Karl Popper’s Critique of Plato’s Philosophy

“The Utopian attempt to realise an ideal state, using a blueprint of society as a whole, is one which demands a strong centralised rule of a few, and which is therefore likely to lead to a dictatorship.”

-Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies: The Spell of Plato

The Open Society and Its Enemies: The Spell of Plato

Popper considers Plato as an enemy of the open society. In his book, The Open Society and Its Enemies: The Spell of Plato, Karl Popper argued that Plato’s philosophy is anti-individualist, anti-democratic, and has the aim of stopping all social change.

Let’s first try to understand Plato and his philosophy and then a detailed analysis of Popper’s arguments can be done.

The Basis of  Plato’s Philosophy

Plato had an organic view of State, by which it means that the State is an organic entity and the individuals its parts. The State is the whole body. Like a hand cannot move alone when it is separated from the whole body, individuals cannot have an interest against the State. According to Plato, whatever the State does is for the good of the community. Individuals have to obey the State.

Plato considered that democracy led to moral corruption and moral degradation. It led to factionalism, extreme violence and cannot tolerate highly-gifted individuals. The later view is in connection to the execution of Socrates. In any way, Plato was not in favour of democracy. According to him, the defeat of Athens to Sparta was due to Athenian democracy. Plato, in this aspect, was an aristocrat by birth and conviction.

Further, Plato was hesitant to changes that take place in his Ideal State. For this, he made a scheme of education that would keep the State as it is. For Plato, the Ideal State was to be eternal. Being influenced by Parmenides, he did not welcome changes in his Ideal State.

Critique of Plato’s Philosophy

I agree with Popper when he says that Plato’s philosophy is anti-individualist, anti-democratic and anti to social changes. Let’s see why.

Karl Popper


Plato never considered the rights of the individuals but only their duties towards the State.

Plato’s Ideal State ruled by philosophers is nothing but an authoritarian and totalitarian State. He advocated in his Republic an absolutist and totalitarian type of government. That is why he is regarded as the father of modern authoritarianism and totalitarianism.

Plato’s advocacy of a scheme of education is also a state-controlled and state-regulated one.

He denied owning property by the guardian class. His denial of family and children are against the interest of the individuals.

In Plato’s Ideal State, individuals are like commodities or tools  or instruments of state, or they are just like robots which are always under the command of the one who controls the remote, the State.


As already mentioned, Plato’s philosophy advocates a totalitarian and authoritarian system of government. Being an aristocrat, he always wanted to preserve the aristocratic values and lifestyles.

Plato was against popular participation by the average person, because they are not aware of the absolute truth. In this, Popper questions whether the claims of absolute truth are falsified. Besides, the so-called absolute truths (even if there is) may not be true according to particular time and place.

It is necessary to point out here that popular participation and existence of oppositions are essential for the growth and development of the State. Plato was against both. Thus, his philosophy is anti-democratic.

Anti to Social Changes

Plato wanted to maintain his Ideal State as it was originally instituted. He did not like make any changes to his Ideal State. His views on community of wives and property, the way he advocated on eugenics (meaning ‘well born’, which involved the selection of the best mates for child bearing), his scheme of education all reflected his hesitation towards social change.

In later years, in the Laws, Plato shifted his views from anti-individualist and anti-democratic to the opposite. He accepted the prevalence of rule of law, popular participation etc.

However, even though he shifted his views on individuals, democratic values and changes in the society in his Laws, Plato remained still stuck to many of the principles outlined in his Republic. Therefore, it can be said that Plato’s philosophy is anti-individualist, anti-democratic and had the aim of stopping all social changes.

Note: This critique is written taking reference from Karl Popper’s famous work, The Open Society and Its Enemies: The Spell of Plato.

I wrote this piece as an answer in my undergraduate examination while in Ramjas College, University of Delhi.


Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies: The Spell of Plato (Routledge, 2002)

Plato, The Laws (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Plato, The Republic (translated by Allan Bloom) (Basic Books, 2016).

Review of J. Ann Tickner, Gendering World Politics: Issues and Approaches in the Post-Cold War Era

Gendered perspective in IR is essential because it broaden the knowledge perspective and understanding of the subject

Gendering World Politics

The traditional International Relations theory and approaches has been state centric, and IR (International Relations) studies have been male dominant subject. The voices and knowledge perspective of other sections of society has been marginalized by the perspectives of the one dominant group. Feminist scholars of IR often felt that the voices of women in IR is also subjugated by the dominant male knowledge, with the stereotypical understanding that women are feeble and therefore their voices cannot be the voices of the global concerns.

Since the end of cold war, understanding of IR  began to shift toward the multidisciplinary approach, but feminists perspectives were not fitted within the IR studies. Feminists scholars take gender as their analytical element, but it does not mean gendered perspective should be confined outside the domain of IR. Feminist scholars claimed that gendered perspective in IR is essential because it broaden the knowledge perspective and understanding of the subject. Gendered perspectives of the study does not add to the meaning of the subject, but suggest new ways of understanding the subject. The feminist scholars, therefore, opined that the parochial understanding of IR needs to be “redefined” not by merely adding to the existing knowledge but by trying to perceive the knowledge in a different way.

Focusing on three main concepts of IR- security, democratization, and globalization, Tickener opined that these concepts which has been conventionally understood a linear manner is in fact a knowledge conception of a particular dominant community in IR. She constantly draws the conventional notion of these concepts and brings out the feminists contributions in the understanding of these concepts, because feminists understand the global politics differently. It includes the voices of the long subordinated voices in the heirarchical global system. The aim of the feminists scholars is not only to include their voices in the IR study but to contribute towards the understanding of the theoretical concept of IR. Tickner tried to bring out new methodology and the prospect of the feminist approaches in understanding IR studies.

Conventionally, security means security of the state through millitary forces, to protect the state and the citizens. Here the concept of security is understood in a structural and institutional level not considering the security concerns of the women, children and other marginalized sections of the society. The traditional approach of understanding war time security would focus on the elimination of war through millitary forces and analysis of the causes of the war. The state policies are centred around the situations of the arm forces which are male dominant, but feminists approach focused on the consequences of war, and the conditions of women, children and other civilians who are the victims of the war time. While the traditional approach view the state as the quarantor of security for the people; feminists are concerned with the state that act as the threat to the people, and the state as the legitimate actor in the international system undermining all other conditions within the society, like for instance the subjugation of women in the domestic realm.

The traditional notion of associating women with peace and man with war heroes often subordinate the value of peace heralding the masculine perception of war as a rational goal and peace as an ideal one. Examining the war time casaulties and state as the national security agent, feminists claim that often women are the victims of war such as rape or are the agents of during war, but their contribution are often overlooked while formulating the war time strategies and policies. Traditional understanding of security and the rationality of war therefore is a gendered discourse and needs to be reframed.

Feminists scholars therefore choose to understand the security concept from the “bottom-up” approach by taking into account the knowledge perceptions and conditions of the grass root level rather than emphasising on the notion of power, order or hierarchy in the international system. Instead of focusing on the binaries such inside/outside, order/anarchy and so on, security concept will be more inclusive if the study focus on the intricate social constructions of hierarchies and understand beyond the conventional boundaries of “rationality”.

Globalization in IPE (International Political Economy, a branch of IR) focused on the economic policies and norms of the states, where states are the legitimate actor in the international system. And this includes the nature and process of production, division of labour in the economic institutions and so on. The understanding of managing the international through economic network by the traditional IPE study is criticized by the critics of economic globalization. The study of the economic globalization often ignored other factors such as cultural, social relational networks and often the inequalities in the international system is created the such relations.

Feminists approach to the understanding of globalizatrion bends more towards the critical theory. They argued that the global economic institutional policies often are created without taking into considerations the conditions of the individual populations and are often only the state level policies. Like for instance women and children are often paid lesser than their male counterpart in the wage labour work though they spend the same amount of labour and time in the work. Feminists therefore examined the global inequality because of the gendered divison, such as feminization of poverty, north/ south inequalityand so on. They note that globalization that is understood traditionally as bringing “progress” but rather it  brings a wide disparity based on race, class and gender. Feminists therefore believed that inequality in the global economy can be understood through the knowledge that comes the narrations and experiences of the marginalized sections and not by applying the knowledge of the conventional rational knowledge, and by this way the gendered disparity can be narrowed.

The wave of democracy in the international system is accompanied by power relations amongst states and is often hierarchical rather than being democratic. The powerful states often played dominant role and the traditional notion of democracy and inclusive representatives is often not the reality. The process of democratization is  accompanied by the economic liberalization and thus heightened the power relations of the state.

The traditional understanding of democracy did not include the issue of gender in the analysis, and also democratization is commonly associated with the international state governmental instituitions. Feminists argue that the conventional universal norms such as  human rights are gender bias, and the women are not part of the decision making process. Women’s organisations and movements are often placed outside of the democratic framework of the international system, and regards them as transnational movement or organisation of the women to voice their grievences. One of the most obvious example of gender bias in the international system is that none of the women has held the Secretary General of UN which is one of the highest international body though there are women heads and representatives seen in the international forum. Feminists approach of the global governance through the democratic norms fovourable to gender and women through increased opportunities for women in the formal political institutions will help create democracy that transcends beyond the power relations of the states.

Feminist therefore understands IR from the grassroot level and opined that the local knowledge and experiences has the scientific objectivity which should be included in understanding the international systems.They questioned the conventional notion of scientific rationality and argued that such knowledge is based on the knowledge of men and therefore not universal.  IR therefore are more accessible by all and not only by few the dominant section, feminists scholars takes into account the domestic and inside experiences and thus the elements of race, gender are considered in understanding of the IR concepts . Feminists therefore claimed that the issue of gender in IR is not the study of women issues but includes  all sections of the marginalized and the subjugated populations. And thus defy the broad binary of inside/ outside , domestic / international because-

“what is personal is also international.”

Tickner asserts that not only voices of the women be heard in the international systems but women should be able to represent others, and the whole. Feminism is hence not confined to individual identity and but is an inclusive study of the whole.

*Review of J. Ann Tickner, 2001, Gendering World Politics: Issues and Approaches in The Post-Cold War Era, Columbia University Press.