Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Sandall On Popper's 'Tribalism'

"The attempt, in 2005, to redefine a heterogeneous people of mixed ancestry in the middle of the Pacific as a “tribe”, let alone an Indian tribe, a people moreover who have known little but modern American institutions for at least a hundred years, might seem surprising. But one man who would not have found it surprising is the author of The Open Society and Its Enemies, for the persistence of tribal yearnings in the midst of the modern world was the underlying theme of Karl Popper’s important 1945 book.

The words ‘tribe’, ‘tribal’, and ‘tribalistic’ occur forty-two times in the chapter that presents his main argument—Chapter 10—and his discussion of related matters continues in voluminous footnotes at the end of the book.

Popper’s main purpose in writing The Open Society was to try and explain the whole political, intellectual, and emotional phenomenon of Nazism. What Hitler represented was “arrested tribalism”, and the more Popper thought about the matter the more he saw an atavistic yearning for the past—closed, pre-rational, taboo-ridden, undemocratic, militaristic, and fearful of liberty—as something deeply menacing.

“Arrested tribalism” in political life was the same as “arrested development” in the life of an individual; it indicated a failure to grow, adapt, and deal maturely with a changing world. Change, as Heraclitus said long ago, is something we just have to put up with, like it or not: but the Nazis wanted to turn back the clock. And in order to understand the phenomenon of Nazism historically, it was also necessary to understand the deep roots it had in the past, and to see it in terms of a persistent reaction against social change that has been continually with us since the conflict of Athens and Sparta in classical Greece." - Roger Sandall, 'Tribal Yearnings: The enemies of the open society today'

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