DEMOCRACY AND IMAGINATION: THE PRACTICAL IDEALISM OF JOHN DEWEY

CHAPTER FIVE: THE IDEAL OF DEMOCRACY
by Gordon L. Ziniewicz

1. An ideal which has no bearing within lived experience is no ideal at all. It is an idle dream or an aesthetic asylum. The meaning of the ideal of democracy is its bearing within personal and shared experience, what it does to inspire and regulate thought and action, the "difference it makes." It goes deeper than that; it goes to the heart of the way human beings view their own existence. The ideal of democracy is an imaginative vision that interprets human and even non-human natural existence in ways fundamentally different from traditional views. It literally "shakes the foundations" of traditional philosophical approaches.

2. But the ideal of democracy can have no effect, unless its sense is widely communicated and understood. The word "democracy" has certainly been around long enough; and the ethical conceptions associated with it -- individuality, liberty, equality, and fraternity -- are as old as the French Revolution and as esteemed as the American Declaration of Independence. But the full significance of democracy, according to Dewey, has not soaked into American culture and thought, which has confined free inventiveness to technical achievements while holding onto prescientific conceptions of human nature and society. Moreover, America has maintained atomistic individualism and laissez-faire capitalism, along with feudalistic theological views, as if such were the essence of the democratic ideal. To Dewey's way of thinking, these unscientific holdovers are formidable obstacles to the development of human minds and interhuman relations in accord with the democratic ideal.

3. There is evidence, both explicit and implicit, that Dewey appreciated the difficulty of communicating the genuine meaning of the ideal of democracy. In addition, Dewey regretted that there is no adequately articulated philosophy of democracy. This is telling, when one realizes that Dewey himself, more than any other American philosopher, repeatedly attempted this articulation. Certainly, no clearer statement of the ideal of democracy can be found than in his "Creative Democracy." Yet, the seemingly transparent language of that essay, like so many of his educational writings, is liable to be grossly misunderstood if it is not read in the context of Dewey's profound revisions of the meanings of such terms as life, individual, character, purpose, human nature, freedom, and so on. Liberty, equality, and fraternity take on new meaning when they are read against the background of new discoveries in biology, psychology, and social science -- findings that show the mysterious and unique quality of individual existence to be the outgrowth of complex interactions of innumerable energies. From Dewey's point of view, cherished aspects of the democratic ideal have to be adjusted and rethought in the light of changing social conditions as well as new discoveries in the sciences. Furthermore, these fundamental democratic values must be interpreted in the framework of Dewey's overall practical idealism (pragmatism). How the ideal of democracy makes a difference requires understanding how any ideal makes a difference, how it illuminates and guides and provides tranquility within action. That means a link must be established between what Dewey has to say about ideals in general and what he has to say about the ideal of democracy in particular.(1) Recounting some very general statements about ideals and their relation to the ideal of democracy may help to clear the way for a more specific account of human nature and individuality (equality), freedom of thought and action (liberty), and community and communication (fraternity).

4. Ideals are inclusive ends. They provide spatial and temporal continuity (and sanity(2)) to acts, by locating them and showing their unique significance within an imagined whole. In fact, ideals are specific acts in their extended significance, viewed in a broad setting -- a perspective or meaning-horizon largely composed of interconnected possibilities, paths opened up in a variety of directions depending upon acts chosen and undertaken. Paths lighted up include desirable outcomes, consequences that are valued. These valued outcomes, receding into the distance, enhance the value of the seemingly small act undertaken here and now. Thus, the "aura" of possible connected values surrounds the immediate fact or act; the "just" act receives the quality of justice by virtue of its unique role within a possible whole. The range of possibilities envisioned within the ideal whole becomes more and more extensive, as each new success or failure in overt action suggests new and diverse possible connections and consequences. Imagination unifies, clarifies, and extends the range of actual observations and memories. This range of possibilities is, as far as possible, populated with vivid images of persons and affairs drawn from actual experience; it is not a system of bare concepts. Imagination binds together or unifies what is loosely connected in actual experience; it reveals a possible continuity of acts with conditions and consequences in a vast imaginable scheme of things. The ideal as imaginative vision is inclusive, because it includes; but it is also inclusive precisely because it does not exclude. What it includes are imagined objects and interests in their vital connections, including the imagined standpoints of others and their interests, in their very individuality, their unique and incomparable singularity. The ideal is a vision of harmony without uniformity, of individuality without isolation. At the same time, the imagined whole of the ideal (community or universe) is not represented as something finished, closed, complete. It is, as it were, a whole full of "holes," where unities can be found, but where there is always more "room," more possibility. The ideal implies a whole which is always expanding(3) so as to include more and more within its scope, where possibilities as gaps and breaks and changes of direction are multiplied rather than narrowed as envisioned possibilities are realized. What the ideal does not exclude are possible consequences and connections not yet anticipated or conceived -- the novel, the unexpected. The ideal is the imaginative projection of openings within experience; every release of energies in overt action (a harmony within expansion of interests) enlivens the imagination still further to project more openings and breathing room for thought and action. Imagination grows with experience. Thus, even affairs seemingly settled may be unsettled and reduced to new possibility due to growth in elasticity and plasticity of imaginative thought. The same intelligence that solves also dissolves (breaks up the factual). Genuine ideals always include the suggestion that their present qualities and configurations are to be outgrown and replaced, that their projections are valuable but temporary horizons for action. What is constant with regard to ideals is the idea that what is good is the inclusive, the out-reaching and expansive, the harmonious within change and variety.

5. In this review of the quality and function of the ideal, as well as in the discussion of the previous chapters, the ideal of democracy has never been far away. The essential quality of any ideal, insofar as it is inclusive and not exclusive, insofar as it is a welcoming and gathering of diverse options, without prejudicing itself against options yet unseen, is its democracy. Viewed most broadly and abstractly, the traits of genuine ideals are identical with the traits of the ideal of democracy. An ideal is a genuine (efficacious) ideal insofar as it opens rather than closes possibilities, rules in rather than rules out options, expands rather than contracts interest and activity, accounts for situations and ends and ideas impartially and evenly. It cherishes both present facts and new possibilities. Genuine ideals are democratically cooperative, self-correcting and other-respecting. They release energies (the essence of freedom as release of capacity), rather than bring them to a standstill (the dead end of poor choice). Every ideal, if it is worth anything, is inclusive and expansive. It sees a possible gathering of individuals -- facts or acts or persons or "goods" -- in a cooperative unity which promotes rather than impedes distinctiveness and variety; it respects individual existences and interests in their very individuality and brings them together into an imaginative vision of a cooperative whole. And it is characteristic of every genuine ideal that it expands thought (which both generalizes and makes distinctions) and conduct (which tolerates broadly and appreciates deeply). Ideals are visions that continually make room for new possibilities and opportunities. Essential to the ideal of democracy is the importance of making room for possibilities and opportunities for developing unique individualities, in mutually transforming association with one another. It accents quality of individuality (fulfillment of individual capacity) as well as quality of interaction (community and communication). Unity within plurality of incomparable goods and ends in imaginative vision is tied to the e pluribus unum(4) at the heart of the democratic ideal. That all ideals must be evaluated in terms of their inclusiveness and open-endedness is but another way of saying that all ideals must be evaluated in the light of the democratic ideal. The traits of genuine ideals follow the essential traits of the democratic ideal. It is implied, therefore, that the very framing of ends and ideals which give a fair account of actual conditions and consider a wide range of alternatives depends upon a fundamentally democratic outlook.(5)

6. In general, the ideal of democracy is that expanding imaginative vision of a possible whole of connected affairs radiating outward from present facts and acts, an horizon wherein every natural fact, every human existence, every human insight and purpose, shines with unique importance and has a unique and irreplaceable function in a dynamically expanding yet cooperative movement of energies. The ideal of democracy is the ideal of a possible whole in which individuals fulfill individual but not isolated personal capacities and powers in ways which respect and release the capacities and powers of others. The ideal of democracy is a vision of the possibility of human and natural energies working jointly and cooperatively -- a combination which does not diminish, but even enhances their individual force and capacity. The ideal of democracy is the possibility of integrating individual fulfillment and social harmony, in ways respectful of and prudent in the use of the physical energies of nature. Put in traditional terms, the ideal of democracy is the imaginative vision of a way of life wherein the personal good and the common good are mutually reinforcing. The ideal of democracy -- the criterion for every ideal -- is an ideal of unity or harmony, of equilibrium within personal and social movement; it is the ideal of scope, of reach, or extension with variation. It is the ideal of unifying without making uniform, thinking for oneself, yet working together to frame common purposes which improve the quality of interhuman attachments, while enhancing vital distinctions(6) of personal quality and angle of vision.

7. The ideal of democracy is identical with the ideal of scientific discovery, wherein free inquiry into the facts without prejudice, free play of imagination in framing hypotheses, use of experiment to test and revise hypotheses, and participation in free communication of ideas in order to revise and perfect one's own thinking, are essential. The democratic attitude and the scientific attitude are attitudes of flexibility and openness, where thought and observation are not trammeled by rigid preconceptions and closed "systems." For Dewey, flexibility (active adaptation) means strength; rigidity means weakness.(7) The only intelligent approach to constantly changing natural and social conditions is an experimental approach, which modifies ideals in the face of facts and uses ideals to guide the interpretation and altering of facts. The fruitfulness of flexibility in scientific thinking corresponds to productivity of the inventive experimental spirit central to American life and culture. Both indicate a temperament which prefers the "open range" of new intellectual frontiers, to the closed monastery of old habits and customs. Furthermore, the ideal of flexibility in science is one with the democratic ideal of tolerance and accommodation to the desires and interests of others, even when they do not accord with our own. Scientific openness is identical with the democratic habit of mind. The general is the universal; the universal is the expansive and the inclusive. Only democratic or scientific thinking is truly "general" or generous. It welcomes new facts and interpretations. As opposed to undemocratic or unscientific attitudes, it approaches novelty and the future with welcome rather than wariness. The inclusive is the empty hand of the handshake and the open arms of the wide embrace. The ideal of democracy, like the ideal of scientific discovery, is the ideal of inclusion, rather than exclusion, expansion rather than contraction, opening rather than closing, putting one's hopes in future possibility rather than past actuality, meeting nature and individuals on their own terms rather than judging from a superior position, sub specie aeternitatis, above and outside of experience. It is the light of new openings in experience opened up by the openness of democratic imagination, which explores facts with freshness and flexibility (transforms old meanings in the light of new facts), while welcoming variety of new possibilities of thought and action.

8. The openness and flexibility of the democratic ideal accords with the fundamental openness and "plasticity" of the physical world.(8) Nature and human affairs are incomplete, unfinished, open-ended. Novelty and flexibility are characteristics of nature as well as of the democratic disposition (scientific attitude). Variety and regularity in natural affairs are the basis of variety and regularity in human affairs. Habits of mind which regard "natures" as fundamentally unchanging fail to appreciate and utilize the basic plasticity of natural existences (including human nature). Undemocratic (unscientific) habits of thought do not give fair account of nature and its processes (they see energies moving in a single track and incapable of changing direction); their contracted imagination limits their power to redirect (intelligently) natural, personal, and social energies. Lack of understanding of nature, due to dogmatic insistence on first principles, results in letting natural energies move without intelligent direction. On the other hand, the democratic or scientific disposition listens openly to what facts have to say, in response to experiment. It sees that energies can take different directions, and it intervenes to shift these energies toward more desirable outcomes. The existence of variation in direction means variation in ends projected and purposes framed. Every direction taken lights up a whole new set of possible directions, which require new evaluations (ends as values). In addition, since it is understood that human growth depends upon giving proper direction to physical energies, the democratic disposition takes physical, material, and economic conditions seriously. Conflict and inhibition of physical energies means concomitant decline in human cultural life. "Matter," for Dewey, means conditions, whose intelligent direction makes positive growth possible. Promoting the release of energies in democratic growth, bringing about factual democracy, brings incomplete natural processes to partial completion. The world is never completed; it is never finished. The experiment of democracy is an experiment supported and welcomed by a fundamentally "democratic" world. According to Dewey, nature, for its part, is not opposed to democratic aspiration and striving. Nature even supports democratic initiative and endeavor by, at times, withholding support, just as the parent encourages free development of personality in the child by knowing when to give and when to withdraw assistance.(9) Thus, even indifferent and unfriendly episodes of nature support growth in intelligence by providing obstacles to be overcome in the light of better situations projected and worked for.

9. Dewey contrasts this democratic and scientific view of the natural universe with the hierarchically graded and closed universe of ancient and medieval "science" and philosophy. This "pre-scientific" conception is really a projection of and justification for ancient and medieval social divisions into separate classes or "castes," which were not allowed to mix. According to this view, the natural universe is a kingdom, where lower classes of beings are subject to higher classes, a structure of command and obedience from superior to inferior, all governed at the top by a single absolute power (autocracy).(10) Absence of order indicates inability to take orders, refusal to obey law.(11) From this point of view, freedom does not mean ability to vary preference amidst new possibilities; it means conformity (submission) to law. Such a view sees time as a kind of eternal recurrence, where fundamental shifts are unthinkable. Individuals within species follow prescribed and predictable patterns of development (with individuality a result of the intractability of "matter"). What is to come, the future, the "can be," is not indefinite, but decided in advance in accordance with some grand design or unchanging law. In this view, the future is only a past which has not yet happened. The simul totum indicates a closed system, where fundamental expansion and variation is "ruled out."(12) A democratic universe, like a democratic society, is one where the future is not decided in advance, where progress is not imposed by fate, where the future is truly open and indefinite, a sphere of possible but not inevitable progress. From the democratic point of view, the "book of nature" is still being written. The existence of possibility within nature gives warrant to the democratic belief in the possibilities of human nature. The redirection of natural forces is, to a great extent, in human hands, relying of course upon the support of favorable and cooperating natural energies.

10. The ideal of democracy is a vision of moral and social harmony, order within variety, equilibrium within motion of diverse but freely cooperating individuals and interests. It is not the unity of individuals surrendering their own individuality, but the unity of individuals working together, "joining forces." According to the democratic ideal, it is important how (means or methods) unity comes about. Order and arrangement within diversity characterize even Plato's ideal,(13) yet undemocratic, society. The crux of the democratic ideal is whether the vision of order comes from within experience or is imposed from outside of experience, who possesses or projects this vision, and who using what means is entrusted to realize its possibilities. What counts is the "seat of authority" in framing purposes and bringing about moral and social progress. According to the democratic ideal, the seat of authority resides in individuals themselves. According to the democratic ideal, democracy as imaginative projection (ideal) and democracy as realignment of actual conditions (fact) must come from and be the work of the people; they must participate in both the framing and realization of the ideal. To be gripped by this ideal, they must have an interest, a stake in the outcome. The democratic ideal suggests a social arrangement wherein people rule themselves, lead themselves, think for themselves. Personal and social order amidst variety of preferences, interests, and ideas has to come from the people, regarded not as "the masses" (enumerated in a quantitative way), but as distinctive individuals who develop their own thoughts and modes of action with wide-ranging sympathy (the social standpoint) for the interests and activities of others. In a democratic mode of personal and social life, harmony is not imposed upon individuals by experts or other kinds of external authorities; it is voluntarily sought out by socially conscious individuals, who see the wisdom of adjusting their ends and interests to the ends and interests of others. Personal fulfillment is seen to be promoted and accelerated by voluntary cooperation and mutual adjustment of purposes. Unity is moral only insofar as it is voluntarily chosen, rather than externally imposed.(14) A unity which is forced and not voluntary diminishes the very quality of individual distinctiveness and participation, the very diversity of approach and initiative, which makes unity or harmony worthwhile in the first place. That is why the framing and realization of democratic ends is inseparable from the use of democratic methods. Dewey would maintain that authoritarian methods of commanding and obeying reinforce habits of coercion and passivity and go against the very moral and social lessons needing to be learned for "democratic citizenship," lessons more important than any single academic content.(15) Undemocratic methods or ways of thinking and acting (including authoritarian as opposed to participatory teaching and learning) tend to develop undemocratic "second natures" or dispositions. Democracy is not primarily an external result; it is an attitude. Democratic attitudes can not be furthered by external force and constraint, any more than a child can learn responsibility by sheer intimidation. The very habits developed in the use of authoritarian means in education or social reform ensure that minds affected will grow away from democracy and not toward it. For example, the free play of imagination is hampered by rote recital of programmed material. Democracy comes down on the side of expanding imagination, of multiplying possibilities, of deepening truly humanistic individual qualities, of giving thinking people room to breathe and leave to speak, to experiment, and even to make mistakes as part of a learning process that expands an active meaning-horizon.

11. Thus, the ideal of democracy is the ideal of harmony within a wide range of ideas and interests which is freely planned, freely engaged in, and freely communicated by and from individuals. Their very distinctiveness of interest and approach is essential to the harmony or beauty of the whole. The significance of human individuals is linked to their free development of personal capacities as active participants rather than passive "subjects" in a social whole.(16) The criterion is applied to social conditions and institutions, as these are reworked with an eye to unity. In order for this diversity to be taken into account, individuals must give their own accounts; they must freely communicate their own needs, desires, and interests. The capacities of individuals can not be grasped by "conjecture" on the part of external authorities, those who claim to know in advance what is good for everyone, without actually asking them. If the individual knows anything, it is what his own needs are. Individuals who undergo the effects of social conditions ought to have a role in their direction and control; their suffering and satisfaction, as well as their wisdom, must accrue from experiments done by them and not to them. The ideal of democracy is the ideal of a community of incomparable individualities, each one an "aristocrat," enlightened by education and free communication of information and making his distinct and irreplaceable contribution to the whole. The ideal of democracy is the idea of aristocracy extended, "universalized."

12. Dewey repeatedly insists that democracy is a way of life. It is customary to identify democracy with political institutions, but even the saying that "democracy is a way of life" can be taken in an external way, to the extent that the ideal is kept at arms length from the affairs of everyday life. Democracy includes attitudes of sympathy, tolerance, and respect for individuality (among others). Such attitudes form character; they guide the intelligent reform of desires and interests, the framing of purposes which are inclusive, expansive, and social. The ideal of democracy must be "brought home," taken to heart, internalized, made to intervene in the bruising and healing endeavors of ongoing life. It must assist in the creation of democratic individuals. The democratic ideal suggests the fulfillment of human capacities, the deepening of the humanity and co-humanity of human beings. Simply put, human beings are "meant"(17) to be democratic in outlook -- freely imaginative, sympathetic, inquisitive, and adventurous (seeing and welcoming new possibilities). So that there will be a working relation between democracy as an imaginative vision and the everyday facts and acts of human life, the ideal has to be specified. The meaning of the democratic way of life must be adapted to and spun into the threads of everyday actions. Like all ideals, the ideal of democracy must be "adverbial"; it must modify and change the quality of ways of acting. This requires imagination, the mutual transformation of old meanings and new facts. Once again, images are positioned between abstract ideas and individual facts; not only do they extend the range of concretely experienced facts (by being more universal than observed facts), but they also bring home or make local in vivid fashion the broad outlines of general ideas (by individualizing these ideas). For Dewey, the importance of finding not only the right vocabulary, but also the right images, is crucial. The clear articulation of the democratic ideal in word, imagery, and action makes possible a new kind of "religious" experience. Loyalty to the democratic ideal, "a spontaneous way of envisaging life," being gripped by an interest which is inclusive, expansive, broad, and full of possibilities, can bring about a sense of personal unity and peace within action.

13. The ideal of democracy is not itself a way of life; it is but a view, a projected approach that gathers images of distinctive existences, an imaginative vision of connected values which illumines the way ahead and highlights the value of specific democratic acts. Each act which is fundamentally democratic in its approach suggests (and partially realizes) a wider whole wherein democratic acts and democratic individuals work together in ways which continually release new capacities and reveal new possibilities. Democratic thought and action opens up a view (possible whole) where opening up and expanding opportunity is seen as a worthwhile personal and social way of life, where inclusive (bringing together) and discriminating (appreciating distinctions) habits of thought and action are imagined to replace exclusive and stereotyped approaches. Success in democratic thought and action reinforces faith in the possibility of widespread democracy; at the same time, it revises and clarifies and concretizes in images gathered from new democratic experience the very meaning of the democratic ideal -- thereby enhancing its usefulness and strengthening its appeal. Envisioned democratic ideals prove themselves and evolve insofar as they expand rather than contract opportunities for growth and social progress. Thus, the projected democratic ideal provides a provisional guideline for evaluating personal (and interpersonal) thought and conduct. Acts must be evaluated and transformed in the light of the democratic ideal so as to be rightly valued as truly democratic acts (suggesting a unique place in a democratic whole). Deliberation thereby projects an impartial standpoint which asks: Is this way of thinking, this proposed course of action, truly democratic? Moreover, the ideal of democracy is the ethical criterion for reforming and transforming interhuman relations and social institutions, including government, education, economics, and industry. Of each, it must be asked: Where lies the seat of authority? Does it further or impede the development of distinctive human capacities?

14. It is frequently stated by Dewey that the ideal of democracy is primarily a moral or social ideal, and only secondarily a political ideal. Democratic political institutions, if they are to have staying power and effectiveness, are rooted in democratic moral and social conceptions, attitudes, and culture. External political structures ought to be created out of and nourished by a democratic ethos, a common culture of freely thinking and freely associating individuals. The importance of political structures should not be underestimated. They are capable of freeing up and distributing opportunities for improving personal and associated life. Democratic political institutions operate alongside democratic methods of education and democratic participation in the workplace to advance the conditions of a truly free culture. According to Dewey, political democracy is a means for realizing overall personal and social democracy. What counts is democracy as personal growth consistent with social progress enlivened and enlightened by the free communication of ideas in the give and take of friendly debate and conversation (primarily in face-to-face association). Because it depends upon moral and social democracy, political democracy cannot persist in an atmosphere of personal and social attitudes, thoughts, actions, and conditions which are undemocratic and "authoritarian." Habits of thought and action that welcome variety, that value cooperation, that give "room" for individual judgment and framing of individual purposes in agreement with socially-minded personal interests, have to be developed in the classroom and in the workplace, the family and the neighborhood, before they have any meaning at the polls or in the halls of Congress.

15. In a sense, democracy can not be referred to as a (one) way of life, as if there were equally "viable" alternatives. Democracy means growth. According to Dewey, there is no life, strictly speaking, without growth or self-renewal. The choice is not between one way of life and another, but between a way of growth and a way of decline (and stasis means decline). Growth requires adaptability in the face of new and problematic situations, expansion and inclusion of a wide variety of facts and ideas brought into integrity and coordination. It implies openness to an indefinite and plastic future, free play of imagination, consideration of a wide range of possibilities, flexibility in the employment of old principles and purposes, creativity in devising new purposes and identifying means. Flexibility, not rigidity, is the law of life.(18) As the only alternative to growth is decline, so the only alternative to democracy is autocracy, whether of dogma or potentate or custom or metaphysics, any system which is finished in advance and asks for no human contribution.

16. Democracy, like growth, means continual reconstruction, widening of options, "faring forward." As such it is prospective, future-oriented. Interest in the future requires framing purposes with the belief that making plans and acting intelligently can make a difference, has the power to move energies in a new direction. The only alternative to belief in possibility is acceptance of necessity, whether in the form of "fate" or "natural law" or "absolute reason." The only alternative to making plans in the face of an indefinite future, is resigning oneself to a future already definite and decided. Overall, the only alternative to democracy is tyranny, whether a tyranny of facts or laws or unchanging truths or absolute powers.

17. Every ideal is not only a widening vision of a possible whole, but it also marks the general direction or quality of one's actions and aims. The democratic way of life means, overall, movement in a democratic direction (expansive and inclusive). Authoritarian habits of thought and action, on the other hand, lead to greater and greater contraction of powers, to isolation and exclusion, to impoverishment of imagination and its capacity to multiply possibilities and ideals. Ultimately, the authoritarian attitude is an attitude of fear; on the part of those in power, it is the fear of losing something. On the part of those who submit, it is the fear of responsibility and taking initiative in the face of the unknown. Fear means contraction rather than expansion. Running from an indefinite future to find solace in past or present authorities, to hitch one's faith to hard and fast actualities rather than to unseen possibilities, means contraction and withdrawal in the face of novelty and difficulty. Temporary contraction of activity to assess conditions that can be directed to bring about expansion of activity is something altogether different from habitual contraction or withdrawal which is unable or reluctant to find and work its way out of present difficulties. From there, it is only one step to reliance upon external authority. The only alternative to individual responsibility is some sort of master-slave arrangement wherein some command and others obey. Commanding and obeying are but two sides of the same undemocratic mentality and disposition. Thus, growth in the direction of democracy means growth away from authoritarian habits of thought and action. The ideal of democracy as a way of life lights the way of those who are still authoritarian or passive in their approach, but who are earnest in their intent to become more democratic, to move from the closed to the open, from the exclusive to the inclusive, from the contracting to the expanding, from barriers to overcoming of barriers, from feelings of superiority or inferiority to sympathetic regard.(19)

18. There is no alternative ideal to the democratic ideal, unless one means by ideals fixed ends or congealed purposes written in stone or on tablets. The ideal of democracy is an ideal of advancing without fixed ideals; the inclusive and expanding and self-correcting nature of the democratic ideal indicates a general direction of thought and action and a quality of flexibility, openness, and creativeness that accompanies democratic acts and ends. The democratic attitude is an attitude undergoing constant reconstruction and expansion that assumes in general that expansion, variety, inclusion, and flexibility are the essence of life, not simply its "spice." As a moral and social ideal, the ideal of democracy indicates a method for overcoming class divisions, impediments to communication, intolerance of new ideas, and master-slave relations in education and industry. No society is already completely democratic; every society, even America which prides itself on its tradition of democracy as a moral ideal, is only a partial democracy (and thus also a partial autocracy). By the same token, no individual is completely democratic.

19. We are now perhaps more able to discuss democracy as fact (actuality) and democracy as ideal (possibility). We recognize that for Dewey, democracy as fact means partial democracy, democracy incomplete, democracy in the making. Because for Dewey all alternatives to democracy are, in one way or another, autocratic or authoritarian in approach (where unity is forced upon individuals, rather than freely effected by them), partial democracy means at the same time partial autocracy. Rule by experts, rule by custom, rule by corporations, rule by teachers, rule by dogma or fixed principles -- all of these indicate approaches whereby individual human nature and experience are not trusted, and the seat of authority which determines both the framing of ends and the choice of means is placed outside of individuals taken individually and is vested in some existential or ideological authority. Partial democracy is a mix, both personally and socially, of democratic and undemocratic attitudes and approaches. It couples acceptance of external authority (and force) in everyday life -- family, school, workplace, and society at large -- with esteem for the authority of the individual as a moral and social ideal. According to Dewey, it would be mistaken to dismiss the moral and social ideal of democracy, simply because the "experiment" of American moral, social, and political democracy has not yet been (and indeed never will be) completely and satisfactorily concluded. Recalling the spirit of William James, Dewey asserts that, as the universe is unfinished and incomplete, so democracy as fact in the United States is still in the making. America is plastic; it is a scene of a variety of energies -- physical, economic, industrial, social, and personal -- which are headed in directions determined to great extent by past conditions and ideas; with or without human intervention, they will continue to move and operate. Their "headings" or outcomes can be read or anticipated in terms of their connection with past conditions. Some of these tendencies or movements are democratic; many are autocratic. The framing of the ideal of democracy depends upon interpreting these events correctly. It is projected on the basis of the actual movement and projected outcomes of the "here and now" -- actual personal, social, and "natural" conditions. The ideal of democracy is situational; it is the projected end of a particular group of people in terms of their own problems and achievements. Thus, the ideal of democracy means for American individuals what America can and ought to be. The ideal of democracy for Americans is none other than the imaginative vision of an America wherein Americans freely interact in ways which further the development of the unique capacity of each individual. In addition, it includes the notion of intelligently directing natural resources, physical energies, and wealth so as to maximize the creative potential of each individual. Imagination, as in every other case of projection, seizes upon what is demonstrably democratic in lived experience and expands this limited experience into a far-reaching and enveloping possible whole. It looks for democratic trends in present conditions and traces out their possible movement toward greater and greater development and coordination. The ideal of democracy is a dream, an "if only," a "what if," projected in the face of democracy achieved and democracy obstructed. For example, the experience of face-to-face community and lively communication is recollected and extended in the imagination. What was once partial and transitory in fact becomes esteemed as widespread and continual in imagination. What is good about past and present life suggests an even better possible future, the realization of which depends upon human choices and controls, as well as conditions existing beyond human controls. But each step taken in the direction of the projected ideal of democracy necessarily alters the character of the peoples making that projection and thereby changes the projection itself. Growth, both personal and social, revises the very thrust of foresight and thereby reveals different possibilities. The ideal of democracy becomes enriched as human personalities and their associations become enriched; it grows as people grow. In the projection of the democratic ideal, both the positive and the negative have an important role. Obstacles in the way of factual democracy are opportunities for reflecting upon the democratic ideal and for reassessing what must be done to realize that ideal. But insight into how to get to more democracy depends upon finding, in the fund of past experience, certain strategies that worked.

20. The key question for Dewey is the bearing of this projection in guiding conditions and energies in the direction of more factual democracy, making America and Americans more and not less democratic. For Dewey, the growth or decline of democracy means at the same time the growth or the decline of effective intelligence. Thinking and planning are, by their very nature, allied to the ideal of democracy. The very ability to frame purposes, which requires breadth of thought and free play of imagination, is linked inextricably to the ideal of democracy. Passivity and incapacity to reconstruct ideas and conditions,(20) on the other hand, are associated with authoritarian habits of thinking and acting. Because the only alternative to democracy is authoritarianism, the experiment of democracy in America means the transformation of individual passivity into individual initiative, the gradual restoration of faith in what individual human beings can become and do, and the departure from authoritarian to democratic methods in every phase of American life.(21)

21. Thus, there is or ought to be an ongoing reciprocity between democracy as ideal (thought possibility) and democracy as partially accomplished fact. The projected image of what democracy can be, democracy as desirable and possible, depends for its material content upon observed and remembered conditions and consequences. The ideal of democracy is constructed in the imagination of desirable elements analyzed out of present conditions. This means that as human beings and available opportunities change, so must the ideal of democracy change. On the other hand, the change of actual conditions is effected and controlled by means of the ideal projected. Both ideal and factual democracy must be new and renew themselves with every age. Democratic methods must be unique solutions to unique problematic social situations. Both the idea and the fact of democracy must be continually remade. Thus, both democracy as a way of associated life and democracy as the dream that lights the way are changing "facts" within an environment of constantly changing facts. The successful interaction of these facts, these energies, constitutes the enrichment of the breadth and depth of the meaning horizon of human experience (culture). The relation between democracy as fact and democracy as ideal should be "democratic"; both the fact and the ideal should be taken with equal seriousness as co-partners and cooperative factors in social as well as personal improvement. The ideal should not be regarded as "superior" to the facts. As stated in Chapter One, while the ideal may have the advantage of showing imaginative unity, facts have the advantage of actual hard and fast existence, conditions and energies with real potential to be redirected.

22. Fundamental to the democratic way of life is faith in experience. Democratic faith is the sine qua non for the projection of workable ideals, as well as the confident choice of means. According to Dewey, experience affords possibilities for improvement by means of immanent rather than transcendent norms; it provides both inspiration (religious and ideal) and moral criteria within a humanistic and naturalistic framework. Experience is a self-contained whole, without being closed or finite; it has within itself openings, "spaces," room to grow (a self-expanding horizon). Faith in experience means faith in possibilities, conviction that imagination can project a "better" by reading the outcomes of present moving facts against past successes and failures, without recourse to a super-empirical and authoritative "best." The "truth that sets us free" is, for Dewey, the mundane truth of human affairs in the light of the democratic ideal. Human speeches and deeds count as infinitely valuable in themselves, not because they resemble fixed archetypes. Neighborly talk over the fence (even if nothing is settled), letting the student speak his mind (even if little material is "covered"), giving the concerns of others equal room in imagination (even if our own "goals" are not met) -- all enrich ongoing human experience. From the standpoint of democratic faith, growth is more important than achievements; process is more important than results. The end is the activity, the work, the release of capacity. The very process of framing ends and ideals, with increased power to reflect and imagine, is more significant than ends projected and ideals cherished. Thus, the making and remaking of ideals is itself evidence of the richness of possibility latent in human experience.

23. As the word "growth" signifies a wide variety of unique processes characterized by unique goods, so the term "democracy" refers to a family of ideals -- namely, liberty, equality, and fraternity. These ideals point to two aspects of human existence (all natural existences, in fact) -- individuality and associatedness. Liberty and equality refer to fulfillment of individuality; fraternity refers to fulfillment of associatedness. Together, these ideals constitute the ideal of democracy. Our remaining discussion will attempt to situate the place of these ideals in the overall democratic way of life.

Notes:

1. It is hoped that the rather lengthy discussion of ends and ideals in the previous chapters will be of some help.

2. Idealism of the practical sort is necessary for life.

3. Even as the physical universe is thought to be expanding, so the meaning-horizon is capable of infinite expansion along the lines of specific interests insofar as the overall direction is one of growth.

4. Here the classical formulation and arrangement of the one and the many is altered. In a democracy, the "one" does not precede or govern or rule the "many." The "many," not a statistical nor quantitative "mass," but an association of unique and irreplaceable individuals, rule themselves; and out of their voluntary joint activity emerges the "one" (unity). In nature as well, complex energies precede and create unitary form.

5. Even the framing of the ideal of democracy requires an attitude which is growing more democratic. The precondition for both democracy and the framing of ideals is the development of minds which are expansive, inclusive, and discriminating. The framing of ends or ideals must be distinguished from the "having" or accepting of ideals formulated by others.

6. Dewey generally uses the word "distinctive" rather than the word "different" when referring to the individuality of individuals or any unique existence. It seems to me that the word "different" implies individuality based on comparison with others, whereas "distinctive" implies individuality appreciated on its own account -- the "incomparable."

7. Note the similarity to Confucian and Taoist ways of thought in the Chinese tradition.

8. See Robert B. Westbrook's, John Dewey and American Democracy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), pp. 319 - 373 for a remarkable study of the link between Dewey's metaphysics of nature and democracy.

9. However, extension and withdrawal of support by the natural environment is accidental rather than deliberate.

10. The kingdom of heaven has not traditionally been thought of as a democracy. Whether it is possible to come up with such a paradigm, is another question altogether. It is altogether possible that there is a basic incompatibility between traditional religions and the democratic spirit.

11. According to Dewey, the notion of natural law implies subjection of the particular to the universal, of being commanded and being forced to obey. The notion of necessity re laws of nature is opposed to Dewey's conception of regularity within interactions. Dewey's notion of scientific regularity is a horizontal image of cooperation of energies, as opposed to a vertical structure of command and obey.

12. One can speculate about the limitations closed systems place upon free play of imagination in scientific and social projection of possibilities. Imaginative projection of ideals presupposes that the future is indefinite and not yet decided.

13. Dewey draws many comparisons between aristocracy and democracy. One example that comes to mind is that, in the Platonic regime, order is imposed from above by "experts," those who are ready to impose order, even against the will or "unruly" desires of the ruled, who, like the passions of the soul, lack reason.

14. Dewey distinguishes moral unity, coming together and working together voluntarily, from mechanical unity, aggregation which is external and mechanical.

15. It is possible to combine technical proficiency with thoroughly undemocratic attitudes.

16. The issues of individuality and free participation will be taken up in greater detail in the subsequent discussions of individuality, equality, and liberty.

17. This is not to be construed as some sort of inevitability or fixed purpose. The meaning of democracy constantly remakes itself with the expansion in variety of human life.

18. To put matters in an instrumental way, flexibility works and rigidity doesn't.

19. See the previous chapter for an examination of sympathy as a trait of expanding consciousness.

20. The reconstruction of ideas is inner or mental experiment (thought), and the reconstruction of conditions is outer or overt experiment (deed).

21. It should be obvious by now that traditional authoritarian tendencies in religion and philosophy contradict the spirit of American democracy.


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