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Lakatos was a Stalinist

Apparently this is well known, it’s just new to me. [Actually, not so new, as this blog post has been sent to the end of the queue twice now, so it’s appearing about a year after I wrote it. — ed.] Alan Musgrave and Charles Pigden write:

After a brilliant school career, during which he won mathematics competitions and a multitude of prizes, Lakatos entered Debrecen University in 1940 . . . he became a committed communist, attending illegal underground communist meetings . . . In May [1944], Lakatos’s mother, grandmother and other relatives were forced into the Debrecen ghetto, thence to die in Auschwitz—the fate of about 600,000 Hungarian Jews. . . . A little earlier, in March, Lakatos himself had managed to escape . . . Lakatos restarted his Marxist group . . . Lakatos moved to Budapest in 1946. He became a graduate student at Budapest University, but spent much of his time working towards the communist takeover of Hungary. . . . Lakatos worked chiefly in the Ministry of Education, evaluating the credentials of university teachers and making lists of those who should be dismissed as untrustworthy once the communists took over . . . He was arrested in April 1950 on charges of revisionism and, after a period in the cellars of the secret police (including, of course, torture), he was condemned to the prison camp at Recsk. . . . In 1956 he joined the revisionist Petőfi Circle and delivered a stirring speech on “On Rearing Scholars” which at least burnt his bridges with Stalinism . . . Lakatos left Hungary in November 1956 after the Soviet Union crushed the short-lived Hungarian revolution . . . Although he lived and worked in London, rising to the post of Professor of Logic at the London School of Economics (LSE), Lakatos never became a British citizen, but died a stateless person. Despite the star-studded array of academic lords and knights who were willing to testify on his behalf, neither MI5 nor the Special Branch seem to have trusted him, and no less a person than Roy Jenkins, the then Home Secretary, signed off on the refusal to naturalize him . . .

Life was much different back then.

P.S. Paul Alper points to this chapter from the book “When Reason Goes on Holiday: Philosophers in Politics,” by Neven Sesardić. I haven’t researched this myself, but based on Sesardić’s chapter, Lakatos seems pretty horrible, a lot worse than you’d imagine from the above passage. Quentin Tarantino could’ve made a movie about the guy.

This “Stalinist” thing is no joke. Just as the recent U.S. Capitol attack made us realize that fascism isn’t just a bunch of misunderstood resentful guys with extreme racial views and cool logos, it’s good to remember that Stalinism isn’t just a bunch of people with strong political/economic views and Che Guevara T-shirts.

I still think Lakatos’s philosophy is important (see here and here), but going forward it will be hard for me to talk about Lakatos without at least mentioning this background.


  1. Christian Hennig says:

    The cited text on its own doesn’t say much bad about Lakatos. He may have been a Stalinist for some time, particularly when Stalin’s Russia was a major enemy of Hitler’s Germany which did bad things to Hungary and Lakatos’s family, whereas he himself apparently didn’t have experience living under Stalin, and the experience in Hungary under Rakosi seemingly made him turn his back on Stalin. Not much to be ashamed of as far as I’m concerned.

  2. Jonathan (another one) says:

    A corollary of the denigration of the hero model of science is a downplaying of the personality and opinions of scientists. The tendency to allow the nastiness of people to detract for, or even extinguish, the things they have done that is great is the bane of our age…. in everything. Bill Cosby was once funny, and he was funny whether or not he later (or even at the same time) drugged and raped women. Mengele was a monster, but he may (or may not… the evidence is mixed) have contributed valuable data on hypothermia. George Washington owned slaves, and led an entire country to freedom. Ty Cobb was a nasty piece of human work and one of the greatest baseball players of all time. Lakatos was a brilliant philosopher with lasting and important insights who supported one of the most horrific regimes in world history.

    There is a parallel danger on the other side: the lauding of the bad actions of the saintly whose motives trump the effectiveness of their actions. The only thing that keeps this from being just as bad is that we aren’t sure whether or people are *really* saintly or whether they just have good PR.

    I can watch a Kevin Spacey movie sublimely unconcerned about his private life, or whether he even has one. Brian Wansink’s work is no better (or worse) even though it comes from a place of love for good nutrition and even if he gives all his money to feed the starving. I would like Proofs and Refutations even if I found out that Lakatos personally engineered the starvation in Ukraine.

    • Andrew says:


      I agree. Finding out, say, that Brian Wansink had a sincere belief in portion sizes and was making up his experiments out of a sense of serving the greater good, as compared to finding out that he was just doing it all for the money and fame and never believed it, either way his papers papers are not to be believed; they’re a sort of genre fiction.

      Still, I’m interested in people’s lives too, and it can have implications for the work. Your comment reminds me of the movement in literary criticism decades ago to discuss the text without reference to the author. It’s a valid way of reading, but it’s also valid to try to understand the historical context of the work. I feel like I have a better understanding of John Updike’s work after reading about its connection to his life. With Spacey or Cosby, the connection between the life and the work seems less relevant. For Lakatos, I think it’s somewhere in between: his work is all about the effort that people make to test their models against reality; the experience of Stalinism seems relevant here. A term like “monster-barring” sounds different to me after learning about Lakatos’s history. Related to that is that I don’t feel comfortable celebrating Lakatos’s greatness after reading the stories in Sesardić’s account. I don’t want to throw away any of Lakatos’s work. As frequent readers of this blog will know, I’m against the hero model of science more generally, but especially in a case like this.

      • Jonathan (another one) says:

        I have no problem with “understand[ing] the historical context of the work.” What I have a problem with is using that historical understanding to decide whether or not the text itself is worthwhile. Count me fully on the side of the anonymization of everything… I’d even anonymize the date of publication if I could, even though that is hugely valuable in assessing the historical contribution. If the equivalent of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity was unearthed in a sealed Egyptian pyramid that would be the most sensational discovery in world history — and might well be more important than the theory itself — but it wouldn’t change the Theory of General Relativity one bit. I agree with you that you might have a fuller understanding of Updike’s texts by studying Updike, but suppose you learned tomorrow that the texts were all written by Mrs. Updike, or by me. What good did all that heightened “understanding” get you?

        • somebody says:

          > What I have a problem with is using that historical understanding to decide whether or not the text itself is worthwhile

          Launching on an orthogonal tangent. Similar in consequences but distinct in reasoning to a text being “worthwhile” is the moral question of supporting particular entities while they’re still alive or active. To me, the moral character of a dead author only can only contextualize, rather than judge, their work, but when a living author collects attention and royalties, it does actually affect my consumption decisions.

          Chick-fil-A circa 2018 made a great chicken sandwich but also vocally opposed gay rights. This isn’t a question of just empty cultural signifiers either–a fraction of the profits from every sandwich was actually donated to anti-gay activism. A boycott of Chick-Fil-A had a material positive causal effect on the “gay agenda.”

          All this to say, with living persons and currently active entities, there’s a real moral dimension to consumption decisions.

          • Jonathan (another one) says:

            Well, everyone gets to decide what they spend their money on, so if you don’t want those very tasty sandwiches because you didn’t like what the founder did with his cut of the profits, that’s up to you. But I don’t think this is much of a *principle.* *Somebody* (not you!) is earning money today when a copy of Mein Kampf is sold, and *somebody* (again! not you!) is earning money today when a copy of Proofs and Refutations is sold. Are you going to investigate before you make any purchases? What if 20 cents of the net revenues from your tasty chicken sandwiches went to the founder who spent 2 cents on homophobic causes and 40 cents went to a gay chicken farmer who gave 5 cents to support at-risk LGBTQ+ youth? The brilliance of a decentralized market is that we’re ignorant of where all the cash flows go and what people do with them. I mean, sure, if it bothers you, don’t do it. But nobody ever actually assesses the net benefits to society, by their own criteria of distributive justice, from any purchase they make… not even charitable contributions! They can’t.

            • somebody says:

              > Are you going to investigate before you make any purchases?… The brilliance of a decentralized market is that we’re ignorant of where all the cash flows go and what people do with them.

              I’m not saying that people have a moral obligation to investigate their chicken sandwiches. I don’t investigate most things I buy because if I did life would be impossible altogether. I didn’t investigate Chick-Fil-A either. It was brought to my attention. If you already know that an action you can take will have a positive or negative causal effect, then under a utilitarian framework taking that action is a moral decision. And I don’t buy that a market system absolves me of responsibility either; money in political causes isn’t self-regulating, and, to borrow a phrase from social choice theory, anti-gay politics violates the principle of universal domain.

              • Jonathan (another one) says:

                But all you have is a partial effect. You’re assuming that the rest of the effect is neutral in expected value. In my counterexample you’re doing worse by not buying the chicken sandwich. I’m not saying you’re wrong… nor am I criticizing you for following what somebody told you. Just pointing out (and you seem to agree with me) that it isn’t a fully articulated moral decision strategy.

            • Phil says:

              I’ll call your rhetorical questions and raise you actual answers! Yes, I think I should investigate before making any purchase. Or at least, I should _consider_ investigating before making any purchase. It takes time and effort to investigate, and usually the investigation won’t turn up anything interesting, but yeah, I think every purchase has a moral component to it.

              You’re right (J(ao)) that it is impossible to actually assess the net benefits to society, but I do not think it follows that one should ignore the issue. If I buy a hamburger made with factory-farmed meat, I’m supporting cruelty to animals. (“Supporting” meaning I’m paying somebody to perform acts that are cruel to animals). I loooove eating meat but I haaaaate cruelty to animals, so any time I want to eat meat I have to search for a source that I have reason to believe is a lot less cruel than average. That is not so easy, so I don’t do it very often, and consequently I eat a lot less meat than I would like.

              I also don’t eat Papa John’s Pizza — just because I hate that guy and don’t want to enrich him, I have no idea what he actually does with his money — and I would not go to Chick-fil-a, for the same reason as ‘somebody’, plus for the animal cruelty reason. Is it _possible_ that I’d actually be helping LGBTQ people more if I did go to Cfa? Sure, but that’s not the way to bet.

              • Jonathan (another one) says:

                Phil: Do whatever it is you need to do to be morally secure in your own decisions. Better still: to the extent that the findings of your research are generalizable and not dependent on your personal moral code, share them with those that are interested. But know (as you acknowledge) that all this moral calculation introduces friction that, ceteris paribus, lowers social utility whenever the decision you end up making was the same as you would have made but for your moral calculations. Others will, either of necessity, or humility, or, I concede, moral turpitude, draw different lines.

              • Phil says:

                You left out ‘laziness’ and ‘desire to avoid facing unpleasant decisions’, which I think are two of the biggest reasons that people act contrary to their morals.

                But yeah.

            • Eric B Rasmusen says:

              My friend and co-author Harvard Law prof Mark Ramseyer is being cancelled this past couple of weeks for a forthcoming article on Korean “comfort women” recruitment for Japanese army brothels in WW2. See the blogpost at and comment discussion as to whether professors should boycott Ramseyer’s totally unrelated corporate law text because he is such a horrible person as to doubt the official line on comfort women. What is most striking is that the blogpost author is someone who was fired from her tenured law school position for being a gadly to the Administration– and who thinks that in saying Ramseyer shouldn’t be fired, just boycotted, she is standing up for academic freedom.

      • MJM-WA says:

        I would echo the sentiment of Jonathan and ask why or in what contexts it is important/helpful to bring aspects of a person’s life & beliefs into a discussion of certain of their ideas? I know that is the fashion these days —as it has been in certain times & places in the past— but what purpose does this serve? When studying his ideas, when should I care that Isaac Newton was an Anglican Royalist?
        Or is this just an exercise in making ourselves feel nuanced and morally discerning and signaling as such to others?

        • Martha (Smith) says:

          I think this might be just a matter of the variability of “human nature” — by which I mean “human nature” varies from person to person.

        • Andrew says:


          You can feel free to read Lakatos’s books, watch Bill Cosby videos, and look at Picasso paintings without any interest in their creators. But I think you’ll have to accept that lots of people are interested in the personal and historical background behind people’s ideas. I’d say that most people care about these stories! You ask, “what purpose does this serve?” I’d respond that it can help us understand an idea to learn about the social setting where it came from. I’m a social scientist, Lakatos is a social scientist, his work has been influential in social science. He wrote about collaboration and conflict. It’s interesting to know about the collaboration and conflict in his life.

          You might not agree with Neven Sesardić’s politics, you might feel that he is just “signaling” or whatever, that’s your call. Sesardić does make an argument for why the stories he tells are relevant and are not just gossip. But in any case the stories are of historical interest. It’s fine that you don’t care about Isaac Newton’s politics, but other people do. Biographies are popular! To dismiss this as a “fashion”—that just seems silly to me. People’s life stories are interesting. This is no surprise, given that we are people and we are always trying to make sense of our own life stories.

          • Anonymous says:

            “Biographies are popular!”

            The question isn’t about whether or not biographical content is interesting. It’s about whether or not when your discussing a person’s contributions to knowledge you “but” everything with a list of their moral impurities and thus demote their contributions to knowledge.

            It’s true that Einstein developed relativity. **BUT** can we say he’s truly a genius? After all “an archive of nearly 1,400 letters written by Einstein gave evidence that he became detached and even cruel to his first wife.” So given Einstein’s cruelness to his first wife, aren’t we over-elevating relativity? Isn’t his genius overstated? Clearly, this mans genius was marred by imperfections!!! Isn’t it time to remove him from the Pantheon of important people?

            • Andrew says:


              Different people are saying different things here. Commenter Mjm asked, “what purpose does this serve?” My answer is that it serves a lot of interesting and useful purposes to consider the events in people’s lives.

              You’re offering a sort of parody or slippery-slope argument. I would not say that Einstein’s bad personal behavior implies that we should downgrade relativity theory. Indeed, in my above post, I wrote, “I still think Lakatos’s philosophy is important.” To be more explicit, I think Lakatos’s philosophy is as important as I’ve ever thought it was. Learning about Lakatos’s behavior does not at all reduce my appreciation of his philosophy.

              The other thing is that we react differently to different behavior. I was disappointed to learn about the way that Einstein treated his wife, but I’m more disappointed to learn about some of those stories of Lakatos. If I found out that Lakatos was torturing cats in his basement, I’d be even more distressed. Some aspects of personal behavior are so distressing that it’s hard for me not to have them in mind when I think about a person. One can also argue about how to place behavior in historical context. Lakatos did these things in wartime. I don’t think there’s any perfect way to understand these things; nonetheless, they’re part of the story.

              • Anonymous says:

                “You’re offering a sort of parody or slippery-slope argument.”

                Not exactly. You’re dodging the question:

                “it serves a lot of interesting and useful purposes to consider the events in people’s lives.”

                And I agree with that but it’s doesn’t answer my question:

                when we discuss a person’s contributions to knowledge do you “but” everything with a list of their moral impurities? Based on whos morals? In a physics text book is it necessary to discuss how Einstein treated his wife? I can’t see how that has anything to do with relativity, which would be the same regardless of who discovered it or how they discovered it.

                Oliver Twist is a construct of Dickens’ experiences and times. Relativity is a fact that is the same, presumably, everywhere, regardless of who discover(s) it. It’s not possible for Einstein to interact with relativity and change it through his lived experiences.

              • Andrew says:


                Ok, this one is easy. You ask, “when we discuss a person’s contributions to knowledge do you ‘but’ everything with a list of their moral impurities?” My answer is: No, I don’t.

        • somebody says:

          Learning that Ionaddis’s seroprevalence study was partially funded by Boeing Corporation is an important piece of context. Maybe the work still holds up under close examination, re-analysis, code review, full replication (this one didn’t), but context should absolutely affect interpretation of a text. This is an extreme example, but people’s lives obviously affect their work in subtler ways, and learning about their lives can provide clues about their work if not smoking guns.

        • David Chorlian says:

          What does it mean that you are so careless about the historical details? Newton was neither an Anglican nor a Royalist.

      • Agree, we don’t want other’s personal lives to block our benefiting from their insight but rather draw on knowledge of their personal life to enable a better grasp of what the insights actually were.

  3. Anoneuoid says:

    It is hard to follow this, it would be much better to see some quotes from Lakatos at different points during his life.

    Sounds like he experienced fascism, stalinism, some form of anti-stalin communism and marxism. In the end was against all of them?

    Btw, a very good book on fascism in 1930s Germany written by a communist:

  4. Gabriel says:

    I’m just going to register a note of skepticism on that Sesardic book. I read most of the chapter on Lakatos and the author’s style raised some immediate red flags (eg. throwing around Marxist as a pure perjorative, the way he cites his sources etc.).

    This made me curious to know which other philosophers Sesardic criticized in the book. Presumably Heidegger’s or Frege’s Nazism would warrant chapters of their own. Not so! As far as I can tell (I’m not familiar with all the philosophers) Sesardic aims his criticizes chiefly or even exclusively at philosophers on the left. The full list is: Otto Neurath, Rudolf Carnap, Einstein, Godel, Wittgenstein, Lakatos, Jerry Cohen, Michael Dummett, Hilary Putnam, and Donald Davidson.

    Frege does get a brief mention (5 pages) as a “curious case” in a chapter called “Left wing bias: An infantile disorder of contemporary philosophy.” Perhaps the obvious bent of this book is why the only review I found was in the National Review.

    Of course, none of this necessarily means that the author is wrong or wrong about everything. I think it’s perfectly possible that Lakatos was a Stalinist until his own experience and the experience of Hungary in 1956 changed his mind (as the latter did many people’s). However, this entire book reads like a hit job against various prominent philosophers for their left-wing political views.

    So, maybe we don’t need to carry around the idea of Lakatos as a murderous, scheming, duplicitous, suspicious, tyrant-in-waiting just because Sesardic says so.

    • Ben says:

      > I’m just going to register a note of skepticism on that Sesardic book.

      Yeah, or like Anoneuoid said it’s just hard to follow.

      I first heard about Lakatos from the Paul Meehl lectures ( Lecture 2 (, listen for a few minutes after 1:32. So yeah Lakatos has an interesting past for sure, but who was using the London School of Economics webpage as a primary source?

      As far as Sesardic:, so maybe “When Reason Goes on Holiday: Philosophers in Politics” is more of an autobiographical piece.

    • dl says:

      exactly…spend 5 minutes googling the author before accepting/posting the chapter uncritically…apparently a big race/IQ guy too…

      on the merits, the primary sources cited by sersadic (a philosopher, not a historian) seem dubious at the very best

    • Andrew says:

      Gabriel, Dl:

      So, I looked more carefully at that chapter, along with some of Sesardić’s other writings, and . . . it’s complicated.

      I agree that, upon closer reading, Lakatos is not clearly as horrible as he’s portrayed in that paragraph. Sesardić’s main criticisms of Lakatos are:

      1. He pressured his wartime comrade to commit suicide.

      2. He was a backstabber who advanced in politics by betraying his friends and colleagues, and lots of people hated him.

      3. He remained a supporter of the Hungarian Communist party until 1956, even though as an insider he was aware of how bad it was.

      All these are serious issues, but:

      1. This was in the middle of a war, and all these people were at risk of being executed at any time. This is not to excuse Lakatos’s behavior, just to say that I don’t feel so comfortable judging it.

      2. I hate this sort of thing, and it has extra consequences when betrayal can put people in jail—it’s not just about denying people tenure. But . . . lots of successful bureaucrats are backstabbers. It’s a bad trait to have, and it’s not a good sign that a colleague called him “evil,” but this seems separate from the communist thing.

      3. Lots of people support bad political movements, either because they feel they can do more good from the inside than from the outside, or because they think the movement, flawed as it is, is better than the alternative. Based on what I’ve read over the years, I’m inclined to agree with Sesardić that supporting the Hungarian communist party in 1955 or 1956 was a bad call, but I can’t be sure, either. It’s never clear exactly when it makes sense to quit a seriously flawed organization if you support some of its goals.

      Anyway, the point is that, put it all together, and the evidence seems to show that Lakatos lived a very difficult life, he was a nasty guy, and I’d probably have disagreed with him a lot about politics. But, yeah, Sesardić’s picture of him as a monster seems over the top.

      • Phil says:

        Decades ago, a Hungarian said this to me: “If you’re walking down the street and run into a Hungarian coming the other way, punch him in the face as hard as you can.” I said “Why?” and the guy said “he’ll know why.”

        This is apropos of nothing, really; I’ve just been waiting for years for an opportunity to pass this along and this is the first place that seems like I can squeeze it in.

  5. Andrew says:


    Yeah, it’s hard to know. The Stalinism as described by Musgrave and Pigden is much different than the Stalinism as described by Sesardić. I agree that Sesardić seemed to have a general ax to grind; it was just that his chapter was so specific in his details that it seemed convincing to me. But I can’t be sure. I’m curious what the book says about Bertrand Russell. I’ve read a bit about Russell and it seems that he was a very disturbed person in many ways and had some questionable political commitments over the years; he also opposed World War 1, was an early opponent of Stalinism, and fought against militarism more generally. So I wouldn’t want to lump his “intellectually embarrassing screeds against America” (a phrase in this review of Sesardić’s book) with the sort of violence and lies that Sesardić attributes to Lakatos.

  6. chrisare says:

    “Just as the recent U.S. Capitol attack made us realize that fascism isn’t just a bunch of misunderstood resentful guys with extreme racial views and cool logos…”

    Did it? This passing claim warrents explication.

    • Roger says:

      The impeachment trial has shown that the attacks were not fascists, or misunderstood guys, or racists. They believed that the election was stolen, and they protested what they saw as an undemocratic process.

      • Andrew says:


        I don’t know why you think that believing the election was stolen is incompatible with being fascist, or misunderstood, or racist. Also, regarding a belief that the election was stolen: there are different ways to maintain false beliefs, and one way to do this is to actively avoid looking at the evidence. Some of the people in the attack may have been genuinely confused but this confusion was also abetted by people such as Ted Cruz who have had to know that they were supporting B.S. claims. As to fascism: part of that ideology is the glorification of violent takeover of a democratic government, and the capitol attack is a reminder that this isn’t just a quaint historical belief; it could’ve got a bunch of congressmembers killed and altered the course of our government.

        • Phil says:

          Yes to this. It’s only recently that I realized how much personal choice is involved in factual beliefs. People who reject Fox News because it’s in league with the Deep State, and move on to other ‘news’ sources that tell them what they want to hear…these people are not innocents being led down the garden path, they are actively choosing to take the journey.

        • Slawek Smyl says:

          Then why not call them communists? As ” part of that ideology is the glorification of violent takeover of a democratic government”. It does not make sense either.

          • Andrew says:


            “The glorification of violent takeover of a democratic government” is part of fascist ideology, but it’s not the only part. Fascism is also associated with militarism, support of a supreme leader, and far-right politics, all of which fits the DC attacks. Communism also glorifies violent takeover of a democratic government, but its other association include nationalization of industry, social revolution, and far-left politics, none of which really fit the DC attacks or the Trump movement. Fascism and communism are both bad, but they’re different things.

            • Anoneuoid says:

              Please check out the book here, I don’t want to tell you what to conclude:

              You can find it as a pdf online. My grandma escaped Nazi Germany btw, she did not share your narrative of what it was and was not.

              • Andrew says:


                Fascism and communism are not precisely defined terms. Roughly speaking, fascism is far-right totalitarianism and communism is far-left totalitarianism. They have similarities and also differences. I don’t want to be in position of arguing which is worse. I guess I agree with your implicit points that once we start arguing about such labels, they’re not so useful anymore. I think people have performed different sorts of network analyses to connect groups such as “unite the right,” KKK, “stop the steal,” etc., in the same way that there were connections between different far-left organizations in the 1960s and 1970s. As with the far left, the far right has includes mixture of authoritarians, authoritarian wannabees, conspiracy theories, social reformers, and people with legitimate grievances. The Lakatos stories bring some of this mixture to light in the context of someone I already care a lot about because of his philosophical writings.

              • Anoneuoid says:

                Really, just read it because your comment doesn’t capture what it is about. It may be eye opening for you since it was written by a communist with first person experience in fascist Germany during the 1930s. Here is the second page:


            • Slawek Smyl says:

              Every communist leader is glorified, e.g. Stalin, Mao etc. Soviet Union and China were militaristic societies not less than Nazi Germany. “Far-right” policies of Nazi Germany did not differ much from “far-left” policies of Soviet Union, and both of them had not much to do with people who stormed the Congress.

              • Andrew says:


                There are similarities between extreme left-wing and right-wing ideologies and also differences. There’s definitely some truth to horseshoe theory; still, the activists who carry Confederate flags are typically not on the same side as the people who support higher taxes on the rich and more business regulation. Anyway, this is all a response to your statement, “why not call them communists?” I’d be more inclined to call them communists if they supported redistribution, atheism, etc., as well as the violent overthrow of the government. If they supported left-wing policies but not violent overthrow etc., I might call them socialists. If they supported less business regulation and lower taxes but not violent overthrow etc., I might call them conservatives. And if they wave Confederate flags, support right-wing conspiracy theories, and go for violent overthrow etc., I’d put them in the fascist zone. But, sure, fascism is different in different places (Spanish fascism was associated with conservative religious organizations, German fascism not so much), and communism too has varied across countries and over time within countries. These labels are just a convenient summary, not perfect matches.

              • Anoneuoid says:

                I’d be more inclined to call them communists if they supported redistribution, atheism, etc., as well as the violent overthrow of the government.

                This is what fascists do though. From that book:

                The decree of February 28, 1933, nullified article 153 of
                the Weimar Constitution which guaranteed private prop­
                erty and restricted interference with private property in ac­
                cordance with certain legally defined conditions . . . The
                conception of property has experienced a fundamental
                change. The individualistic conception of the State-a re­
                sult of the liberal spirit-must give way to the concept that
                communal welfare precedes individual welfare. (Gemeinnutz
                geht vor Eigennutz). 1

              • Andrew says:


                An example of actual communist revolutionaries in the U.S. were the groups in the late 1960s and early 1970s who were involved in protests, set off bombs, etc. They supported Mao, Che, and black revolutionaries, opposed the police, and, to the extent they had things like tax policy, I guess they supported something close to a 100% upper tax bracket. They were to the left of the far left of Democratic party. The right-wing revolutionaries today such as the people at the U.S. capitol wave Confederate flags, support the police (except of course for the ones who were getting in their way that day), and tend to oppose taxes and business regulation. They are . . . well, until recently I’d say they were to the right of the far right of the Republican party, now I’d say they’re at the far right of the Republican party. So, yeah, horseshoe theory and all that, but I think it’s a mistake to lump all extremists together. Far-left extremists may be annoying to center-leftists, but they’re pretty much trying to push things in a leftward direction; the reverse with far-right extremists.

              • Anoneuoid says:

                They supported Mao, Che, and black revolutionaries, opposed the police, and, to the extent they had things like tax policy, I guess they supported something close to a 100% upper tax bracket.

                Also a fascist policy:

                You cannot imagine how taxation has increased. Yet
                everyone is afraid to complain about it. The new State loans
                are nothing but confiscation of private property, because
                no one believes that the Government will ever make repay­
                ment, nor even pay interest after the first few years. Com­
                pared with these new State loans, the bonds issued during

                the World War were gilt-edged investments.
                We businessmen still make sufficient profit, sometimes
                even large profits, but we never know how much we are
                going to be able to keep . . .

                Defunding local police and replacing with a national police force was too.

              • Anoneuoid says:

                Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, was named Chief of German Police in the Interior Ministry on 17 June 1936 after Hitler announced a decree which was to “unify the control of police duties in the Reich”.[5] Traditionally, law enforcement in Germany had been a state and local matter. In this role, Himmler was nominally subordinate to Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick. However, the decree effectively subordinated the police to the SS. Himmler gained authority as all of Germany’s uniformed law enforcement agencies were amalgamated into the new Ordnungspolizei, whose main office became populated by officers of the SS.[5]

                The police were divided into the Ordnungspolizei (Orpo or regular police) and the Sicherheitspolizei (SiPo or security police), which had been established in June 1936.[5] The Orpo assumed duties of regular uniformed law enforcement while the SiPo consisted of the secret state police (Geheime Staatspolizei or Gestapo) and criminal investigation police (Kriminalpolizei or Kripo). The Kriminalpolizei was a corps of professional detectives involved in fighting crime and the task of the Gestapo was combating espionage and political dissent. On 27 September 1939, the SS security service, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and the SiPo were folded into the Reich Main Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt or RSHA). The RSHA symbolised the close connection between the SS (a party organisation) and the police (a state organisation).[6][7]

                In broad terms, Himmler pursued the amalgamation of SS and police into a form of “State Protection Corps” (Staatsschutzkorps), and used the expanded reach the police powers gave him to persecute ideological opponents and “undesirables” of the Nazi regime such as Jews, freemasons, the churches, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other groups defined as “asocial”. The Nazi conception of criminality was racial and biological, holding that criminal traits were hereditary, and had to be exterminated to purify German blood. As a result, even ordinary criminals were consigned to concentration camps to remove them from the German racial community (Volksgemeinschaft) and ultimately exterminate them.[8]

                The Order Police played a central role in carrying out the Holocaust. By “both career professionals and reservists, in both battalion formations and precinct service” (Einzeldienst) through providing men for the tasks involved.[9]


              • Anoneuoid says:

                Just check that book, because you do not seem to understand what fascism really looks like.

              • Joshua says:

                Perhaps the biggest distinction is that right-wing extremists are aligned with the dominant segments of society whereas left-wing extremists favor dismantling the dominant segments of society.

                Anyway, here’s an interesting take on Fascism (and Trump).



              • somebody says:

                This discussion has proceeded so far away from relevance; many people at the Capitol riots identified themselves as fascists. You can quibble about Ur-Fascist rhetorical style and ideology vs pragmatic realities of economic policy, but the one thing I’m sure we all agree on is that the Nazis were fascists; well, guys with “Camp Auschwitz” shirts and “ arbeit macht frei” flags and skull masks and who call themselves the “Nationalist Social Club” were storming the Capitol. Maybe if they actually took over the federal government it would be functionally identical to Soviet Russia, but you might as well do away with any distinctions between totalitarians altogether.

                And @Anon if you think leftists want to defund the police to establish a national police you are severely out of touch

              • Anoneuoid says:

                @somebody, check the book. Nothing you said has any relevance to my reason for saying so.

              • Anoneuoid says:

                This is Fascism:

                Rubber, for example, is
                extremely scarce, and it is consequently very difficult to
                buy a new rubber tire. lt has become an officially de­
                creed rule that no new tires may be sold unless the old
                tire is returned completely worn out. But this system
                does not work out in practice. Reserve tires are needed
                so badly that firms have resorted to buying entire
                new trucks just to obtain new tires. These tires were
                then removed and the new trucks sold without the tires
                as scrap iron. Business ingenuity in circumventing the
                State bureaucracy thus results in fantastic waste of ma­
                terials, all in the name of preventing waste.

  7. John Williams says:

    Marxism and membership in the Communist Party looked a lot different in 1940 than it does now. Capitalism seemed to have failed, just as Marx predicted, and fascism was the obvious and urgent danger, so Lakatos’s membership should be judged from that perspective. I grew up in the 1940s in a progressive family, and knew a lot of people who were or had been communists; some of them were great people.

  8. oncoguy says:

    A guy who was arrested by the regime in Hungary in 1950 and sent to prison camp and then gave revisionist speeches in 1956 does not seem to be all that Stalinistic to me. A stint in prison camp would make most people hold their tongue. Perhaps Lakatos was a Churchillian in going along with Stalin’s efforts against Hitler.

  9. Gabriel, the reason there is no chapter on Heidegger is simple. As clearly explained in the preface, my book is focused ONLY on *analytic* philosophers.

    As for Frege, I talk about him and his anti-Semitic views in a separate section, but I also try to show that he has not been treated fairly by contemporary philosophers. On one hand, some political views were attributed to him without adequate evidence, and on the other hand, there was little interest in criticizing many of the much worse Stalinist excesses among prominent analytic philosophers. I argued, for example, that Frege was treated with (political) prejudice even in an article about him in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (written by its principal editor). And it happened that, soon upon the publication of my book, the SEP passage I criticized was discreetly modified and made unobjectionable. Post hoc, not propter hoc? Possible.

    Andrew, the main aim of my book was to show a strong leftist bias in analytic philosophy, especially manifested in the willingness of philosophers to tolerate or easily excuse the open support for the left-wing (but not the right-wing) totalitarianism. Whether I succeeded in this is another question, which I am obviously not in the position to answer.

    • rm bloom says:

      Put your self, sir, in someone Englishman’s shoes, say, in 1940 and ask the question then. Ask it of Winston Churchill — or his ghost — if you dare. Do you think the war effort should have been despised because the Russians played the role they did in the second act?

    • Matt Skaggs says:

      “…a strong leftist bias in analytic philosophy, especially manifested in the willingness of philosophers to tolerate or easily excuse the open support for the left-wing (but not the right-wing) totalitarianism.”

      Perhaps all the missing analytic philosophy about right-wing totalitarianism got filed under “propaganda?”

  10. Peter Dorman says:

    I don’t get why people are so dichotomous around the question of author/text. Some say the author’s life, social position and personality don’t matter, only the text matters. Others say it’s all about the creation of the text, and our judgment of it should follow directly from that. (X was a racist, so X’s book is racist.) Isn’t the interaction between life history, social position, personality etc. on the one side and the specifics of the ideas and how they are conveyed on the other a realm to be explored? Many aspects of Lakatos’ philosophy can be appreciated or disputed without any consideration at all to their author, while others are illuminated by knowing where they came from. For instance, the dialogic aspect of Proofs and Refutations is more interesting to me now having learned that Lakatos came up through vulgar Marxism.

    [In my experience, a lot of 20th century philosophy of science was prompted by debates over the status of Marxism, which claimed to be (uniquely?) scientific in its approach to history, economics and politics. This is obvious with Popper, of course, also also Feyerabend. For Lakatos, could Marxism be a SRP?]

    Incidentally, many decent people in Europe latched on to Communism in the 30s because it seemed to be the most effective or even only alternative to fascism. Once in the bubble, there was a lot of reinforcement that turned them into true blue Stalinists, at least temporarily. Then followed the disillusionment, for some as early as the Spanish Civil War, for others the post WWII show trials, for still others 1956. And some continued to stay with it — Hobsbawm, for instance.

  11. morris39 says:

    I continue to be impressed and also puzzled by discussion on this blog. Is it not self evident that including a judgement about the actor’s (whoever) personal virtue or even a judgement whether such valuation is good or not is clearly subjective? Is my subjective view more valid than someone else? Is a difference likely to lead to conflict? Is that conflict likely to be useful?
    So is objectivity the basic tenet of this blog or not? Of course we accept human nature such as it but do we need to exaggerate for effect?

    • Andrew says:


      1. No, objectivity is not the basic tenet of this blog. We have no basic tenets. I discuss objectivity and subjectivity here.

      2. You are expressing a utilitarian attitude, which is fine, but there’s more to life than utilitarianism. I’m interested in Lakatos’s life, whether or not it’s “likely to be useful” for me to express that interest.

      3. Regarding your last sentence: what is the exaggeration of which you speak?

      • jd says:

        blogging seems inherently subjective

      • morris39 says:

        I an not trying to be controversial or offering advice but genuinely puzzled. My view can be seen as utilitarian but I do not adhere to any ideology except that I exist and I think I know my purpose. My criteria for objectivity is a little more than what you say (‘independence of personal biases’).I would like material evidence of an effect even if once removed, say advocating an idea but it must be very rigorous.
        ‘Useful’ is not an absolute, I agree, maybe poor choice of words.
        By exaggeration I mean how we quickly go from ” this person behaved badly in some important situations” to ” this person is malevolent and should be ignored”. It was certainly not meant as criticism of your essay.
        Again I appreciate reading posts here by people in control of their emotions. Thanks for replying.

        • Andrew says:


          I don’t think anyone was saying Lakatos should be ignored. Sesardić was saying Lakatos was malevolent but he was not arguing we should ignore Lakatos, just that we should be aware of his behavior. So you say, “we quickly go from . . .,” but no one other than you is taking that step!

          • morris39 says:

            I am not taking a strong position on this or arguing with anyone here. The ‘we’ in my statement is not ‘you’.
            Given the current ‘cancel’ culture controversies the question of ignoring (cancelling) seems to me to be implied in raising the subject at all. Maybe my tone perception needs a tuneup. I posted early and did not see the bulk of the comments which do not present arguments as you say. A comment on February 12, 2021 at 12:04 pm seemed to do so.

            • Jackson Monroe says:

              AG is talking about how he learned about Lakatos’s past as he was discussing the great influence he had on the philosophy of math. How is it implicit that cancellation is on the table? If anything it is explicit that it is not on the table. Discussing whether someone should be revered and referred to as a Great Man is different from erasing his works from the syllabus. The character of the person in question is clearly relevant in the former inquiry.

              • morris39 says:

                That is a fine distinction. Would the value of the work be changed in any way if there were no discussion at all of the persons (alleged) character. Basic question for me remains. Why bring character into the discussion at all? Saying that’s human nature is not very satisfying.

  12. Roger says:

    Lakatos was influenced by Hegel and Marx in his mathematical philosophy, as well as his politics. So his politics are relevant.

    Lakatos is celebrated for writing an essay attempting to undermine the validity of logical proofs. He points out that a sloppy definition can lead to a counterexample. Okay, didn’t everyone know that? This is silly Hegel-Marx type reasoning to think that this strikes some sort of blow against Mathematics.

    • Andrew says:


      I agree with you about the relevance of Lakatos’s Marxism in understanding his philosophical writings. But I think your second paragraph is arguing against a straw man. I love Proofs and Refutations. I don’t think it “strikes some sort of blow against Mathematics” and I’ve not heard anyone make this claim. Rather, I think Proofs and Refutations gives us insight into mathematics. Also, yes, a sloppy definition can lead to a counterexample. But the point is that definitions and theorems and counterexamples evolve together. One way that we know to consider a definition as “sloppy” is that we’ve seen a counterexample that makes this clear.

  13. Anoneuoid says:

    In degenerating programmes, however, theories are fabricated only in order to accommodate known facts. Has, for instance, Marxism ever predicted a stunning novel fact successfully? Never! It has some famous unsuccessful predictions. It predicted the absolute impoverishment of the working class. It predicted that the first socialist revolution would take place in the industrially most developed society. It predicted that socialist societies would be free of revolutions. It predicted that there will be no conflict of interests between socialist countries. Thus the early predictions of Marxism were bold and stunning, but they failed.

    Marxism ‘explained’ all its failures. It ‘explained’ the rising living standards of the working class by devising a theory of imperialism; it ‘explained’ even why the first socialist revolution occurred in industrially backward Russia. It ‘explained’ Berlin 1953, Budapest 1956, Prague 1968. It ‘explained’ the Russian-Chinese conflict. But their auxiliary hypotheses were all cooked up after the event to protect Marxian theory from the facts. The Newtonian programme led to novel facts; the Marxian programme lagged behind the facts and has been running fast to catch up with them.

    • Chris Wilson says:

      One of my main takeaways from reading Lakatos was how withering his critique of Marxism was! It seems like he moved on and basically disavowed this Stalinist past. The more unsavory things that he was personally responsible for are new to me, but it seems important to note his turn from Marxist-Leninism – he was no Tankie in later years :)

  14. paul alper says:

    Although I appear to be the individual who alerted Andrew to Lakatos’s unsavory past,I thought it was well known. In fact, it must have been well known because I dug it up from my memory of years gone by. Sesardic’s book dates from, I believe, 2016 and Lakatos died in 1974. Of course, it is hardly unusual that a gifted individual has a spectacular flaw or two. Think of the eugenics triumvirate, Galton, Fisher and Pearson.

  15. David Nadle says:

    I found this writing on Lakatos by Jim Baggott to be very interesting, but perhaps it is informed by the same sources being discussed above:

  16. Manuel says:

    I’m all for historical background, but I’m puzzled about how easy it seems to be to slide into “hero/villain” models from it. If someone bought excuses of totalitarianism from Lakatos’ prestige as philosopher that’s bad, but I believe what we should point out is that the opinion about political systems of a philosopher of science, no matter how brilliant the guy is, has no legitimate claim of authority over the one from, say, a really good plumber.

  17. Eric B Rasmusen says:

    I’ve just been reading about the Reichstag Fire Trial. The Reichstag burned down, and the Nazis arrested one real Communist perpetrator (almost certainly set up by Nazi false flaggers) and four Communist Party leaders. One of them, Bulgarian emigre George Dimitrov, chose to conduct his own defense. He made a complete fool of Nazi witness Herman Goering and the entire prosecution ended up looking so bad that the four innocent Communists were acquitted– a year after Hitler had become dictator. The saying was,”There is just one brave man in Germany– and he’s a Bulgarian.”

    But Dimitrov was a Stalinist. He was exiled to Russia, and became the leader of Bulgaria and helped destroy the non-communists there after the Russian troops conquered it.

    We just have to accept that people can be very good in some ways and very evil in others.

    In Lakatos’s case, I can see general marxist ideas in two things: 1. Dialectic– thesis, antithesis, synthesis, and 2. What people say they are doing and what they actually do, their declared motivation and their actual, are two different things.

    • rm bloom says:

      Another “complex” situation: the Finns in 1939 beat back the Russians; at least gave them second thoughts. Then to secure that unstable equilibrium the Finns allied with the Germans. [There are a handful of very old Finnish Jews who were enlisted at that time in the war — at least nominally — on the axis side. Some of those particular Finnish Jews have some particularly interesting reminiscences, to put it mildly]. Eventually when the Germans got what was coming to them, being routed by the Russians, the Finns found themselves again in a very uncomfortable position; which — again — they managed somehow to negotiate their way through. It may be said, in part, the Russians saw the utility of a cooperative neutral. Whatever the case, the Finns paid reparations to the Russians over the ensuing decades; though there were periods of dicey subaltern Russian involvement in their local parties, they wore their neutrality well.

  18. Alex says:

    In May [1944], Lakatos’s mother, grandmother and other relatives were forced into the Debrecen ghetto, thence to die in Auschwitz—the fate of about 600,000 Hungarian Jews. . . . A little earlier, in March, Lakatos himself had managed to escape

    Ya think he wasn’t keen on the appointees of the Hungarian government who sent him there?

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