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he “progressive” label is back in vogue; politicians of the Left routinely use it to describe themselves, hoping to avoid the radical connotations associated with being “liberal” in the post-Reagan era.
Like Ely and many of his fellow progressive academics, Dewey initially embraced the term “socialism” to describe his social theory.
Only after realizing how damaging the name was to the socialist cause did he, like other progressives, begin to avoid it.
Nevertheless, such an account of his thought is both incomplete and overstated.
Indeed, when he was a graduate student at Hopkins and in the early years of his career, Dewey’s thought, like that of his fellow progressives generally, was decidedly Hegelian. with me, and also carried away considerable of the paper the hoop was filled with.” Dewey’s break with Hegel was thus only partial, and did not essentially alter the content of the social theory he had developed while under Hegel’s spell.
Dewey’s argument has enjoyed a potent legacy in subsequent scholarship, blinding many to what he and his fellow progressives plainly understood: however superficially similar, the founders’ conception of freedom, and the way of living to which it gave rise, differs markedly from the progressive conception of freedom and the more wholly “social” way of living that follows from it.
Commentators tend to underplay Dewey’s connection to the philosophical taproot of the wider progressive movement.
From this foundation, the progressives then criticized virtually every aspect of our traditional way of life, recommending reforms or “social reorganization” on a sweeping scale, the primary engine of which was to be a new, “positive” role for the state.
As the progressives’ influence in the academy increased, and growing numbers of their students sallied forth into all aspects of endeavor, this intellectual transformation gradually began to reshape the broader American mind, and, in time, American political practice.
After defining these principles in the progressives’ terms — e.g.
liberty means the “claim of every individual to the full development of his capacities” — Dewey claims that the American founders, no less than the progressives, were committed to them.