Dewey on Democracy

Dewey on Democracy

Dewey on Democracy

Dewey on Democracy


Revived appreciation of John Dewey as an inspirational advocate of participatory democracy has been tempered by criticism that he lacks a concrete political program. William R. Caspary makes the case for Dewey as a more discerning and challenging political theorist than this. Caspary draws from Dewey's extensive writings a concrete politics of participatory democracy, solving classic dilemmas confronting both democratic theorists and citizen activists. He compares Dewey's views with the full range of approaches in contemporary democratic theory and explores the underpinnings of Dewey's political theory by offering a thorough and innovative account of his philosophy of science, social science, and ethics.

In Dewey's democratic theory, conflict is an inescapable condition of politics, according to Caspary, and is also an essential stimulus for the advancement of individuals and societies. Recognizing the centrality of conflict, Caspary claims, Dewey makes conflict resolution an overarching concept in his theory of democracy. Caspary argues that conflict resolution is central to Dewey's philosophy of ethics and of science. Caspary -- a scholar with many years of experience as a social-movement activist, ombudsperson, and mediator -- traces this conflict-resolution orientation throughout Dewey's writings.

Caspary brings Dewey's abstract theories down to earth with examples from present-day social and political experiments, including progressive educational experiments, common-ground dialogues on abortion, the South African program for truth and reconciliation, and worker self-management cooperatives.


Interest in the philosophy of John Dewey has been revived in the last fifteen years, bringing renewed enthusiasm and fresh insight to his work. Democratic theory has also seen vigorous activity during this period. This book stands at the intersection of these two traditions. During much of his career, Dewey was a dominating presence in the fields of political theory, philosophy, and education, but his influence went into eclipse following World War II. In the era of McCarthyism, Dewey was portrayed as dangerously radical. At the same time, the domination of the analytic and logical positivist approaches in philosophy made Dewey seem obsolete. But in the 1980s, with rising challenges to the analytic approach in philosophy (from postempiricists, feminists, neo-Hegelians, neo-Kantians, and postmodernists) and a renewed search for a strong democratic perspective in political theory, interest in Dewey was rekindled. By this time, political theorists interested in continental critical theory and European Marxism had assimilated these traditions sufficiently to permit reconsideration of approaches originating in the United States, and more directly concerned with democracy. Democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe have swelled this trend but are far too recent to account for its origins. From this perspective, Dewey appears as a major contributor to the emerging theory of participatory democracy.

In light of postempiricist and postanalytic perspectives, philosophers . . .

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