Mon Apr 24th, 2006 at 02:40:25 PM EST
Common persistent errors (CPE) [ I ]
It isn't only in times of war, deep social division or economic upheaval that we ought to be on the look-out for common persistent errors in our everyday assumptions about politics, economics and other social phenomena. There are always these factors at work--creating more or less havoc in our thinking, confusing us and misleading us into making sometimes catastrophic mistakes or supporting others bent on making them in our name.
Historicism [ I ]
"Historicism" is the name coined by the Austrian-born philosopher, Karl Raiman Popper (1902-1994), to describe one--or rather a whole class of--such error. He offers a detailed look at what he calls historicism (not to be confused with "historism") in two major works: "The Open Society and Its Enemies" (in two volumes) and "The Poverty of Historicism" (both published by Taylor & Francis's Routledge division).
In this and subsequent diaries I want to present the main features of Popper's views on historicism and use his examples as an introductory guide--while trying to avoid the heavy use of citations from his books--to try and illustrate examples of some mischief currently in practice and due to this common persistent error in reasoning, "historicism". It is the sort of error which is so multiform in its occurrence, so appealing, so seductive and subtle, that it has been the source of mistakes by some of the most brilliant minds in history starting, most notably, with Plato and continuing uninterrupted down to the present.
The fundamental errors which led and continue to lead the Bush administration and in particular that group commonly referred to as "neo conservatives" within it to make such costly errors as the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the "War on Terrorism", to mention only two, are, I'll try and show, prime examples of historicism at work today.
Once you have a well-founded understanding of what historicism is and what its signature features are, you'll have little or no trouble recognizing examples of it around you.
There is ample information on the life and writing of Karl Popper easily available from Internet sites. Those who prefer to do so can skip my discussion and simply read Popper's two works mentioned above for themselves and get a far fuller and better exposition than I'll be able to offer here. I assume, however, that most people reading this won't do that; and so as an alternative to leaving many with no more than a few book references, I regard it as important enough to take some time and put forth in a number of diary entries some of the most important elements of historicism, so powerful is it in its light-shedding effect.