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Abstract

This article explores the possibility that John Dewey’s silence about which democratic means are needed to achieve democratic ends, while confusing, makes greater sense if we appreciate the notion of political technology from an anthropological perspective. Michael Eldridge relates the exchange between John Herman Randall, Jr. and Dewey in which Dewey concedes “that I have done little or nothing in this direction [of outlining what constitutes adequate political technology, but that] does not detract from my recognition that in the concrete the invention of such a technology is the heart of the problem of intelligent action in political matters.” Dewey’s concession could be interpreted as an admission that he was unqualified to identify political machinery or institutions suitable for realizing his vision of democracy as a way of life. Not being able to specify adequate means to achieve lofty democratic ends is not problematic, though, if we appreciate the roots of Dewey’s work (especially Human Nature and Conduct) in the anthropological writings of Immanuel Kant and Franz Boas. Experience reflects a myriad of social and cultural conditions such that specifying explicit means to structure that experience risks stymieing the organic development of political practice. When pressured to operationalize political technology, Dewey chose the appropriately open-ended and, at times, frustratingly vague means of education and growth. In short, Dewey did not want his ambitious democratic vision to outstrip the possibilities of practice, so he left the task of specifying exact political technology (or which democratic means are best suited to achieve democratic ends) unfinished.

Available for download on Friday, June 10, 2022

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