[Paleopsych] Hedgehog: John Patrick Diggins: Proceduralism, Pragmatism, and Postmodernity

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John Patrick Diggins: Proceduralism, Pragmatism, and Postmodernity
The Hedgehog Review - Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture


          At a conference on political thought held at Yale University
    several years ago, one session addressed the question: "Does Democracy
    Require Foundations?" Panel members who took part in the session were
    responding to the idea, derived from French poststructualism and
    deconstruction, that we must learn to live in a world without
    philosophical absolutes, without, that is, any possibility of tracing
    things to their origins or establishing necessary, indubitable truths
    as a means of legitimizing a political regime. All there is, we are
    told, is the reality that power is everywhere, and that words and
    language can get us nowhere since they float freely without reference
    to objects beyond the text.

          Curiously, all the members of the panel agreed that democracy
    did not require foundations. Had I participated, I would have
    dissented, or at least suggested that the answer can be yes as well as
    no. For most of American history, politics was practiced without
    reference to philosophical foundations, and indeed the founding of the

          John Patrick Diggins is Distinguished Professor of History at
    the City University of New York. Among his many publications are The
    Lost Soul of American Politics: Virtue, Self-Interest, and the
    Foundations of Liberalism; The Promise of Pragmatism: Modernity and
    the Crisis of Knowledge and Authority; and most recently, Thorstein
    Veblen: Theorist of the Leisure Class.

          Republic itself, as articulated in the Federalist Papers, did
    not rely upon such foundations as "self-evident truths." Yet in
    periods of moral crisis--such as the crisis over slavery, which the
    Democratic Party had deflected until the 1850s--it is difficult to see
    how politics can be addressed without reference to deeper
    philosophical foundations. Consider the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

          In those famous debates, Senator Stephen Douglas might be
    regarded as a precursor of postmodernity, one who refused to think of
    politics as requiring foundations or to regard slavery itself as a
    matter of right and wrong. Abraham Lincoln, although often referred to
    as a pragmatist, was a foundationalist on the issue of slavery. Not
    only did he reject the idea that the subject of slavery should be left
    up to a public opinion poll, or that its status could turn on the
    tropes of language itself, he also demonstrated why truth must be
    grounded in invariant principles. What the poststructuralist hails as
    a great discovery--that ideas are social constructions reflecting the
    conditions of their production--was, for Lincoln, precisely the
    problem. "The world," Lincoln wrote,

      has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the
      American people, just now, are such in the want of one. We all
      declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean
      the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to
      do as he pleases, with himself, and with the product of his labor;
      while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they
      please with other men, and the product of other men's labor. Here
      are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the
      same name, liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by
      the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible
      names--liberty and tyranny.
      The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for which the
      sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf
      denounces him for the same act, as the destroyer of liberty,
      especially if the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the
      wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and
      precisely the same difference prevails today among us human
      creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love

          A language that cannot be constrained by the defining properties
    of the object to which it purports to refer is precisely the problem
    of politics as Lincoln saw it. Ultimate questions cannot be decided by
    either the vagaries of language or the brute realities of power.
    Although the issue of slavery was indeed fought over on the field of
    battle, Lincoln sought to prevent war by elevating politics to
    principles based upon foundations. Thus he challenged the
    proto-poststructuralism and contextualism of Douglas, who insisted
    that the meaning of slavery and freedom depended on the use of
    language and how the terms were understood in different sections of
    the country. If that were the case, Lincoln replied, there would be no
    way to establish right from wrong.

      That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in
      this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself
      shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two
      principlesIright and wrongIthroughout the world. They are the two
      principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time;
      and will ever continue to struggle.[4]^2

          There is a moralistic, foundational tradition in American
    politics that reaches sublime expression in Lincoln and appears again
    in Woodrow Wilson. It may have something to do with Calvinism, which
    George Santayana credited with giving America something American
    politics sorely needs: "an agonized conscience."[5]^3 There is also a
    fundamentalist tradition involving the competing religious
    perspectives of evangelical Protestants, orthodox Jews, and
    doctrinaire Catholics, whose members disagree vociferously with their
    more liberal counterparts on such issues as education, sexual
    relations, abortion, marriage, and the family.[6]^4 But the tradition
    that founded America and shaped its course of political development,
    at least up until recently, was neither foundational nor
    fundamentalist, and it involved two ingredients that were a part of
    what might be called the Anglo-Scottish legacy.

          The Anglo side stems from a Lockeanism that pervaded America's
    political history and, I hope to demonstrate, is still with us despite
    all the recent developments in contemporary culture. In some respects
    the seventeenth-century philosopher John Locke presaged the pragmatist
    philosopher John Dewey. Long before the latter made philosophy
    instrumental, the former liberated philosophy from metaphysics,
    declaring that unanswerable questions need not bother us since all we
    need to know is whatever answers to our practical needs. Thus the
    sailor need not plumb the depths of the ocean, Locke advised in An
    Essay Concerning Human Understanding, but only know the length of the
    line in order to keep his vessel off the shoals.[7]^5

          Although Thomas Jefferson may have been uncomfortable with
    Locke's unconcern for metaphysical foundations, he embraced his
    political theory, even to the point of claiming it should be the
    official philosophy of the University of Virginia. The idea of
    inalienable natural rights, and the relationship of labor to moral
    character and freedom to property and opportunity--ideas that resonate
    in the Declaration of Independence--are derived from Locke's The
    Second Treatise of Government. It is the Lockean consensus in American
    thought that makes it so difficult to find a tradition of civic virtue
    based on politics alone to the exclusion of economics and the life of

          The Scottish component in American thought can be seen in the
    Federalist Papers and in the voluminous writings of John Adams, where
    David Hume and Adam Smith are cited. What the Scots provided was a
    combination of Calvinism and skepticism that made American thinkers
    aware of the omnipresent reality of power and interest, the
    unreliability of language as representative of reality, and the
    deceits involved in the rhetoric of virtue. The poststructuralists and
    deconstructionists of our time have the French Enlightenment in mind
    when they do a critique of its pretensions to reason and logocentrism.
    But such Cartesian assumptions are not in the Federalist, and America
    had its political founding not on the promises of knowledge but on the
    premises of power and the devices necessary for its control.[9]^7

The Fragility of Civil Society

          The expression "civil society" has been revived in America after
    having disappeared from political discourse for more than a century.
    When people in countries once under communist control found that they
    had to figure out ways of coping with their lives apart from
    government, the term "civil society," first used by the German
    philosopher G. F. W. Hegel, reemerged in Eastern Europe. More recently
    in America, the term was traced to Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy
    in America, where the French thinker extolled "voluntary associations"
    and other organizations that sprang up spontaneously to face problems
    and sustain stable values in a period of rapid change. The critique of
    present-day America holds that the American people have become too
    dependent upon the Federal government and, as a result, neighborhood,
    community, and the family are losing all independence and

          That critique has been elegantly expressed in Michael Sandel's
    Democracy's Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy. The
    American government has become a "procedural state" that responds
    neutrally to various interest groups and rights-bearing factions,
    making no distinction in regard to values and ethics as it deals with
    subjects who assume themselves to be independent, freely-choosing, and
    self-constituting individuals. In reality, according to Sandel,
    persons are "encumbered by moral or civic obligations they have not
    chosen" and, hence, we must see ourselves as part of a community and
    take responsibility for that community's affairs. The essence of
    freedom in the "civic republic" is involvement in the very community
    that influences our fate. Power must be dispersed away from the
    Federal government toward local communities.[10]^8

          The case for a decentralized civic republic calls to mind the
    eighteenth-century debate between the Federalists and anti-Federalists
    over the new Constitution. The latter also believed that values and
    civic attitudes are best generated at the local level and that a large
    government remote from the people can undermine the people's character
    and virtue. Today, many Americans would also agree that government has
    become the problem rather than the solution, but how much they would
    like to see it recede from their lives is another matter altogether.
    Nevertheless, at the time of the Constitution, it was precisely
    because local governments proved incapable of governing themselves
    that a larger "extended Republic" had to be devised. Instead of
    practicing civic virtue and putting the interests of the public good
    ahead of their own acquisitiveness, people in several of the states
    printed cheap money and took other actions to avoid indebtedness, and
    thus the new U.S. Constitution had to assume control of currency and
    other monetary affairs. The Federalist Papers authors discovered what
    British leaders had already learned when trying to get the colonists
    to pay their share for the upkeep and military protection of the
    imperial system: the more local and private are politics, the less
    public spirited are the people.

          What, after all, was the American Revolution if not a revolution
    against taxes; against government as an external imposition; against
    civic duty as loyalty to the mother country; and against, from the
    British perspective, reform itself? Had the Revolution been inspired
    by the principles of classical republicanism, one would expect the
    Declaration of Independence to have demanded the right to participate
    in politics in the name of civic virtue--subjects upon which it
    remained silent. Instead, the Declaration pronounced a set of Lockean
    principles that set Americans free not to engage in civic obligations
    but to pursue happiness. Had America developed according to the
    visions of the nationalist Alexander Hamilton or of the Calvinist John
    Adams, one might expect to find some traces of morality and public
    duty. But America's political culture has been Jeffersonian through
    and through--a culture that continues to extol the goodness of the
    people and the awfulness of government. In America, liberty seldom
    meant more than resistance to authority, and freedom always referred
    to the foreground. As George Santayana put it, describing the America
    of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "a sense of potentiality and a sense of
    riddance are, as he might have said, the two poles of liberty."[11]^9

          The America of Tocqueville also seems distant from anything
    resembling a "civic republic." In Democracy in America, Tocqueville
    himself is not so certain that civil society can be relied upon to
    overcome America's drive toward a materialism that may turn out to be
    more "pernicious" than "virtuous" and an individualism that would be
    more destructive of community values than upholding of them. In
    America it was "not that virtue is great but that temptation is
    small," he observed, noting how the absence of distinct social classes
    rendered property safe from democracy and made it unnecessary for the
    American people to follow Montesquieu's advice and practice civic
    virtue by renouncing inclinations toward comfort and pleasure.

          It is amazing that many recent scholars cite Tocqueville's
    Democracy in America as a beacon that will help guide us out of our
    contemporary dilemmas. His description of "voluntary associations"
    takes up only a half-dozen pages in a book that goes on for 700. More
    seriously, Tocqueville, instead of describing Americans as situated,
    rooted, and encumbered with ties here and there, explains why
    associations are impermanent and why Americans are too migratory, too
    much on the move to sustain any sense of community. "Why Are Americans
    So Restless Amidst Their Prosperity?" he asked. A nation of immigrants
    who chose to uproot themselves from past ties, Americans continue to
    see themselves as free to choose again and again to move on. Americans
    are seldom relaxed, content, at one with themselves. Thus, although
    Tocqueville spots a few stirrings of civil society, he describes the
    American national character as incompatible with communal loyalty and
    other requirements necessary for a civic republic.[12]^10

          According to Sandel, American intellectual history, years ago,
    amounted to a struggle between two warring camps: Hamiltonian
    nationalism and the public good and Jeffersonian individualism and the
    local community. When writing about the past today, the division is
    between liberalism and republicanism, and the analysis goes something
    like this:

      Liberalism is negative in that one exercises rights primarily to
      protect oneself from government interference and from societal
      Liberalism is rights-based and its claims take precedence over the
      larger good, the spiritual well-being and welfare of the nation as
      a whole.
      Liberalism thus results in proceduralism; it is concerned only with
      the processes of government, not with any substantive conception of
      the moral or civic life, but simply with the freedom to choose our
      own ends and values.
      Republicanism, in contrast, is positive; it is for something,
      particularly whatever may be higher or more ennobling in the life
      of citizenship.
      Republicanism emphasizes civic virtue, the willing subordination of
      private interests to public ideals; hence it is less about rights
      than about duties and obligations.
      Republicanism also emphasizes liberty not as a stance apart from
      government but as a principle that is earned by virtue of
      participating in politics and taking part in the workings of
      government and in government's vital decisions.

          Sandel's account of how liberal proceduralism became prevalent
    in modern American law is compelling; but acceptance of his account of
    how republican moralism prevailed in early American history requires a
    willing suspension of disbelief.

          Sandel sees the Lincoln-Douglas debates as an instance when
    republican moralism challenged liberal proceduralism. Douglas wanted
    to avoid the question of slavery as a moral issue and to allow people
    in the territories to "vote it up or down." In contrast, Lincoln
    argued "for a political conception of justice," for the idea that
    "policy should express rather than avoid a substantive moral judgment
    about slavery."[13]^11 Against Douglas's amoral procedural position,
    "Lincoln replied that it was reasonable to bracket the question of the
    morality of slavery only on the assumption that it was not the moral
    evil he regarded it to be. Any man can advocate political neutrality
    `who does not see anything wrong in slavery,'" Sandel quotes Lincoln
    as insisting, "`but no man can logically say he don't care whether a
    wrong is voted up or down.'"[14]^12

          Sandel's account of the debates is accurate and discerning, but
    we must face the contradiction within civic republicanism when it
    comes to moral issues like slavery. Douglas's advocating popular
    sovereignty in the territories was compatible with republicanism in
    that the people themselves would decide the issue of slavery. Lincoln,
    aware that democratic input does not necessarily lead to democratic
    outcomes, had to deny people the right to do wrong. Here we have, it
    seems, a conflict between the republican principle of liberty as the
    right to participate in the decisions of government and the republican
    principle of substantive justice as the duty to bring ethics to bear
    upon politics. Fortunately for America, Lincoln was a Calvinist who
    knew sin when he saw it, and he was willing to deny the republican
    principle of participatory politics, even going so far as to deny the
    self the right to self-determination.

          When forced to choose between liberty and morality, Lincoln
    chose the latter. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in contrast, chose the
    former and left the American judicial system sunk in proceduralism.
    Sandel's critical analysis of Holmes's reasoning is as learned as it
    is lucid. Holmes led the way in seeing the Constitution as an
    instrument of safeguards rather than as a vessel of truths. Along with
    other justices, Holmes denied the notion that the Constitution
    substantively affirms a particular social or economic philosophy;
    while the justices championed judicial protection of such civil
    liberties as freedom of speech, they resisted the position that the
    Constitution should take on controversial issues involving moral or
    political beliefs. "There is," wrote Holmes,

      nothing that I more deprecate than the use of the Fourteenth
      Amendment beyond the absolute compulsion of its words to prevent
      the making of social experiments that an important part of the
      community desires, even though the experiments may seem futile or
      even noxious to me and to those whose judgment I most respect.

          Sandel's own judgment of Holmes deserves quotation:

      Although Holmes's dissents are often read as arguments about the
      role of the judge, they also contain a larger claim about the
      nature of the Constitution. Implicit in his dissents is not only an
      argument for judicial deference to majorities but also a certain
      reading of the Constitution, a reading that says the Constitution
      does not embody any particular conception of the good. His point
      was not only that judges should refrain from imposing their
      morality on the Constitution, but also that the Constitution itself
      refuses to endorse any particular morality.[15]^13

          Sandel is disturbed to discover how Holmes's reasoning led to a
    stance of judicial restraint that would be neutral about the ends of
    government and leave us with a "procedural republic" when what we need
    is a polity of community, civic engagement, and other virtuous
    activities required by the ideal of self-government. But it should be
    noted that Holmes's proceduralism evolved from his deeper pragmatic
    temperament; and while Sandel's recent quarrel is with proceduralism,
    this writer's long-standing quarrel has been with pragmatism. A
    philosophy that promises to help us confront "problematic situations"
    and solve them, pragmatism may very well be the problem of democratic
    politics itself.

Pragmatism And Its Limits

          In the last decade or so, pragmatism has enjoyed a revival in
    America and in parts of Europe and Asia. The revival may have
    something to do with the collapse of communism, the exhaustion of
    Marxism as a theory of history and society, and the renewed respect
    paid to democracy as a way of life as well as a political system. At
    first glance it may seem that pragmatism reinforces democracy as an
    open-ended proposition ungrounded in philosophical foundations. The
    case for "postmodern democracy" that has been made on behalf of
    Friedrich Nietzsche can also be made on behalf of John Dewey. The
    philosopher Lawrence J. Hatab makes the case in these terms:

      We can summarize the case for a postmodern, postmetaphysical
      democracy as follows: In politics, since we have no certainty, no
      absolutes, no transcendent or a priori guidance, since we cannot
      trust human beings to be fully knowledgeable or good, we need an
      ongoing contest of perspectives, a vote to provide temporary
      contingent decisions, and an agreement that such decisions be
      binding. Nothing in this description involves or requires some
      positive condition, property, or capacity that makes us "equal,"
      that indicates some universal "human nature" or "common good."
      Indeed it is driven by negativity, opposition, and limits. We can
      therefore replace "all persons are equal" with "no person should be
      excluded from participation," or, if one likes it in positive
      terms, "all persons should be allowed to participate." Why should
      everyone be included? Because we do not know the truth or the good,
      and we cannot know in advance with any a priori confidence what
      course we should follow or who is privileged to identify or execute
      that course.[16]^14

          Dewey, who remained convinced that there was no way to return to
    eighteenth-century ideas like "human nature," would probably endorse
    the statement, although with perhaps more trust in people being "fully
    knowledgeable" in using their intelligence. The problem is that the
    position described above resembles nothing so much as Douglas in his
    debates with Lincoln. It was Douglas who insisted that we cannot know
    in advance what should be the policy on slavery in the territories
    and, hence, it should be left up to the people to decide. There are no
    certainties or absolutes in politics, no philosophical foundations
    from which we can take our bearings. Lincoln, good Calvinist that he
    was, knew better and took his bearings from the Bible and the
    Declaration of Independence. Combine Lincoln's political actions with
    his thoughtful meditations, and we have a leader who could be both a
    pragmatist and a foundationalist

          The philosopher Richard Rorty remains convinced that we can
    embrace the former and drop the latter. The mission of the
    intellectual, he has argued, consists in writing a "narrative of
    emancipation from cruelty" that will bring about "a decent
    society--defined as one where social institutions do not humiliate,"
    and such efforts

      can be spun without much reference to religion or philosophy, to
      the views people hold about the existence or non-existence of God,
      or about the nature of Truth or Reason. We should not presume that
      there is a tight connection between the attainment of decency in
      human relations and the ascendancy of a particular

          Perhaps not. But it would be helpful to have presented before us
    concrete examples in history when emancipatory movements have
    succeeded without "reference to religion or philosophy." The
    abolitionist movement had many orientations to Protestant religion and
    the philosophy of Transcendentalism, which in turn derived from the
    German idealism of Immanuel Kant and its ethic of duty. The
    pragmatist-poststructuralist regards Kantianism as deluded by its own
    foundationalist precepts and imperatives, but it served well those who
    wanted to bring about the decent society that is part of Rorty's
    hopes. The abolitionist-theologian Theodore Parker even felt the need
    to regender God: "I have called God Father, but also Mother...to
    express more sensibility, the quality of tender and unselfish love,
    which mankind associates with Mother more than aught else
    besides."[18]^16 To forge the most successful American political
    movement of the twentieth century, the post-World-War-II civil rights
    movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., drew upon the Transcendentalist
    Henry David Thoreau and the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr--further
    evidence, it would seem, that philosophy and religion are not
    irrelevant to the making of a decent society.

          When one turns to the career of Dewey himself, one would also
    like to have some reassurance that he was able to confront problems
    facing America without recourse to foundational principles in
    philosophy and religion. Although a decent man of utmost principles
    himself, Dewey seemed indifferent to the indecencies and brutalities
    of the world around him. He never wrote about the issue of race in
    America and seldom made any mention of feminism and the women's
    movement, as did many of his own generation, particularly the
    Greenwich Village rebels of the pre-World-War-I years. And
    significantly, the success of both the civil rights movement and the
    women's movement had little to do with democracy and instead depended
    upon the Constitution and the equal protection of the laws. Any
    success the trade union movement had in America also had little do to
    with democracy and the sentiments of majorities who refused to
    identify with the working class. Pragmatism supposedly has reference
    only to "experience," and not to God, truth, reason, or whatever might
    be considered foundational. Yet it may be that experience itself
    refutes the promises of pragmatism, particularly in the area of
    politics and social reform.

          Except for educational reform and a brief involvement with the
    pacifist movement in America, Dewey rarely became caught up in
    American politics as practiced at the local or national level of
    government. Unlike Walter Lippmann and Henry Adams, he never wrote
    about democratic politics and representative government as actual,
    day-to-day realities; unlike Weber and Tocqueville, he never wrote on
    the necessity of reconstituting representative political institutions
    or held a public office that required coping with the wheeling and
    dealing of electoral politics. Thus Dewey, like our contemporary
    neo-pragmatists, was reluctant to admit that many problems facing the
    country derived directly from democracy itself. Contrary to the view
    of the pragmatist, it was not the lack of participation and
    involvement on the part of the citizen that had befuddled the American
    polity. With its emphasis on instrumental adaptation to changing
    conditions, pragmatism issued in the proceduralism that is death to
    politics as an ethical vocation.

          In The Public And Its Problems and elsewhere, Dewey declared
    that the answer to the problems of democracy is "more democracy."
    Nowhere in his writings did he seem to understand that more democracy
    means more politics--and with more political participation, the
    American people end up with more institutions and agencies, more
    structures and systems, even, and especially, those structures that
    become alienated from the very people who consented to their creation.
    Hence, today's state primary systems, once thought to be a popular
    democratic reform that would wrest power from party heads, have made
    politics so expensive that only millionaires can afford to run for

          When one raises reservations about Dewey's "more democracy"
    fixation, one risks being dubbed an elitist who seeks to exclude
    others from political participation. Yet the issue needs to be raised,
    for mass democratic participation could very well generate the
    conditions of its own defeat. The leveling of social difference, the
    demands for equality before the law, the Constitutional guarantee of
    procedural rights--all result in more regulation, while popular
    demands made upon the state result in greater expenditures from the
    public treasury together with the proliferation of agencies to
    administer government programs and supervise budget allocations.
    Democratization and bureaucratization go hand in hand as each
    professes to be objective in treating people alike. But in a
    rights-based culture, deriving from America's liberal tradition,
    government is pressured to serve particular constituencies. It is not
    enough to claim that interest politics represent a betrayal of
    democracy when it happens whenever people have a chance to express
    their desires. Whether in 1776 or in 1996, whether democracy is
    breaking the bonds of domination or enjoying the fruits of liberation,
    no government dare ask the American people to pay for the services and
    protections they enjoy.

          The reason that "more democracy" cannot solve problems of
    democracy, and that pragmatism cannot solve problems of indecency,
    humility, and cruelty, is that most Americans have, since the Puritans
    of the seventeenth century, been practicing pragmatists. The decision
    to allow slavery to be incorporated into the Constitution was a
    decision on the part of northern statesmen to be realistic and settle
    for pragmatic compromise instead of raising issues of right and wrong.
    It was abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison who were
    uncompromising in insisting that foundational principles were being

      Assenting to the "self-evident truth" maintained in the Declaration
      of Independence "that all men are created equal, and endowed by
      their Creator with certain inalienable rights--among which are
      life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," I shall strenuously
      contend for the immediate enfranchisement of our slave

American History Without Foundations

          The philosophy of pragmatism that informed many of Holmes's
    decisions also came to prevail in much of American political and
    educational life. No less than legal proceduralism, pragmatism makes
    knowledge instrumental rather than substantive, a matter of inquiry
    based on problem-solving rather than a challenge to grapple with
    fundamental moral issues. Convinced that knowledge has no foundations
    in anything fixed and permanent, pragmatism teaches us not what to
    think and believe, but how to go about finding out how things have
    come to be the way they are. And if as historians we find out how
    America came to be what it is, what then?

          American historians as well as political scientists commit the
    same mistake of thinking that what has happened recently in politics
    refutes the liberal consensus. I suggest, in contrast, that if one
    watches how America evolved pragmatically throughout its history, the
    liberal consensus remains alive and well. After the passing of the
    seventeenth-century Puritans and their doctrines, and after a few
    doses of foundational theory were applied in drafting the
    Constitution, American history proceeded procedurally as the American
    people ceased looking to doctrines and ideologies and instead
    responded to the exigencies of change. As I have pointed out
    elsewhere, a century before Rorty pronounced the "end of philosophy,"
    Henry Adams discerned the American political mind coming to its end in
    ceasing to have any significant role in American history.[20]^18
    simple republics; the curse of the Constitution; and Hamilton's
    commercial policies; and then compares those thoughts to Jefferson's
    concrete actions as President, one observes how America's leader moved
    in directions that violated all his principles. Adams depicted
    political leaders of both parties behaving pragmatically and allowing
    decisions to be determined by "circumstance" rather than by
    "principle," by considering consequences rather than by adhering to
    ideology. Except for some moralists outside the political system who
    intervened when they saw injustice and cruelty, that system ran
    smoothly without the disruptions of a conscience based on foundational

          The philosopher may mislead us when we are told that the
    American past allowed itself to be confined by foundational postulates
    until pragmatism came along to liberate us from all dogmatisms.
    Conceived as an "experiment," what governed the movement of American
    history was not a foundational premise but a commitment to growth and
    development unrestrained by moral theory or political ideology. As
    Robert Penn Warren observed, what the Civil War taught Adams and
    Holmes was that history displays not the force of principle, but the
    principle of force--a vague, shadowy phenomenon that the human
    intellect can only adjust to as the movement of events defies all
    efforts to guide and direct them.[21]^19 Since a commitment to
    pragmatism comes down to an absence of any commitment to anything
    beyond the incoherence of a history that proceeds on its own ways, how
    can pragmatism solve the problems of proceduralism?

          As we approach the end of the twentieth century, it may be time
    to question the whole pragmatist-poststructuralist proposal that the
    quality of moral life does not depend upon the quality of foundational
    thought. Many of the values that Rorty holds highest (including a
    decent sensibility of social relations that leaves no one suffering
    from hunger or humiliation) do not necessarily require rational
    foundations. Many religious principles were never meant to be derived
    from reason and, hence, were formulated as a series of commandments.
    But pragmatists, ever averse to authority, want to persuade us rather
    than command us, thereby attributing to their own powers the
    omnipotence that had once belonged only to God. Faced with the sin of
    pride, some of us find more persuasive the pronouncements of religion
    even when we ourselves are not religious. There is in the voice of the
    pragmatist what Santayana would have called a "sort of acoustic
    illusion"; a voice that "reverberates from the heavens is too clearly
    a human voice."[22]^20 I, for one, would prefer to hear Rorty say:
    "Thou shalt not humiliate."
    [23]^1 Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln,
    vol. VII (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953) 301-302.
    ] [24]^2 Basler, The Collected Works of Lincoln, vol. III, 315. ]
    [25]^3 George Santayana, "The Genteel Tradition in American
    Philosophy," Santayana on America, ed. Richard Colton Lyon (New York:
    Harcourt, 1968) 36-56. ] [26]^4 James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars:
    The Struggle to Define America (New York: Basic, 1991). ] [27]^5 John
    Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Oxford: Clarenden,
    1975). ] [28]^6 Joshua Foa Dienstag, "Serving God and Mammon: The
    Lockean Sympathy in Early American Thought," American Political
    Science Review 90 (1996): 497-511. See also John Patrick Diggins, The
    Lost Soul of American Politics (New York: Basic, 1984). ] [29]^7 For a
    comparison of the early federalist thinkers and contemporary
    poststructuralists, see John Patrick Diggins, The Promises of
    Pragmatism: Modernity and the Crisis of Knowledge and Authority
    (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996) 427-434. ] [30]^8 Michael
    J. Sandel, Democracy's Discontent: America in Search of a Public
    Philosophy (Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 1996)
    3-24. ] [31]^9 George Santayana, "Emerson the Poet," Santayana on
    America, 268-283. ] [32]^10 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in
    America, trans. George Lawrence (Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1969)
    604-632; Raymond Aron, Main Currents in Sociological Thought, vol. 1,
    (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1968) 258. ] [33]^11 Sandel, Democracy's
    Discontent, 22. ] [34]^12 Sandel, Democracy's Discontent, 22. ]
    [35]^13 Sandel, Democracy's Discontent, 45. ] [36]^14 Lawrence J.
    Hatab, A Nietzschean Defense of Democracy: An Experiment in Postmodern
    Politics (Chicago: Open Court, 1995) 76. ] [37]^15 Richard Rorty,
    "Intellectuals and the Millennium," The New Leader 80 (24 Feb. 1997):
    10-12. ] [38]^16 Parker is quoted in Vernon L. Parrington, Main
    Currents in American Thought: The Romantic Revolution, vol. 2 (New
    York: Harcourt, 1930) 418. ] [39]^17 Garrison is quoted in Parrington,
    American Thought, vol. 2, 354. ] [40]^18 Diggins, The Promise of
    Pragmatism, 17-21. ] [41]^19 John Burt, Robert Penn Warren and
    American Idealism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988) 34-42. ]
    [42]^20 George Santayana, "The Genteel Tradition in American
    Philosophy," 127-158. ]

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