Unlike Volume 1, with its focus on Plato, I’m a bit less familiar with the material here – largely Hegel and Marx – so it can be a bit hard to know how to take Popper when he goes off on one. As ever, he’s a very convincing writer but often drifts into his own take on things. Hegel, he doesn’t like at all – taking a view from Schopenhauer for much of it. Popper dismisses him as a charlatan and a fraud deliberately prophesying whatever his employer Prussia wanted. We get a bit on Aristotle too (he doesn’t much like him either).
The book improves as the author starts to tackle Marx – he doesn’t necessarily agree with him but he seems to respect the talent with which he deals with the material and the dire social situation that spurred him to do his writing. He picks out some of the flaws in Marx’s work rather skilfully – the inability to factor in that democracy and compromise could dilute capitalism and improve life for the workers.
Where Marx like the others seemed to get caught in the predictions of his model, Popper finds a core of rationalism. At other points though, Popper deals with issues that seem somewhat tangential or nitpicking – Marx as anti-psychologism in sociology, his views on materialism. It’s clear that the criticisms often aren’t of Marxism as such as it became, but of the actual philosophy of Marx and this means that they occasionally feel like a contribution to an argument that no one else cares about.
Towards the end of the book Popper gets back to his familiar topic of historicism, rationalism and reason: constantly pushing for a middle ground and for the role of liberal democracy in improving a world without a plan or destiny. It’s an enjoyable, if very uneven read.