Saturday, April 10, 2021

John Dewey on rights and government

Jonah Goldberg's article The Newest Deal in The Dispatch includes the following about John Dewey, a leader in the "progressive" Progressive movement during its formative years:

Philosophically, the New Deal drew on—or at least reflected—Dewey’s and Woodrow Wilson’s contempt for the outdated vision of the Founders. The Founders “lacked,” Dewey wrote in Liberalism and Social Action, “historic sense and interest.” The Burkean and Madisonian vision of government simply serving to protect liberties and enforce fair, neutral rules was inadequate next to what could be accomplished with a sufficient application of will by experts given the power to provide meaning to every individual.

This is what the lid-less, unconstrained universe had to offer planners. Indeed, even the idea of individual rights was a bygone relic. “Natural rights and natural liberties exist only in the kingdom of mythological social zoology,” Dewey explained. Rights can only be properly secured through “social control of economic forces in the interest of the great mass of individuals.” For Dewey, humans were “nothing in themselves”; the General Will was everything.

I have read very little by John Dewey. I don’t have a copy of Liberalism and Social Action, so I looked on Amazon to see if I could find these quotes in Liberalism and Social Action. Unfortunately Amazon does not have a "look inside" feature for the book.

Anyway, if Goldberg’s claims are legitimate enough, these quotes are enough for me to strongly disagree with Dewey’s political philosophy. The bedrock views of today's Progressives surely agree with Dewey's. The so-called General Will, even if it expresses the wants of a majority of the people subject to the government’s rules, can realistically only be wielded by politicians backed by government force.

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