Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

The Pragmatist's Faith

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

The Pragmatist's Faith

Article excerpt

"'Loyal to a Dream Country': Republicanism and the Pragmatism of William James and Richard Rorty" by Daniel S. Malachuk, in Journal of American Studies (Apr. 2000), Cambridge Univ. Press, Edinburgh Building, Shaftesbury Rd., Cambridge, CB2 2RU, England.

When they turn to politics, pragmatists from William James to Richard Rorty consistently embrace republicanism, an outlook that, with its emphasis on polis-centered civic virtue, harks back to Jefferson, Machiavelli, and Aristotle. Is there any basis for this preference? Malachuk, a professor of humanities at Daniel Webster College in New Hampshire, suggests there is: the pragmatist's underlying "religious" faith that "the universe is ... one of contingency rather than order."

Most pragmatists, being antifoundation-lists who claim that truths are made ("socially constructed") rather than found, would reject the idea that their republicanism has any such foundation, notes Malachuk. Logically, they would admit, they could as easily adopt the vocabulary of Nazism as of republicanism. In the American context, they would contend, "republicanism is simply the vocabulary that works best."

But republicanism is, for pragmatists, more than just another vocabulary, Malachuk argues. …

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