Extract from Karl Popper’s – The Open Society and Its Enemies

This, of course, is not the only argument against the idea of a rule of love. Loving a person means wishing to make him happy. (This, by the way, was Thomas Aquinas’ definition of love). But of all political ideals, that of making the people happy is perhaps the most dangerous one. It leads invariably to the attempt to impose our scale of ‘higher’ values upon others, in order to make them realize what seems to us of greatest importance for their happiness; in order, as it were, to save their souls. It leads Utopianism and Romanticism. We all feel certain that everybody would be happy in the beautiful perfect community of our dreams. And no doubt, there would be heave on earth if we could all love one another. But, as I have said before, the attempt to make heaven on earth invariably produces hell. It leads to intolerance. It leads to religious wars, and to the saving of souls through inquisition. And it is, I believe, based on a complete misunderstanding of our moral duties. It is our duty to help those that need our help; but it cannot be our duty to make others happy, since this does not depend on us, and since it would only too often mean intruding on the privacy of those towards whom we have such amiable intentions. The political demand for piecemeal as opposed to Utopian methods corresponds to the decision that the fight against suffering must be considered a duty, while the fight to care for the happiness of others must be considered a privilege confined to the close circle of friends. In their case, we may perhaps have a certain right to try to impose our scale of values—our preferences regarding music, for example (And we may even feel it our duty to open to them a world of values which, we trust, can so much contribute to their happiness.) This right of ours exists only if, and because, they can get rid of us; because our friendships can be ended. But the use of political means for imposing our scale of values upon others is a very different matter. Pain, suffering, injustice, and their prevention, these are the eternal problems of public morals, and ‘agenda’ of public policy (As Bentham would have said). The ‘higher’ values should very largely be considered as ‘non-agenda’ and should be left to the realm of laissez-faire. Thus we might say: help your enemies; assist those in distress, even if they hate you; but love only your friends.

Published by Callum Golding

Callum Golding is a cybersecurity consultant and autodidact with a passion for debate and critical thinking. He’s a long-term Zen practitioner and considers an examined life guided by rationality, tolerance, and gratitude to be the most fundamental virtues. He is interested in the erosion of these universal principles in modern society and believes a shift to viewing human nature as an array of potentials as the best path forward.

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