Marcello Pera: An open society has the right to control its enemies

From the Popper Memorial Lecture, by the President of the Italian Senate and philosopher of science, at the LSE
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The Independent Online

Karl Popper's Great Vienna was a highly cosmopolitan city where different communities lived together in a culturally fruitful way.

As he wrote in one of his late essays: "The population of Europe is the result of mass migrations. [which gave rise to] a linguistic, ethnic and cultural mosaic: a chaotic jumble, which cannot possibly be disentangled." But not only did Popper recognise value-pluralism, he appreciated and advocated it.

For value-pluralists such as Popper, value-conflict is a basic and undeniable feature of our moral world. Given this fact, the question they ask is: how can we construct a society which respects individual freedom as much as possible without leading to its own destruction?

Popper's answer to this is: through the method of dialogue, a specification of which is the method of falsification, or trial and error, as practised in scientific research. Popper's principle of commitment to dialogue meets the concern of minority groups and their desire for recognition; it raises immigrants to the status of full citizens; it allows for positive actions such as offering school curricula based on features of different cultural traditions; it may even provide funds for minority religious institutions.

There are constraints, of course. Those fanatic, fundamentalist and aggressive individuals or groups who oppose a pluralism of traditions and values are to be controlled. But thesemoves are vindicated by the anti-dogmatism of the open society to the advantage of one and all.

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