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97 Paul Goodman, Anarchist Reformer: The Politics of Decentralization Writers’ words commit them, marshal their feelings, put them on the spot. —Paul Goodman, “An Apology for Literature,” 1971 The authentic democrat does not persuade people to his proposition but helps them formulate and realize their own propositions. —Paul Goodman, Five Years: Thoughts During a Useless Time, 1966 In the last year of World War II, readers of politics witnessed C. Wright Mills exchange tough words with Paul Goodman. The matter at hand was the relationship between psychological theory and radical politics. In the context of a history of New Left intellectuals, the debate made clear the range of approaches and styles of thinking available to progressives. Before examining it, though, we should note just how many ideas Mills and Goodman shared. Their commonly held beliefs mattered far more than their differences . Setting these two thinkers side by side, we get a better sense of how there was something of a shared inheritance and emerging Weltanschauung— a common worldview—developing during the 1940s and 1950s among certain thinkers on the left.1 Goodman and Mills drew upon many of the same intellectual traditions. In the first place, both thinkers were Western rationalists and children of the Enlightenment. One of Paul Goodman’s favorite essays, in fact, was Immanuel Kant’s “What Is Enlightenment?” Here, Kant defined his central moral and political concept—autonomy—as the ability of humans to arise out of “self-imposed tutelage” and impose their own laws. As Kant explained in his writing on moral philosophy (which Goodman certainly read as an undergraduate or graduate student), “Autonomy . . . is the basis of dignity of human and of every rational nature.” In defining his own variety of anarchist political theory, Goodman borrowed from Kant’s moral and po1 . I am not arguing here that Goodman directly influenced Mills or vice versa. I am simply pointing out commonalities in their thought. 98 Intellectuals in Action litical thinking: “The chief principle of anarchism is not freedom but autonomy , the ability to initiate a task and do it one’s own way.” Goodman had already articulated his debt to Enlightenment thinkers when he set out his own core beliefs against certain libertarian, avant-garde writers. Sounding like Mills, he claimed that he had “not given up on . . . vocation [i.e., purposeful work], rational politics, . . . the culture of the Western world,” as others had. These beliefs oriented Goodman’s thinking from the 1940s until his death. As he explained in an editorial letter at the end of his life, “I regard myself as a loyal son of the Enlightenment.”2 Goodman was as loyal as Mills was to a more specific intellectual tradition : pragmatism. Both thinkers shared a faith in core American values—the sort expressed in Walt Whitman’s poetry and John Dewey’s philosophy. Goodman praised “good humor” and the “classless and democratic” values that had arisen out of the “frontier” culture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, values that many Americans (Mills certainly included) still shared in his own time. In everyday life, Goodman was a democrat: “I address everybody with the same familiarity, disregarding their assumptions and presumptions.” This sort of experimental life, which did not necessarily win Goodman friends, led him to sympathize with Dewey’s philosophy. He wrote (in prose that almost mimicked Dewey’s), “It was the genius of American pragmatism, our great contribution to world philosophy, to show that the means define and color the ends, . . . to make consummation less isolated , more in-process formed, to be growth as well as good.” In the same breath, though, Goodman—just like Bourne, Macdonald, and Mills—expressed how “melancholy” it was “to consider the fate of John Dewey’s instrumentalism.” Goodman would never question the central philosophical teachings of pragmatism—for instance, in his own words, that “truth is not the description of a state of things but the orientation of an ongoing activity .” Rather, he would point out pragmatism’s misappropriation in American society. He went beyond Bourne, Macdonald, and Mills, who positioned themselves against Dewey’s support of World War I. In sweeping and largely unfair terms, Goodman further complained that “Dewey’s pragmatic 2. Immanuel Kant, “What Is Enlightenment?” in The Philosophy of Immanuel Kant, ed. Carl Friedrich (New York: Modern Library, 1949), 132, and Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1949), 53. Paul Goodman, Little Prayers and Finite Experience (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), 47; “Art of the...


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