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Thursday 22 and Friday 23 March 2018, The Hague (Location: Schouwburgstraat)

The department of jurisprudence, University of Leiden, together with the Dutch ministry of the interior, organizes a conference on The open society and its closed communities. Central questions are: what is the relevance of the “open society” today? Are closed communities a threat to the open society? Why have governmental policies failed so far to realize the open society? Can the idea of a modernist Leitkultur prove useful here? What measures are likely to be successful, and legitimate, to realize modernist values and discourage tribalism? Or is the whole conception of “openness” misguided? Do we chase a mirage in trying to subvert closed communities into openness?

PO6                                                         

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Course description


Universiteit Leiden

In 1945 Karl Popper published The Open Society and its Enemies. The book was an incisive attack on the ideologies which, according to Popper, had undermined the “open society”. Despite the fact that the concept was not coined by Popper, he was the one who gave it currency, and particularly in confronting Marxism-Leninism, it played an important role in the culture wars of that time. The “open society” is a society open to critique, based on liberal values, democratic, and under the rule of law.

The ideal of an open society was inspired by Popper’s convictions of the ideal functioning of science; by means of criticism, trial and error, openness and tolerance, it is likely we can improve less perfect structures into more perfect ones. The scientific method is likely to prove useful in politics too.

But social reality proved less malleable than expected. Within the open society closed communities based on ethnicity and religion continued to exist. What is sometimes referred to as “tribal culture” proved more resilient than expected. Governments in democratic societies tried to “open” those closed communities by policies aimed at the integration or assimilation of minority groups, but not always successful. Even the ideal of a policy of integration or assimilation itself was severely targeted by multiculturalist and postmodernist critics. “Identity politics” came to the fore. Groups with strong ethnic and religious ties were encouraged to stick to their identities, even to cultivate those.

The department of jurisprudence, University of Leiden, together with the Dutch ministry of the interior, organizes a conference on The open society and its closed communities. Central questions are: what is the relevance of the “open society” today? Are closed communities a threat to the open society? Why have governmental policies failed so far to realize the open society? Can the idea of a modernist Leitkultur prove useful here? What measures are likely to be successful, and legitimate, to realize modernist values and discourage tribalism? Or is the whole conception of “openness” misguided? Do we chase a mirage in trying to subvert closed communities into openness?