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Blupete's Weekly Commentary

November 26th, 2000.

"Popper's Sociological Laws."

The purpose of Popper's work, The Poverty of Historicism,1 was to show that there were no historical laws at work which are to bring humanity down an inevitable path. This position is to be contrasted to that of Mill and Comte, and more recently, Marx, who, all, envisaged that historical events unfolded in a predictable succession according to "laws of succession." The idea that any concrete sequence or succession of events (apart from such examples as the movement of a pendulum or a solar system) can be described or explained by any one law, or by any one definite set of laws, is simply mistaken. Popper, however, did agree that there existed natural law, and, in particular, something he was to call sociological laws; he was to list some of them.

  1. You cannot introduce agricultural tariffs and at the same time reduce the cost of living.
  2. You cannot, in an industrial society, organize consumers' pressure groups as effectively as you can organize certain producers' pressure groups.
  3. You cannot have a centrally planned society with a price system that fulfills the main functions of competitive prices.
  4. You cannot have full employment without inflation.
  5. You cannot introduce a political reform without causing some repercussions which are undesirable from the point of view of the ends aimed at.
  6. You cannot introduce a political reform without strengthening the opposing forces, to a degree roughly in ratio to the scope of the reform.
  7. You cannot make a revolution without causing a reaction.
  8. You cannot make a successful revolution if the ruling class is not weakened by internal dissension or defeat in war, viz., Plato's law of revolutions.2
  9. You cannot give a man power over other men without tempting him to misuse it - a temptation which roughly increases with the amount of power wielded, and which very few are capable of resisting, viz., Lord Acton's law of corruption.



1 (Routledge, 1969) pp. 62-3 & p. 117. The fundamental thesis of this book is that the belief in historical destiny is sheer superstition, and that there can be no prediction of the course of human history by scientific or any other rational method. Popper, incidently, dedicated his book to "the memory of the countless men and women of all creeds or nations or races who fell victims to the fascist and communist belief in Inexorable Laws of Historical Destiny."

2 Eighth book of the Republic.

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Peter Landry

November, 2000 (2019)