Popper’s Politics and Law in the Light of African Values

Jus Cogens 2:185-204 (2020)
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Karl Popper is famous for favoring an open society, one in which the individual is treated as an end in himself and social arrangements are subjected to critical evaluation, which he defends largely by appeal to a Kantian ethic of respecting the dignity of rational beings. In this essay, I consider for the first time what the implications of a characteristically African ethic, instead prescribing respect for our capacity to relate communally, are for how the state should operate in an open society. I argue that while an under-appreciated Afro-communal moral foundation does not prescribe a closed society, it supports an open society politics and law of a sort different from the one that Popper specifies. For Popper, the state in an open society should improve social arrangements albeit without seeking to promote a particular conception of the good life, should protect rights that merely serve the function of facilitating individual choice, and should employ majoritarian democracy to be able to avoid unwelcome rulers and policies. On all three counts, I show that a relational ethic typical of the African philosophical tradition, but having broad intuitive appeal, entails different, intuitively attractive approaches to politics and law.

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