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  • Democracy as Culture: Deweyan Pragmatism in a Globalized World
  • Emil Višňovský
Sor-Hoon Tan and John Whalen-Bridge (Eds.). Democracy as Culture: Deweyan Pragmatism in a Globalized World. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008, xiv + 218 pp.

The issue of democracy is alive once more. There is a growing number of works debating the current state of democracy both in theory and practice.1 In particular a pragmatist conception of democracy has also been revived. Not only has a Deweyan version of a participatory democracy become the focus but the intricacies of a Rortian version have also come to the forefront, from both sympathetic as well as critical viewpoints.2 Thus the impression that the contemporary world is in quite an exigent need of reconsidering—and perhaps even forming a novel conception of—democracy seems to be obvious, at least from a global point of view.3

Moreover, the fact that the idea or ideal of democracy still seems to be attractive in the global context, especially for non-Western countries, notwithstanding all those serious foot-faults committed by the G. W. Bush administration during the past decade, may be taken as evidence of its remarkable power. However, no one should be fooled by the illusion that democracy is an “eternal” or “universal” system. Rather, democracy—be it what it may—is to be continuously recreated with all its essential attributes in and for every particular context. Such is the almost twenty-year long experience of the post-communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe, where democracy has been wholeheartedly welcomed and as a political measure instituted, so to say, “overnight,” but now the citizens of these countries have come to realize that there is much more to democracy than the freedom of speech and the freedom to vote, etc. That democracy is a matter of culture in the broadest meaning of both terms—and not only of so-called political culture—is a complex idea, which, strangely enough, might be clear to intellectuals and philosophers, though, alas, its appreciation is far from common amongst the general public and even active politicians. It is by no means ingrained within Western culture where the tradition of understanding democracy primarily, if not exclusively, [End Page 321] as a matter of politics in terms of the “technology of power and governance” prevails.

The current predicament concerning democracy in a global context may also serve as an opportunity to explore new ways of development. Judging and testing specifically Deweyan and more broadly pragmatist conceptions of democracy as promising candidates for “global democracy” is the overall intention of the present book. The volume fits this trend very well, and the authors attempt to add some further aspects to it. In most cases, they do so ably and clearly. The idea of providing a Deweyan “passport” to all “democratic travelers” across the globe in the current era is being fulfilled with similar Deweyan vigor, intelligence, and creativity combined in many places with a unique sensitivity for “global details” and a holistic vision stemming from the spirit of Eastern philosophy. The particular focus—and prerogative—of the book is the specific “Asian dimension” of global Deweyan democracy (certainly not only due to the fact that around half a dozen of the authors hold positions at Asian universities), developed in an updated dialogue of Deweyan ideas between both the past and contemporary discussants that Dewey accrued due to his journeys to Japan and China (1919–1921). The present volume in principle shows that Dewey is still relevant today, and even in the global context for the current reconstruction of democratic culture; however, Dewey himself should be likewise reconstructed in the face of present challenges and demands. This is not an impossible task, thanks to the reconstructive and transformative spirit of Deweyan philosophy, which may at the same time serve as a test of itself: due to the anti-dogmatic character of this philosophy, the principle of reconstruction can do it no harm; rather, it is required.

The volume contains eleven contributions divided into three sections. These are preceded by two opening texts, first by the personal recollections that serve as a tribute from...


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pp. 321-327
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