cover image John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism

John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism

Alan Ryan. W. W. Norton & Company, $30 (414pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03773-9

American pragmatist philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952) was an outspoken anti-Stalinist who viewed with contempt American supporters of Soviet-style communism, yet he also warned against the threat to U.S. democracy posed by right-wing American nationalism and politically reactionary Catholicism. Princeton professor of politics Ryan casts Dewey as the quintessential philosopher of middle-of-the-road liberalism, and in this challenging, meticulously argued intellectual biography, he wrestles with Christopher Lasch, Richard Hofstadter, Robert Westbrook and others who have variously interpreted Dewey as an apologist for corporate capitalism or a leftish harbinger of participatory democracy. Stressing that Dewey disliked the modern corporation's routinized work habits and hierarchical structure, Ryan (Bertrand Russell) credits Dewey with synthesizing a secular faith in reform and education, a search for social connection beyond narrow individualism and a religiously inspired conviction that the world is a meaningful unity. Ryan's take on Dewey as a curious visionary who resists pigeonholing in his addressing of pressing current concerns makes this a rewarding, thought-provoking reassessment. Photos. (June)