Popper's discussions of Plato and Marx have been criticized, but they are serious if consciously controversial attempts to offer a critical account of the ideas of major thinkers. Popper was clearly willing to defend his views as historical interpretations. But it would seem to me a mistake to see a concern for this - and for the views of specific intellectual figures - as having pride of place in his work. For its underlying thrust is, rather, the advocacy of a particular approach to politics, and the criticism of what he considered to be widespread views which were incompatible with it. Popper's concerns were strongly practical. Indeed, his entire approach to social science depicts it as the handmaid of social reform. And, interested as Popper was in the more purely intellectual issues which he discusses, his concern was even more strongly with their
The time at which Popper was writing was, in a significant sense, not ours. To us, his overriding concern with what he called 'historicism' may seem strange. But then, the period during which he was writing may itself also seem very distant from us. Today, many serious people are Marxists. But they are hardly communists in the sense of people who are willing to alienate their judgement to a political party. And while some people today still play with symbols drawn from Fascism and National Socialism, these very movements, too, seem grotesque; not just because of their consequences and the sentiments that informed them, but in their very character. Indeed, there is a sense in which it is only those who remained democrats and ethical individualists during that period - whether their politics were conservative, socialist or liberal - who seem to be dealing with problems, and to have sensibilities, which are anything like our own. But as a result, we may be too ready to treat them as our contemporaries, and thus to disregard the extent to which the problems that they were facing - and thus also that in opposition to which they developed their views - were different from ours.