation state.of Yugoslavia which, once the iron fist of Tito was removed, rapidly dissolved into civil war and reconstitution of the different cultural elements into individual nation states.
    The colonial powers that carved empires out of Africa, drew boundaries without any regard for tribal/cultural relationships, the fruit of which has been intercultural civil warfare ever since.
    No better example of the power of cultural association can be seen to compare with the release of what was British India from colonial subjection to independence. Great shifts in population occurred at millions died in the ensuing intercultural carnage.
    The power of the tribal pull is stronger than any military force. Even the North Sydney Bears are seeking re-admittance to the NRL.

    • David Isaac says:

      Isn’t a nation state a state founded on a nation, which is to say a people with shared ancestry? The foolish thing is to allow witting or unwitting acolytes of Lev Bronsted (Leon Trotsky, who coined the r-word) to con you into accepting that there is anything morally wrong about defending such an excellent arrangement.

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