AL&aP: Musings of an angry critic.

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#old-blog #philosophy

I’m going after Stuhr again.The chapter “Democracy as a Way of Life, Democracy in the Face of Terrorism” in his book Pragmatism, Postmodernism, and the Future of Philosophy leaves me annoyed, wanting more (or less), and breathlessly protesting. Hopefully the rest of the book will fill in some of the gaps in the theory, or flesh out how his ideal isn’t a broken concept hidden behind defining it as something else. What Stuhr outlines is basically a “secular faith” in “Democracy,” which is moral and accounts for all the things democracy needs to be that aren’t governmental, how democracy can be a way of life. I don’t buy it. I didn’t when I read it, after class discussion I’m still not convinced, and I’m going to outline my concerns momentarily, but first, a pseudo-ad-hominem attack on the book itself: I can’t believe this got through an editor’s hands. Stuhr manages to require the reader be both familiar with the writings of Dewey (which, for a philosophical audience is possibly the case) and (at least suggests) the reader should abandon the past, as such, asking us to reinvent Dewey’s philosophy. I think the audience of this book is confused, because the writing is confused about its audience. On the one hand, the book is quite readable by non-technical (philosophically) readers, and seems to be able to speak to policy-makers, on the other, the book seems to require a large familiarity with Dewey’s work to fully understand (in a perversely historical manner, considering the message) its message. On to Stuhr’s theory of democracy: He calls for the formation of a democratic cult. “Democracy” will be defined differently in different instances, but it is somehow still democracy because we call it that. As a moral judgement this doesn’t work. I can say the (according to my values) democratic answer to the proliferation of genetic diseases due to lifesaving treatments is to ban carriers from procreating. The moral result defines democracy, not vice versa. This may be a matter of symbolism, which I think Stuhr is completely abusing, as democracy represents a fairly well-defined set of ideas, so long as one doesn’t try to make a cult from them. The idea we need a new system is all well and good, but that system is not going to be a democracy, it is going to be a step beyond. This system doesn’t have a name because of the arrogance we have (societally) that democratic theory is the ultimate theory, that it is the top and no more progress can be made. This very notion is the one by which there is justification for imposition of democracy on others as a long-term benefit, even at the expense of the present (working) system. The very notion of pluralism Stuhr seeks to uphold is thrown down by the arrogance of democratic theory. This cannot be the answer, as means are coercive, constraining, and socially dependent, everything democracy seeks to remove; thus even Stuhr (given my criticisms are correct) would have to admit, by his own theory, that the democratic faith is a self-contradiction as democracy can only be achieved through democratic means. (Which the democratic faith is not. I don’t see a way to save this argument. I really don’t. My thoughts may not be clear, and I may lack the historical background to understand how Stuhr is writing and to whom, but given my own experience and understanding, introspection, and thought about democratic institutions, policy, and cult-like ideal worship (editorializing a bit there…), I see no way this democratic faith could be pragmatically, much less theoretically, viable.

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