The National Humanities Center

Pragmatism, Social Identity, Patriotism,
and Self-Criticism

Alan Ryan

Princeton University

Pragmatism is often said to be peculiarly American; this is usually by way of abuse, and is a complaint that rests on the vulgar idea that pragmatism is the philosophy of utilitarianism and big business--for example this was the charge leveled by Bertrand Russell, and later by Julien Benda; it was much resented by John Dewey, who was an unrelenting critic of American capitalism. It is a slightly mad complaint to make about C.S. Peirce and William James, too; the former was anything but an efficient manager of his own and others' affairs, while the latter denounced the cult of bigness and complained memorably about the "bitch-goddess success." Of course, pragmatism is American in the sense that it is a distinctively late-(or post) Hegelianism originating in the United States; but the affinities of pragmatist social theory with the ideas of L.T. Hobhouse, Emile Durkheim and more recently Jurgen Habermas are not difficult to spot, and I shall duly argue that pragmatism is "modern" and "North Atlantic," rather than interestingly and uniquely "American." Not all objectors to pragmatism have thought that its objectionable features were part of its essential Americanness; indeed, in the teens and twenties of this century an American version of Russell's complaint was leveled against Dewey. Lewis Mumford, Waldo Frank, and some years earlier Randolph Bourne, denounced what Mumford called "the pragmatic acquiescence," a phrase that caught their common conviction that pragmatism was a philosophy of means rather than ends, and that it took an unexamined conception of its ends, such as they were, from the surrounding culture. The thought was that pragmatism was disabled by its relentless emphasis on practicality and adjustment from giving a properly critical account of its relationship to the surrounding culture. The doctrinally interesting question that these complaints and rebuttals raise is one that the work of contemporaries like Michael Walzer and Charles Taylor raises: how far can we be as emphatic as the pragmatists were, and as Walzer and Taylor today are, about the social debts of social critics while still stressing their role as critics?

There are three purposes to this essay: 1) to give listeners who have never thought (or perhaps even heard) about Randolph Bourne, Herbert Croly, John Dewey, and Horace Kallen a brief account of their attitudes towards "Americanization" and the nature of American identity; 2) to raise some complicated questions about how far Dewey's pragmatism, with its emphasis on the sociality of thought and individuality can sustain a loyal but critical stance towards our "own" society. I suggest that Dewey's pragmatism is a form of "naturalized left-Hegelianism" that sustains the same project as Habermas's defense of modernity and on the same basis of a communicative account of the self, it is for this reason that I say it is less American than "modern," less mid-Western than mid-Atlantic; 3) to end by urging us not to ask questions about American "identity," while encouraging a devotion to the American project. This essay thus combines history, philosophy, and lay sermon--a mode practiced with some success by all the writers I discuss and especially by Judith Shklar, whom I do not, and whose deplored loss robs me of the critic I would most have wished (albeit somewhat shrinkingly) to have heard in response to this essay.

Ambivalences about "Americanization"

Herbert Croly's The Promise of American Life is often described as the manifesto of Progressivism; but this is not wholly apt. For one thing, it was published in 1908, by which time the progressive movement was at its peak, and had resulted in many of the reforms of city government, civil service recruitment, and anti-corruption measures for which it was known. Croly was more plausibly described - as he was by Theodore Roosevelt - as the author of a doctrine of "new nationalism." New nationalism was not in the European sense nationalism at all; had nothing to do with attempts to make the nation coextensive with the ethnos, nothing to do with ideologies of blood, race, and soil, and save for one unguarded remark nothing to do with the thought that the role of nations was to give military expression to a particular culture. It was rather the thought that the United States existed more as a promise than a fact. American life was a promise, not a destiny; its outcome was anything but manifest. Crucially, the fulfilment of the promise was in many ways threatened by the promise itself. The promise was a promise of individual emancipation, and it was an egalitarian promise; its aim was to allow each individual to realize himself or herself in this new and astonishingly open environment. It by-passed questions of identity by assuring everyone who came to this new nation that he or she could make of himself or herself whatever the heart desired. But how the American was to know what to desire, and how the promise was to be fulfilled was another matter.

In effect, Croly's argument throughout Promise was that the individualism of a rights-based political system had thwarted the achievement of the goals with which the founders had set out. The founders had, as every American schoolboy knew, split over the question of the national government's role in controlling and promoting economic activity and the development of the vast unexplored hinterland of the thirteen states. Croly's genius as a publicist was to coin the thought that we must pursue Jeffersonian goals by Hamiltonian means. On this view, the villain of American political life was Andrew Jackson, who had treated the ideal of equality as the principle that every snout should have equal access to the public trough, and the only political leader adequate to American life had been Lincoln, who alone saw how to employ the entire force of the Federal government in pursuit of an ideal of equal membership of the American people. An individualism that asked only to be left to one's own devices was morally obnoxious and increasingly at odds with the industrialized and urbanized place that late nineteenth and early twentieth century America had become. (Why it was morally obnoxious is difficult to say quickly, but Croly had been brought up in a more or less Comtist household, and had been taught by Josiah Royce at Harvard, and any sort of rugged individualism would have been repudiated in both places. The oddity is that TFR was so enamored of Croly's book, given the psychological distance between them.)

The interesting and complicated aspect of Croly's work was his reaction to the tensions between capital and labor that were so marked a feature of American economic and social life in the last twenty years of the nineteenth and the first fifteen years of the twentieth centuries. Where many critics of capital either hankered after a return to the agrarian simplicities of the eighteenth century or else wanted the breakup of the new corporations, Croly followed in the track marked earlier by the work of Edward Bellamy: the new corporate forms were a response to the need for the organization of production, and should not be destroyed but in a sense to be explicated nationalized. By the same token, the struggling trade unions that had been hampered by means both legal and extra-legal, and had found themselves constantly in the middle of the most violent conflict with the employers should not be destroyed nor be encouraged to wage class warfare; once more, they should be seen as the latent form of new national means of organizing labor. Thus, to take an obvious example, Croly considers the way the contemporary railroads were busily engaging in market-fixing activities; where standard trust-busting reactions would have suggested a need to force competition on the railroads, for the sake of the consumer, Croly wanted the government to sponsor a plan for a national railroad system. In effect, what he wanted was the steel rail version of what came to pass with the Interstate Highway project of the 1950s.

My subject is not so much the thought that a modern industrial society needed a form of political organization more uninhibitedly committed to an active role for government than the United States had yet embraced, as the question what sort of nation was this project to sustain? What was American about American life and its promise? And how did Croly's "new" nationalism relate to the sorts of nationalism with which Europeans are all too familiar? The answer is surprisingly hard to come by. At one level, there is no difficulty; the slogan "Jeffersonian goals by Hamiltonian means" sums up the project in a simple if mildly vulgar fashion. All the same, it raises a difficulty that divides two recent commentators: how to square the Comtist analysis of the needs of an industrial society and the Comtist passion for an ethics of vivre pour autrui with the Jeffersonian emphasis on the rights of individuals. Charles Forcey stressed the Comtist elements, and the emphasis on national purpose and promise, while Edward Stettner stressed the subsequent history of Croly's ideas and so saw him as one of the originators of what becomes American liberalism in Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal.

The New Deal is plainly a better realization of the "Jefferson via Hamilton" slogan than anything in Comte's account of the positivist utopia; but that's not to say that it captures the essence of Promise. My sense is that Promise tries to do something difficult and perhaps slightly incoherent. Croly set out to tell Americans that the American state was fifty years behind its time, and that the time was long overdue to attend to tasks that European states had long been performing, but he wanted in the process to emphasize the need to achieve a distinctively American form of national consciousness. The United States was not to play "catch-up" but to overleap its time. The awkwardness which this leads to emerged in Croly's discussion of art, architecture, and literary culture; Croly could not accept any idea of the United States purchasing high culture ready made from Europe. (Croly was a passionate architectural theorist and the designer of the New School's first building on West 12th Street.) He was, in so reacting, displaying one of the many possible responses to the closing of the frontier, and the rapid urbanization of the United States; that is, he was someone who was both attracted to and repelled by most of the usual stories about American exceptionalism.

Croly was not a theorist of what one might call the peculiarity of American identity, in the same way as Bourne, Kallen and Dewey--all of them good friends at various points, and all of them contributors to Croly's New Republic until the American role in World War I separated them. That is, Croly's vision of American nationality emphasizes the idea that the nation becomes more of a nation as its expression in the activities of the state become more intense and more adequate to the needs of society. One anxiety that this might cause is the question of what you might call the affective ties of Americanness; Croly seems to have steered straight between two familiar positions. One view, essentially Hegelian, associates national attachment with the idea that the state embodies a particular cultural stage in world history, and that it has as its external purpose the establishment of that culture in the world. How competing cultures strive to make their way is what explains warfare in Hegel's scheme of things, and there is more than a touch of that in Weber's view of the state and in his defense of German cultural aspirations in World War I. Croly has one small flicker of this view; he says, once only, that a "good war" would do wonders for American self-consciousness. Given what the failure of his and the New Republic's hopes for World War I later did to his view of war, comment is needless. Or at least, one might want to say that someone who had studied under James might well want to say, first that one of the moral equivalents of war that James had looked for would be found in the task of building a welfare state adequate to the needs of a modern industrial society, and second that the only real moral equivalent of war is war.

The alternative route is the thought that the state is not a particularly important entity, nor one with any great moral significance after all. If his Comtean upbringing really affected Croly, it ought to have made him collapse the state into its functions; that is, "the state" is no more than whatever congeries of institutional arrangements we employ to harmonize economic production and distribution, provide healthy housing, schools, and medical care for the inhabitants of modern societies. It is--or was--a commonplace that for all his authoritarianism, Comte remained the disciple of St. Simon in seeing a large role for social solidarity and psychic suasion, none to speak of for military force and physical coercion. The state was less the march of God on earth than the locus of rational organization. It would wither away, in a rather different fashion from any imagined by Marx, but with exactly the same end result, that the "government of men" would be replaced by the "administration of things." Croly was not inclined to go all the way down that track either. My guess is that, somewhat as with Randolph Bourne, he was too fond of the actual German state and its ability to permeate social life with discipline, solidarity and culture to follow the logic of the managerialist view to the end; it seems equally clear that, like many other American writers of the time, he was torn between the view that American culture was second-hand, shabby, and thin and the view that America was the last best hope of mankind and was waiting to show the world what she could do.

For our purposes, what matters most is essentially negative: Croly did not raise the question whether the essentially multi-ethnic and multi-cultural quality of the United States ought to be brought into the center of the picture of American life and its ambiguous promises. He was not a theorist of the melting pot, nor a conservative inclined to complain about the hyphenated quality of the Americanness of new immigrants. Nor was he simply a believer in the old picture of the USA as a branch operation of the English mission civilisatrice. Croly's Americanism is not an "Anglo" doctrine; the nearest he got to swallowing anything of English origin was during the war when the young H. J. Laski turned up in the New Republic and preached guild socialism. Not forced assimilation, melting-pot, multiculturalism, but the interesting thought that the American contribution to national identities ought in some fashion to be the creation of a modern nationalism, in the country that of all great nations had thus far been able to avoid thinking of itself in such terms.

This matters as much as it does because when the First World War broke out in August 1914, it caught Croly and the friends who were about to work on the New Republic entirely off guard. I shall say only a very little about Dewey, Kallen, and Bourne in this connection, not about their attitudes to the war in particular but to what the war provoked--namely, Americanization. In literary terms, Dewey is the least interesting of the trio because he is the least concrete; moreover, as Horace Kallen later observed, Dewey was less compelling as an observer of cultural diversity than was Randolph Bourne. But analytically, and theoretically, he was more ambitious and more complicated than they, and he raises some difficult and puzzling questions. There are three great set-piece discussions: Randolph Bourne's "Transnational America," published in the Menorah Journal in 1916, Horace Kallen's "Democracy versus the Melting Pot," published in two installments in the Nation in 1915 (though his postwar "Americanization" in Culture and Democracy is in some ways even more striking) and John Dewey's "Nationalizing Education," published in Journal of Education, 1916.

The first thing to emphasize is Bourne's claim that immigrants have found an external freedom in being able to do as they like, but not the internal and expressive freedom that comes from living out their own cultural life. This he blames on the monolithic quality of existing "English" culture. "The Anglo-Saxon element is guilty of what just what ever dominant race is guilty of in every European country, the imposition of its own culture on the minority peoples." That no liberal-minded person wanted this monolithic result, he took for granted; he observed that the most purely Anglo-Saxon and untouched part of the country was the South, and writing for a Jewish journal, he could take it for granted that his readers did not think much of the South, especially when asked to compare it with Wisconsin where a combination of German culture and "outwardly and satisfactorily American" habits prevail. This led Bourne to the claim that I think must haunt us still as we look at the effects of migration on migrants from the poorer regions of Latin America and Asia. America knows how to deculturate but not how to acculturate. (This was not an original thought with Bourne; Jane Addams and John Dewey had observed in Chicago during the 1890s that deracination had happened but not a corresponding process of reracination, and a good deal of Dewey's educational theory reflected his concern for what you might call the reracination of urban children and migrant children alike.) One might, for all that, complain that Bourne's statement of how the multicultural, or as he said, "transnational" life was to be led was somewhat thin: the goal must be the good life of personality lived in the environment of the Beloved Community, said Bourne, and it was the task of the younger intelligentsia of America to give an account of it. Still, theorists of identity must acknowledge that Bourne was quite clear that as against European nationalisms and European cultural unity, the American promise and the American task was to develop unity in pluralism. America's distinctive contribution to the world was to be such a coherent pluralism.

Horace Kallen wrote with less than Bourne's wonderful plangency, but he struck some extremely convincing blows during a very rough time. Critics of unfettered immigration objected in what purported to be a humanitarian fashion to the squalor of immigrant communities, and to the way the presence of immigrants allowed unscrupulous employers to drive down wages and to force their workers to work in hideous and unsafe surroundings. Again, it is striking how little the terms of the argument have changed over the years. Kallen claimed that this kind of humanitarianism was at most skin deep, that what troubled the critics of immigration was "not really inequality; what troubles them is difference." In "Democracy versus the Meltin Pot," he argued that the fact of being an immigrant community--or a community of immigrant communities was what set the American political agenda. The socialist program of using the power of the state to reduce economic inequality was plausible in Europe but not plausible in the United States, where the entire political culture was against it. In any case, socialist ideals of this sort were more or less beside the point: the interesting line of cleavage on the liberal side of politics lay between people who thought the problem was the battle between monopolistic captains of industry and old American ideals of equal opportunity (so that the issue was only that of getting immigrant workers into decent jobs with decent pay and conditions) and those who thought that change, even that sort of change, hung on accepting cultural pluralism as a fact of life to live with and make something of--Kallen, of course, belonged to the latter persuasion. It was not that he opposed what you might call meliorist class-based politics, but that he thought they had to be practiced in something other than the way in which both Woodrow Wilson and his socialist critics thought. But Kallen felt a good deal of ambivalence about just what constituted "Americanness." He took up the conservative complaint against "hyphenated Americans," and turned it into a term of praise. German-Americans, Jewish-Americans, Irish-Americans were all of them entirely acceptable Americans. A few years ago, Michael Walzer gave a cheerful account of American identity as such a "hyphenated" identity; the cultural attachments of the hyphenated American lay to the left of the hyphen and politics to the right. So long as hyphenated Americans subscribed to the political rules, they might lay their cultural allegiances where they chose. There is some of that in Kallen in his optimistic moments. But Kallen shares the anxieties of Bourne and Croly. The fear is essentially that the necessities of everyday life will steadily erode immigrants' attachments to the language, religion, culture, and family life they bring with them, and may provide nothing with the same richness and depth in return. If the common elements of American life--the English language, mass media, public school education, and an unspecific spirituality-- are used only for instrumental reasons by groups that need to get on in the world, they will lose their hold on their own attachments, and will be hardly better than illiterate in the adopted culture. Those of us who remain unrepentantly committed to seeing the world in class terms may see things differently: the families of immigrants from illiterate peasant backgrounds lose their original language quite quickly, keep their religion in the diluted way in which all Americans keep their religion, and see no great need for high culture in any language or tradition, while the families of immigrants from more educated backgrounds sometimes assimilate with vigor, sometimes hang on to the cultural attachments they brought with them, but in either event do so at a strikingly more literate level than that displayed by those who got to the United States before them.

Kallen mostly thought that cultural attachments would persist; in a nice phrase, he reminded his readers that grandfathers are unchosen. The sharper of them may have retorted that although that is true, the significance of grandparents varies a great deal from one society to another. In short, how persistent cultural diversity will be is unclear--Kallen himself swung between the thought that each generation needs to be "re-Americanized" to the thought that economic stratification altered everything: if ethnos and occupation coincide, difference persists, but if they diverge, something closer to the melting pot occurs.

When Dewey contemplated these issues, he distinguished good and bad nationalism, in much the way Bourne had done: good nationalism creates an American culture and is consistent with internationalism, bad nationalism represses internal differences and is bellicose. One characteristically Deweyan touch was the claim that American nationality is constituted by democracy, while a second was his insistence that the "hyphen" is good when it attaches, bad when it separates. Dewey was by this time--1916--the most famous educational theorist in the world, and it was an anxiety about the misuse of the educational system for polemical and propaganda purposes that led him to write this essay and several others in defense of pluralism in American education.

The role of education, Dewey argued in "Nationalizing Education," was not to inculcate one canonical image of American identity, but to foster mutual respect among the diversity of cultures and peoples that make up the American people. As to how to do it, he had nothing very surprising to suggest, but thought, plausibly enough, that one obvious way was by teaching a view of American history that stressed the positive contributions to American society of the successive waves of immigration. Eighty years later, this seems absolutely right, even though it raises some exceedingly awkward questions about just what tone we must adopt in encouraging this mutual exchange of narratives. "Immigration" is not exactly what happened to Africans who were brought to America as slaves, and even Dewey would have been hard put to it to find a wholly convincing way of telling the story of the African-American contribution to American history in such a way that it was neither a tale of passivity and victimization nor a Pollyannaish celebration of the successes of the downtrodden.

Sociology and Philosophy

If an evaluation of these ideas were limited to the question of who gives the liveliest account of the multiplicity of cultures that migrants brought to the United States, Bourne would win in a canter; if it were limited to the question of how to give a cogent defense of moderate pluralism, Kallen would win--he plainly did not fear the inevitable cultural incoherence that a defense of hyphenation brings with it, and he was possessed of a lively common sense and a splendid hatred of oppression and bullying, a combination that can take one a long way. To see why for all that Dewey is the most interesting of the four writers I have mentioned, one has to understand that Dewey tried to do something harder than Bourne, Kallen or Croly. Dewey believed in Americanization and in multi-culturalism simultaneously. That is, he believed it was possible to create an American identity that was distinctive and yet not at odds with the cultural resources on which it would draw. He found it possible to believe this because he understood individual identity as an interpersonal and indeed a social construct. This allowed him to escape the usual ways in which questions of identity are posed; it was not only an anti-essentialist basis for sociology that this supplied, but the beginnings of a communicative and plural basis for ethics.

Dewey followed Mead in thinking that the "I" emerges only by distinction from the "Me," and that getting clear about this difference is an achievement of which we are capable only in a social setting. Individuality is a social achievement; a merely biological identity is surely a gift of nature, and it is equally a natural fact that biologically differentiated individuals are also experiential centers which can come to reflect on and to own their specific streams of consciousness. But identity in any interesting sense is an accomplishment, and perhaps a pretty intermittent one. Dewey thus anticipated Habermas's shift from a problematic of the subject to a problematic of communication by about eighty years. It follows, if not swiftly, then certainly ineluctably, that the idea of Americans need only be "hyphenated" will not quite do for Dewey; nor will any image of a melting pot. What he wants to do is, as it must be for a good, if lapsed, Hegelian, to give an account of unity in difference.

This is another way of saying that what is sociology in Kallen and Bourne is philosophy in Dewey; the difficult issue is just what that amounts to: The first clue is that Democracy and Education was seen by Dewey as his most important book, and as the fullest exposition of his philosophical position. It makes the argument (much resisted by philosophers) that all philosophy is the philosophy of education; that is, that the proper method of philosophy is genetic, and naturalistic, and that its aim is to sophisticate our understanding of how we acquire the mature problem-solving competencies of intelligent adults in a great variety of contexts. This is unexceptionable, but raises the question that provides the second clue: how do philosophy and democracy attach to one another--the two most distinguished philosophies of education in Dewey's eyes were Plato's defense of the need to train "Guardians," to act as good shepherds of their uncomprehending charges and Rousseau's insistence that we must protect young Emile from a society that has been corrupted by the growth of the arts and sciences. Dewey's philosophy was avowedly intended as a response to Plato and Rousseau: he redefined democracy as "organic communication on free and equal terms." This in turn was explained as an increase in "sociality," so that we find Dewey explaining moral growth and the nature of democracy in terms of our capacity for "associated living"--neither an elite of shepherds nor a scattering of isolated, uncontaminated individuals. The third clue to Dewey's purposes is his emphasis on modernity; we live, like it or loathe it, in the modern world; just where "the modern world" is, is never quite clear in Dewey, since its indicia range from the achievements of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century to the disorganization of the capitalist industrial world of the nineteenth. But its nature is easy enough to discern: social and geographical mobility, economic and moral individualism, subjectivity, secularism.

How did Dewey integrate his account of modern identity and his account of the stresses of modernity? The answer is that his entire career was an attempt to do it; both his more arcane philosophical work, and his political journalism preach his vision of how to make ourselves at home in the modern world by making the world fit to be our home. "Modern society" is the fundamental analytical category of this enterprise; "democracy" is the cultural--and then by inference the political--character of such a society; America is not the only home of modern society, but it has a somewhat privileged position in one respect. It is where the modern condition is least obscured by everything else we have inherited. This is not an unmixed blessing: in the 1930s, Dewey wished that the United States had possessed a Labor Party like the British Labor Party so as not to have to submit to the distracted lunging and retreating that he thought Roosevelt engaged in. But "modernity" is a philosophical as much as a sociological concept, because the investigation of modern thought is a philosophical activity--part of the social criticism of social criticisms that Dewey decided philosophy had now become.

The implication for a pluralist conception of the social world now becomes clearer but remains hard to articulate: against his Hegelian youth, Dewey repudiates the search for an Absolute, but in the spirit of that youth he hangs on to the thought of a society in which fully transparent self-understanding and communication are possible; such a world does not obliterate differences of perspective and contribution, but it aspires after a sort of unity that a cheerfully empiricist and sociological pluralism might not care about. In that sense, Dewey really was a theorist of Americanization inasmuch as he wanted to identify the American project with the achievement of a novel form of emancipation, one that did not threaten to leave us deracinated even while it enabled us to think more coherently and scientifically about just what sort of soil we were rooted in.

The New Deweyans

Over the past ten years, arguments over "identity" and "difference" have spread into every area of American political discussion. Their original home was commonly in literary theory rather than political theory, but issues of cultural attachment came to have considerable political resonance during the 1980s--in Canada, with the perennial issue of Quebec's "particularity," and the new demands of Inuits and other aboriginal peoples, and in the United States with the revival of old anxieties over immigration and a new despair over the difficulties of the African-American poor, less alarmingly with a new assertiveness on the part of women, and more marginally with a like assertiveness on the part of gays and lesbians. From this perspective, the philosophical defense of human rights offered by conventional liberalism, such as that preached by John Rawls or Robert Nozick has come to seem sociologically unsophisticated. But the most interesting response to these strains has not been offered by writers firmly entrenched in an "old" universalist liberalism or those firmly entrenched in a "new" politics of difference. It is Richard Rorty's claim that the existence of cultural diversity is a brute fact about our sort of society, but one that ought not to get in the way of an attachment to the liberal politics of "old" liberalism.

Rorty's defense of that liberalism is somewhat casual. He offers it as a matter of taste rather than elaborate philosophical argument. It is not therefore surprising that is commonplace for critics on the left to complain about the unseriousness of Rorty's defense of what he blithely calls "post-modernist bourgeois liberalism." I am not a particularly fierce critic, however, though I think that Rorty's position is somewhat problematic. The plausibility of Rorty's views is undermined, I think, by Rorty's own disbelief in Dewey's actual project as distinct from the project Rorty ascribes to him. He praises Dewey's antifoundationalism, but infers too quickly a conclusion that Dewey would have resisted, namely that "anything goes," so that it is a matter of taste what politics we decide to practice. Dewey certainly held that there were no deepfoundations of the kind that traditional religions and traditional philosophies had tried to provide; and Dewey certainly thought that human life so to speak held itself up by its own bootstraps. There are no essential identities, and our social attachments are created rather than just discovered. But Dewey also thought that the consistency of the various components of everyday life with each other was a good deal less optional than that; the modernity of the modern world offered a particular set of opportunities and difficulties, and we had to work with those, not against their grain.

In a recent essay in the New York Times, and in a longer and more considered essay, "Two Cheers for the Cultural Left," Rorty has argued that the American academy is American, that the professorate has a patriotic duty to articulate the "uplifting stories" of traditional American historiography. This distresses critics on the left, against whom, of course, this claim is directed. Dewey had a good many resources with which to deal with the difficulty of finding a position from which to acknowledge an American identity--or rather to finesse the question of its existence and its character--while retaining a critical stance towards American practice. Rorty has fewer. The critics' question is simple enough: how do we give sufficient weight to the less uplifting elements in the American narrative, and how do we square our belief in the rights of all manner of people who do not feel that theirs has been a particularly "uplifting" story with the patriotic and friendly wish that the American should be their uplifting story too? (My view, for what it is worth, is that the late twentieth century United States needs a large dose of old-fashioned social democracy, and that this would do much more to make the "uplifting story" acceptable than any number of stories about stories; this was, of course, Dewey's view, too.)

The American project, which Dewey, Rorty, and I so much admire, is the project of making the uplifting story come true. It is a story about the possibility of combining cultural plurality with political unity, allowing the widest opportunity the world has thus far known, but somehow escaping anomie and alienation, and so familiarly on. One virtue of Dewey is that he does not divert the defense of the American project through anxieties about American identity. Identity is an unnecessary intervening step in the argument from the virtues of the American project to its claim on our allegiances. I entirely share Rorty's irritated conviction that prosperous American professors should speak more kindly of their country's ambitions--and as harshly as is proper about its failure to live up to them. But as a "resident alien" who is far from being an alienated resident, I emphasize in conclusion that it is not because Rorty's readers are Americans that they should join in, but because i) the project is rationally and morally compelling, and ii) they happen to be geographically well-positioned to promote it, and iii) they are supported by the taxes and tax concessions of large numbers of people whose consents to what the Intelligentsia gets up to was never asked, and they ought to feel some reciprocal obligation.

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Revised: May 1997