There was another passage from Scott Galupo’s review of The Tyranny of Cliches that I would like to to address. Scott writes:

The Tyranny of Clichés extends the effort Goldberg made in Liberal Fascism to revive the textbook association of the term pragmatism with the school of American philosophy developed in the late 19th century by the likes of William James, as against today’s popular meaning—a practical emphasis on “what works,” a reliance on empirical data rather than abstract theory. And not just any theory, Goldberg asserts: the original pragmatists sought to steer us away from our classical-liberal roots. For Goldberg’s pragmatists, the facts always seem to point toward a more active—progressive—role for government.

There’s a fair amount of truth to this, but in the course of linking philosophical pragmatists to today’s vernacular pragmatists, Goldberg is forced to become, in effect, the Corey Robin of the right. He obliterates important distinctions.

Having read The Reactionary Mind and discussed it with the author at some length, I wanted to add a few observations. I agree that Robin lumps together very different and even incompatible political groups under the “counter-revolutionary” and “conservative” labels. Indeed, that was one of my main objections to his thesis. Robin blurs and erases distinctions to advance his argument that the politics of the right is defined by the impulse “to defend power and privilege against movements demanding freedom and equality.” I disagree with his interpretation, but there is a logic to what he’s doing that comes out of his interest in trying to find a unifying theme in “counter-revolutionary” political movements. Goldberg ignores important distinctions as a matter of course, and he has been doing this for a long time.

As for pragmatists and their bias in favor of state activism, it might be worth revisiting one kind of government activism to which James was adamantly opposed, namely imperialistic foreign policy as it was then being practiced in the Philippines. I’ll quote Lears’ article from The Short American Century again:

This combination of humility, curiosity, and empathy was the ethical corollary of James’s rejection of absolutism, the core of his conviction that we inhabit a pluralistic universe.

Pluralism, in turn, provided the foundation for James’s anti-imperial thought. As Robert Richardson writes, James’s opposition to empire “grew naturally from his advocacy of pluralism and individual self-determination and from his conviction that we are mostly blind to the vital centers of the lives of others–to the lives, for example, of Filipinos.” Imperialism was nothing if not an expression of blindness to others’ aspirations–a failure to consider the possibility of multiple perspectives on the world. Arguments for empire discounted the Filipino desire for independence and instead celebrated the uplifting mission of the American invaders. A pluralistic foreign policy, in contrasy, would sanction multiple vital centers, granting legitimacy to local desires even among “backward” peoples–as James and his anti-imperial contemporaries granted legitimacy to the Filipino yearning for independence. Imperial foreign policy denied those aspirations in the name of progress, a teleological creed that demanded the replacement of idiosyncratic traditions with universal modernity [bold mine-DL].

In this case, James was fiercely opposed to ostensibly progressive state activism because it came at the expense of pluralism and self-determination.

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