Dewey's Dream: Universities and Democracies in An Age of Education Reform : Civil Society, Public Schools, and Democratic Citizenship

By Lee Benson; Ira Harkavy et al. | Go to book overview

1
Michigan Beginnings,
1884–1894

Democracy is not in reality what it is in name until it is
industrial, as well as civil and political
.

JOHN DEWEY, THE ETHICS OF DEMOCRACY (1888)

IN 1884 DEWEY COMPLETED graduate work in philosophy at Johns Hopkins University and began teaching at the University of Michigan. A committed Christian and Hegelian philosopher, he had little interest in societal theory or problems of democracy. By 1888, however, his interests and orientation had changed radically.

For a complex set of personal and intellectual reasons, which were probably influenced by the social and ideological conflicts then angrily dividing American society, Dewey enthusiastically advocated a new social theory. It was based on the “neo-Hegelian understanding of society as a peculiar kind of moral organism and the related notion of individual freedom within this organic society as the positive freedom to make the best of oneself as a social being and not merely the negative freedom from external restraint or compulsion.”1

Having been converted during the mid-1880s to a participatory democratic theory of organic society based on the positive interaction between the common good and individual self-development, in 1888 Dewey published his long essay “The Ethics of Democracy.” To present and support his own views, Dewey formed his essay into a sharp critique of Sir Henry Maine's influential denunciation of democracy in Popular Government (1885). Echoing ancient Greek and modern

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