Making the Case for Liberal Democracy
Publication Year: 2012
In our current age of cynicism, John McGowan suggests that the time is right to take a fresh look at pragmatism, the philosophy of American democracy. As McGowan shows, pragmatism can be an inspiring alternative to the despair that seems to dominate contemporary American politics. Pragmatist Politics is passionate and convincing, both heartfelt and clear-eyed. It offers an expansive vision of what the United States could be and should be.
From John Dewey and William James, McGowan derives a history of democracy as a way of life, characterized by a distinctive ethos and based on an understanding of politics as potentially effective collective agency. That democratic ideal is wedded to a liberalism that focuses on extending the benefits of democracy and of material prosperity to all. Beyond the intellectual case for liberal democracy, McGowan turns to how James, especially, was attuned to the ways that emotional appeals often trump persuasion through arguments, and he examines the work of Kenneth Burke, among others, to investigate the link between liberal democracy and a comic view of human life. Comedy, McGowan notes, allows consideration of themes of love, forgiveness, and generosity that figure far too infrequently in philosophical accounts of politics.
In McGowan’s work, the combination of pragmatism and comedy takes us on a wide-ranging exploration of what American politics—and by extension American life—could actually be like if it truly reflected American values.
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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A Note on References
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Introduction: Philosophy and Democracy
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...everyday parlance, is someone ready to jettison prior convictions orsaying about politics nor the common understanding of the pragma-tist is meant as high praise. At best, they reflect resigned acceptancethat the best is often deemed impossible, and thus getting somethingdone is respectable in many cases, albeit admirable only rarely. The...
1. The Philosophy of Possibility
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...on the future, pragmatism has an alarmingly wide range of creationstories: the Metaphysical Club of the 1870s, Peirce’s banishment ofCartesian doubt and enunciation of the pragmatic maxim, and Dewey’sabandonment of Hegel for Darwin in his 1896 essay “The Reflex ArcConcept in Psychology” among them.1 But William James’s famous...
2. Is Progress Possible?
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...contemporaries than in their belief in progress. Politically, James andDewey were aligned with a progressivist movement that worked to bringAmerican democracy to full fruition. Philosophically, Peirce, James,and Dewey mostly adhered to the positivist faith in science’s ability toimprove human life, a faith they derived from Auguste Comte and John...
3. The Democratic Ethos
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Dewey to pursue a vision of a possible liberal democracy in the spiritof their work. The next three chapters follow Dewey in thinking ofdemocracy as “a moral idea” and a “way of life.” So I do not attendhere to institutional and procedural considerations pertinent to lib-eral democracy, which is not to deny their crucial importance. They...
4. Human Rights
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...scribed in the last chapter also provides the core elements of a prag-matist theory of rights. But it is worth spending some time hereon rights because the topic raises a number of interesting problemsand, thus, offers an opportunity to consider the resources pragmatismaffords for addressing those problems. In the broadest sense, rights,...
5. Liberal Democracy as Secular Comedy
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...which human desires are satisfied, while tragedy tells us, in Nietzsche’swords, that there is a “contradiction” between human needs and whatthe world will afford us.1 For Northrop Frye, “tragedy seems to leadup to an epiphany of law, of that which is and must be. . . . [T]he over-whelming majority of tragedies do leave us with a sense of the suprem -...
Appendix: Martha Nussbaum’s List of “Central Human Functional Capabilities”
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More than twenty years ago, a reader of my Postmodernism and Its Criticstold me that the account of democracy I developed in that book as anantidote to poststructuralist politics clumsily reinvented a wheel thatJohn Dewey had already eloquently designed. Steeped in continentalphilosophy and literary theory in graduate school, I had never read...
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Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2012