Popper, Josef

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POPPER, JOSEF (pseudonym, Lynkeus ; 1838–1921), Austrian social philosopher, engineer, and inventor. Born in Kolin, Bohemia, Popper studied at Prague University. As a Jew, he was refused a teaching post at the university and worked for a while with the national railroads in Hungary. He then went to Vienna where, after a series of fairly humble jobs, he invented, at the age of 30, a device to prevent fur from accumulating on engine boilers. The meager profits from this and other inventions enabled him to devote his later years to writing on social reform. His pseudonym, Lynkeus, is the name of the keen-sighted, mythological, Argonaut helmsman.

As a scientist Popper was far ahead of his time. In 1862 he proposed a system for the electrical transmission of energy, but sent the monograph to the Vienna Academy of Sciences in a sealed letter to be opened 20 years later. He discussed the possible existence of quanta of energy before Max Planck enunciated the quantum theory; in 1884 he tried to relate matter and energy, 20 years before *Einstein's theory of relativity; and in 1888 discussed the possibility of lightweight steam engines for flying machines in a treatise, Flugtechnik (1889). In Phantasien eines Realisten (2 vols., 1899), suppressed by the Austrian government as "immoral," he anticipated, as Freud himself acknowledged, the fundamental basis from which the latter elaborated his theory of dreams.

Popper was best known, however, for his writings on social reform.

In his first work of this nature, Das Recht zu Leben und die Pflicht zu Sterben… (1878), he contrasted man's natural right to live with the alleged obligation to sacrifice himself when required to do so by the state. He denied that man has a duty to let himself be killed when ordered and, in Die allgemeine Naehrpflicht als Loesung der sozialen Frage (1912), advocated the right of the individual to live in freedom and dignity within the framework of a social system created for the benefit of its members. Popper's solution to social problems was the formation of a labor force (Naehrarmee) whose purpose was "producing or procuring all that physiology and hygiene show to be absolutely indispensable." This was to be regarded as a minimum contribution by every member of society. Popper's philosophy differed from Marxism, in that it was based on simple humanitarianism and common sense and endeavored to eliminate class hatred by a synthesis of socialism and realism. In trying to revive Voltaire's philosophy, he advocated a policy which in fact became crystallized in the modern welfare state.

Popper regarded metaphysics, theology, and traditional religion as harmful, and to be eliminated from an economically and socially reformed state. He saw religion, especially Christianity, as opposed to genuine individual human values, and believed that education, especially about the history of religions, could lead to a superstition-free culture.

Although he suffered considerable humiliation as a Jew, Popper refused to convert, and accused the German chancellor, Bismarck, of antisemitism in Fuerst Bismarck und der Antisemitismus (1886). He believed that only a Jewish state would eliminate antisemitism, and although he never took an active part in the Zionist movement he bequeathed his substantial collection of books to the National Library in Jerusalem.

Popper was a close friend of Albert Einstein, who described him as a "prophetic and saintly person" who had forecast that "the continued existence of mankind without organized planning is inconceivable." He was widely regarded as a genius, and a bust of him was erected in the Rathauspark in Vienna. It was destroyed by the Nazis in 1938. Popper's writings include Die technischen Fortschritte nach ihrer aesthetischen und kulturellen Bedeutung (1886), Friedensvorschlaege, Schiedsgerichte, Voelkerbund (1910), and Krieg, Wehrpflicht und Staatsverfassung (1921).


J. Popper-Lynkeus, Selbstbiographie (1917); H.I. Wachtel, Security for All and Free Enterprise: A Summary of the Social Philosophy of Josef Popper-Lynkeus (1955), incl. bibl.; A. Gelber, Joseph Popper-Lynkeus, sein Leben und sein Wirken (1922); F. Wittels, An End to Poverty (1925); P. Edwards (ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 6 (1967), 401–7 (incl. bibl.); E. Relgis, Der Humanitarismus und die "Allgemeine Naehrpflicht" (1931).

[Josef J. Lador-Lederer.]