Finding The Public In A Complex Society

Posts In This Series

In the last two posts we looked at Dewey’s idealized form of democracy. In Chapter 4 of The Public And Its Problems, Dewey desribes some of the obstacles citizens face in identifying themselves as a public, as a group capable of organizing to solve its problems. The obstacles he describes never went away.

He begins by pointing out that our form of democracy originated in small communities, based on town meetings and elections of neighbors to carry out the solutions reached through those meetings. Waves of industrialization and immigration created giant urban communities. Absorbing and socializing those groups into urban American life went quite well considering the enormous difficulties. But:

In spite of attained integration, or rather perhaps because of its nature, the Public seems to be lost; it is certainly bewildered. The government, officials and their activities are plainly with us. … But where is the public which these officials are supposed to represent? How much more is it than geographical names and official titles? P. 149-50; fn omitted.

The effort to adapt the politics of the small town to densely packed urban areas worked well enough to prevent the nation from falling into civil strife, but was not robust enough to deal with urban problems let alone national issues. Dewey describes the drop in the percentage of the population who voted and the cynicism that many show to the process.

Those still more inclined to generalization assert that the whole apparatus of political activities is a kind of protective coloration to conceal the fact that big business rules the governmental roost in any case. Business is the order of the day, and the attempt to stop or deflect its course is as futile as Mrs. Partington essaying to sweep back the tides with a broom. P. 151; fn omitted]

This accords with what he wrote in Chapter 3. We are not so much a nation of self-motivated individuals as a interchangeable group of “standardized units”, a phrase with echoes of neoliberal Homo Economics. These units are driven into corporations or other huge organizations for economic purposes not voluntarily but by the need to make a living.

[Corporations] are so massive and extensive that they determine the most significant constituents of the public and the residence of power. Inevitably they reach out to grasp the agencies of government; they are controlling factors in legislation and administration. Not chiefly because of deliberate and planned self-interest, large as may be its rôle, but because they are the most potent and best organized of social forces. P. 142.

This obstacle is exacerbated by the existence of political machines and other groups who insert themselves between individuals and the state; and use this position for their own ends.

Dewey identifies other things standing in the way of a public trying to recognize itself.

1. Political parties don’t do policy, and policy is never the issue in elections. He points to the fact that child labor laws are supported by a large public majority, but neither party makes them an election issue, or pushes the necessary Constitutional Amendment. This reminds us that SCOTUS struck down Child Labor Laws in a typical anti-democratic action by a 5-4 majority of conservatives.

2. Elected officials are rarely held to account by the electorate for specific votes or positions. Instead, the primary determinant seems to be a general consensus about the overall state of things.

3. Public relations experts manipulate the attention and energy of the public to focus on non-political matters. This leaves the experts and their sponsors to manage political activity for their own ends. Even non-corrupt leaders use theories developed for altogether different purposes and developed in different circumstances.

4. Mass societies lead to the disintegration of small communities where people develop the habit of participation in politics.

5. Mass societies create complex problems beyond the ability of a non-specialist to grasp. Of course, the consequences of the decisions made by specialists are clear. But see point 2.

6. It is difficult to apply even a simple political principle in a large society. Dewey gives two examples. Southerners claim to favor small government. They also claim to want to prevent drinking alcohol. But Prohibition requires a larger government. Farmers want small government, but also want fair railroad freight rates. That requires a large government bureaucracy.

7. Apathy sets in when it becomes difficult to identify issues, as is the case in a complex society, especially when traditional political slogans lose their meaning. People vote against one or the other party based on adherence to worn-out ideas when they bother to vote.


The increase in the number, variety and cheapness of amusements represents a powerful diversion from political concern. The members of an inchoate public have too many ways of enjoyment, as well as of work, to give much thought to organization into an effective public. Man is a consuming and sportive animal as well as a political one. P. 167.

9. Earlier American communities were stable. But technological forces create instability, mobility and constant change. “Steam and electricity have done more to alter the conditions under which men associate together than all the agencies which affected human relationships before our time.” P. 169. This makes if difficult to formulate a sense of solidarity that is necessary to create a public.

These factors have confused citizens and made it difficult for them to recognize themselves as a public with problems that require organization to create a solution. Dewey offers his thoughts on solutions in chapter 5.


The problems Dewey identifies are worse today that they were 100 years ago. Occasionally catastrophes have forced us to demolish those obstacles, and face up to life and death situations that can only be solved as a group. After WWII, there was a brief time, the time of my childhood, when the problems had not completely overwhelmed a sense of national community, when we slowly began to see real changes. It was short-lived, partly destroyed by endemic racism and an immoral war, and partly by a group of right-wing rich people and their economic theorist enablers. It was finished off by yet another economic nightmare. Catastrophic stagflation in the mid- to late 70s was met with neoliberal solutions, and the same for the following economic crashes, through the Great Crash and the Great Recession. We were distracted, unable to protect ourselves while our nation slowly fell apart.

Then came the pandemic. While we were locked down we saw the horrifying killing of George Floyd, which came on the heels of so many other police killings of unarmed Black people. We saw massive protests often met with state and right-wing violence. We saw the horror of the second and third waves of the pandemic, and the disgusting behavior of the former guy and the antics of his incompetent administration. We watched his absurd lawyers hack at our election. Then we saw the Capitol Insurrection. There weren’t any distractions, no manipulations that could hide it. [1] We were able to see ourselves as a public.

I hope this is a permanent change.
[1] I first saw this observation in a tweet from Jemele Hill (@jemelehill). Added on edit.

25 replies
  1. d4v1d says:

    I’m not convinced that 74 million Americans see anything that resembles a public, nor want to be part of one. But 81 million might have caught a glimpse of the idea.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      To adapt an oft-repeated phrase, the 74 million have been manipulated into thinking they are the public; everyone else is just visiting – and pooping on the floor. Or so says the vision of those manipulating them.

      As Ed writes, the problem has only grown worse since Dewey wrote. He was writing at the dawn of the age of influence peddlers, which got its start from the need of governments to influence their publics to support WWI – and to allow them to demonize and imprison those who did not. The techniques became a private “advertising” industry – once called Madison Avenue – and were used to sell everything from bacon and eggs to tobacco and Edsels. In GM-speak, boats, booze and babes were used to sell automobiles.

      After WWII, permanent spying bureaucracies were added. They learned to influence their publics as easily as if they were playing a mighty Wurlitzer organ. Now we have added – overwhelmingly on the right – billionaires and their dark money networks to a heady mix of government and private sector propagandists. In that light, a few left wing blogs have come a long way, no matter how many miles we have to go before we sleep.

  2. gnokgnoh says:

    Scale has been a problem since the start of the republic. We started with 13 colonies across 1,500 north to south miles and incredibly diverse communities. We started big, ended bigger. My experience is that our identities have always been within our communities. My neighborhood in the city (Queen Village, Philly), was about 9,000 residents. I moved out to a very close-in incorporated suburban town of 4,500 residents. Both offer the tangible connection to how a neighborhood gets things done. In Queen Village, of course, we were subject to City Hall for most revenue and services, so the QV Association was very project oriented. In our suburban town, one mile outside of Philly, we have our own school district, police force, you name it. Direct action, direct impact.

    The huge difference from 100 years ago, in my view, is that we are much, much more tuned in to what is happening at the national level. WWII and other emergencies forced local mobilization and engagement, but for the most part local participation in state and national governance was very detached. .

    It is hard to sell a single, unified message to such a large, diverse country. We don’t have just three network TV stations that for the most part stayed on message. We are at a moment when adversity has forced engagement and welcomed national action, but that won’t hold without strong leadership.

    We also have one political party that has sought and wielded power through extremism. I am astonished at how incredibly negative my Republican friends are. This is not just the result of a Biden presidency. The right has cultivated a political culture of profound negativity, hatred, and anger about so much that defines us and makes us stronger…as a country. The local community bonds and engagement are still strong. We’re still friends and neighbors. Paradoxically.

  3. Bobby Gladd says:

    From my book I’m now reading:

    “ FORTY YEARS HAVE PASSED SINCE MY PARENTS WERE PURSUED BY THE KGB over the simple right to read, write, and listen to what they chose and say what they wanted. Today, the world they hoped for, where censorship would fall like the Berlin Wall, can seem much closer: we live in what some academics call an era of “information abundance.” But the assumptions that underlay the struggles for rights and freedoms in the twentieth century—between citizens armed with truth and information, and regimes with their censors and secret police—have been turned upside down. We now have more information than ever before—but it hasn’t brought only the benefits we expected.

    More information was supposed to mean more freedom to stand up to the powerful. But it also has given the powerful new ways to crush and silence dissent. More information was supposed to mean a more informed debate, but we seem less capable of deliberation than ever. More information was supposed to mean mutual understanding across borders, but it has also made possible new and more subtle forms of conflict and subversion. We live in a world of influence operations run amok, where the means of manipulation have gone forth and multiplied, a world of dark ads, psy-ops, hacks, bots, soft facts, fake news, deep fakes, brainwashing, trolls, ISIS, Putin, Trump…”

    Pomerantsev, Peter. This Is Not Propaganda (pp. x-xi). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition

  4. PeterS says:

    Thank you Ed, I admire your optimism! You suggest that because of the pandemic and the insurrection etc. “we were able to see ourselves as a public.”

    Although I fear that such factors have only reinforced the existence of two publics. Or perhaps three: we might need to include the third of the adult population which appears to have opted out of the democratic experiment. 

  5. gnokgnoh says:

    PeterS, you said that a “third of the adult population…appears to have opted out of the democratic experiment.” Why? Because a third of the states had politicians which challenged the vote counts in a handful of swing states? Because they are voting in increasing numbers for asinine politicians who hang guns on their offices in Congress? These binary/one-third analyses really bother me.

    One-third of my neighbors are Republicans. They live next door to me or down the street. I play racquetball with an African American Baptist minister behind me, who voted for Trump because of abortion. We chat all the time about politics. He likes that I listen and don’t condemn him. A large number of local Republicans are conservative Catholics whose single cause has been and always will be abortion. My Republican neighbor down the street has lots of guns, but approaches politics sheepishly, because he’s smart. Two doors up is a retired FBI agent, who still conducts background checks in our area for the annual renewals of top secret classifications. He votes Republican. The worst is a fundie family across and down the street that held a song vigil in their front yard ten years ago when the students at our high school started an LGBTQ club at school. My town used to be two-thirds Republicans. That changed just before I arrived 25 years ago, but my Republican neighbors are quite happy to live in a community of the public. I could go on all day about stories of family and friends all across the country, none of whom fits these simplistic binaries.

    How many QAnon members do you know? Seriously? I know several deep state conspiracy theorists (not QAnon), one of whom is a prosecutor from Oregon and also a vegetarian and anti-vaxxer. We share a love of good beer, hiking, and photography, and he takes my merciless ribbing. According to Salon, there is an online support group of 136,000 people that “lost” family members to QAnon. The media love QAnon, because they love binaries and extremism. Biden’s stimulus bill is getting 75% approval ratings. So, maybe only 25% are living in a different public.

    • PeterS says:

      Sorry, I was trying to make the simple point that with a 66% turnout a third of the electorate didn’t vote.

      I accept what you say and have argued in other threads that the Trump base isn’t as big/strong as many suggest. Though I still believe that the level of division in America is not exactly a sign of a healthy democracy.

  6. PeterS says:

    Please permit me to make another contribution.

    For a large part of the year I live in a small republic. We sell bananas. And in 2021 we’ll take no lessons from the US about democracy.

    But the truth is that we’d have taken no lessons 10, 20 or 40 years ago. The presence of so much money, dark and not so dark, in the election process, and political control of boundaries and the electoral machinery, make the US a terrible example of democracy.

    The US system is not normal. In most “western” countries there are limits on election spending and limits on when and how much TV advertising can appear. And greater non-partisan control of the electoral process. In short, elsewhere election integrity trumps notions of free speech. The US might even be the worst example of democracy in the western world (I’m ready to be corrected about that).

    Meanwhile, many Americans have what I call rational apathy about the democratic process. They have been told repeatedly by both parties that the USA is a beacon of democracy for the rest of the world, and so reasonably believe their democratic system is robust enough to withstand a few knocks.

    Fighting voter suppression is, dare I say it?, way more important than raging about treason and coups. And maybe the Democratic leadership could tell the truth about the intrinsic weaknesses of American democracy.

    P.S. Apologies for the lecture from a foreigner.

    • Ed Walker says:

      No apologies needed. Outside perspectives are always welcome and helpful.

      Dewey made the exact same point when the ratio of eligible voters t actual voters was close to 50%. He thinks their complaint is entirely reasonable. They don’t see change, so why bother with the whole voting thing?

    • jaango says:

      One needs to look at the Chicano Movement of today, and of years past. After WWII, there was only Elected Official, and today, there are over 8.000 Elected and Appointed Officials.

  7. jaango says:

    Ed Walker,

    Permit me to thank you for your comprehensive amount of effort for addressing “pragmatism,” via your many threads on this subject matter.

    And given that I am contemplating my retirement from the political writing biz, my long of tooth and grey beard, is getting in my way for access to my computer. Further and of my self-published books, here is the latest salvo from my writing of latest and last book.


    The Pragmatism of Demographics & Progressive Politics

    The greater notion of individualized behavior that is defined as Hard Work, Self-Discipline and Ambition, is an apt yardstick for measuring our National Unity and to include the unassailable fact of Decency Personified, is nonetheless, a good starting point for assessing today’s Democracy and far into our future, pending our ever-increasing impact that is laid at the door step of Demographics.

    And the university-oriented academies for the both Social Sciences and Political Economics, informs us all, and in large measure. Take, for example, interpreting the Demographics as it pertains to progressive politics, effectively suggests that the center-left will become concretized over the next twenty years, and which has the fateful impact on today’s and tomorrow’s political Right or for the applicable Neo-Conservative mantra and which has been now laid to waste.

    Further, here in my home state of Arizona, the conservative-oriented Right at the state legislature demanded that all ballots cast in this past presidential cycle be delivered to the conservatives for their third effort for assessing the accuracy of the vote counting in the latest presidential election. And more so, since demographics is founded on gerrymandering, and subsequently the sudden notion that all ballots cast must undergo a process that determines, not the “quantity” of votes cast, but is now focused on the “quality” of these now compiled votes. Hence, today’s political reflection is premised on the election successes of both President Biden and Senator Mark Kelly here in Arizona, now has two democratic-oriented senators in the Senate chamber in out nation’s capitol

    Now, as to fully understanding today’s and tomorrow’s applicable standard for pragmatism, is being addressed comes at us from two standpoints, National Security/Defense and Domestic Policy.

    Furthermore, the ease of understanding fully today’s pragmatism and as applied to this philosophy and for its advocacy, pragmatism, speaks to the wealth of information, readily available. Or the applicable view–that self-governance is a “bottom’s up” reality that must be concretized. And which brings me to my current Argumentation and which is the lack of input from the Journalism Industry and the role of the over the 20,000 credentialed journalists and the intentional display by the media outlets, large and small, in which little if any “news” is reported given the higher concentration of attention for misdirection and propaganda.
    Therefore, the widely accepted nonsense of the Reagan Era in which “trickle down economics” was inflammatory in its benign sense of humor. And in this past fifty years or so, we, the pragmatists from here in our wonderful Sonoran Desert recognized our affliction in which the neo-conservative view, and widely cherished, that the Three Stereotypes were highly prevalent relative to any Argumentation in political opposition. Thus, the political opposition came to realize that the below stereotypes were fully ascendant via the new media outlets, for being consequently ignored and readily dismissed, but will have to be addressed in the years ahead.

    Subsequently, the First Stereotype was the Native American view consistent with “He’s just another white man.”

    The Second Stereotype was premised on the Chicano’s understanding for “El gringo quere component todo con su, “I’m sorry!'”

    Third stereotype was consistent with the majority Anglo view that “I don’t care…I’ll be dead…So, what’s your point?”

    And therefrom, the pending demographics over the next thirty years, or the soon be released Census Report (September 2021) as well as the compiled statistics at the Census Bureau within the next decade or 2030 will be a telling moment for Pragmatists nationwide. Today, the cutting edge of today’s progressive movement are Latinos, Progressive-oriented Anglos, and followed by Blacks, Native Americans and Asian Americans. To wit, today progressives, taken together, represent 46 percent of the democratic base and now where the Democrats control the Senate, provided the “filibuster” is torpedoed, via this traditional partisan alliance/coalition, and leading to President Biden’s first stellar success. Otherwise, more of the ”show me your papers, please!” becomes further widespread.

    And lest we all forget, Attorney Ganesh Sitaraman reminds us in his latest column of Panoramas, located at American Interest Dot Com and titled, “Progressive Pragmatism”, dated April 20, 2014:

    “Progressive pragmatists will take action when necessary to further American interests. But when it comes to promoting American values, they take an indirect approach. Instead of making the world safe for democracy, they seek very patiently to make the world ready for democracy. They focus not on immediate regime change and democracy promotion, but on creating conditions that enable states to become more democratic and more responsible in their own time and in their own ways. Progressive pragmatism requires restraint when it comes to direct intervention, but assertive action when it comes to long-term cultural change. With reforms to international institutions, open access to information, fostering education abroad, cultural exchanges, and other such programs to shape culture and values, the United States can empower people around the world to embrace one of the most important progressive values: self-government.”

    And in this emphasis for “self-government”, we and who value virtually all improvements in this self-government, “new” Ideas must be forthcoming, knowing full well that in the last two decades, the Washington Consensus, was a colossal waste of time, More on point, the neo-conservative emphasis was to insure that the upward wealth direction remained the established behavior, but with an added propaganda label. In contrast, the existing label has a new feature, that being Black Lives Matter and thusly, far more effective for the low and moderate income earners. Moreover, the morality of restraint and the pragmatism of humility, is being highly practiced when compared to the ‘insurrection’ of these past several months or from the start of this new year.

    Note: Author and Attorney Sitaraman was a campaign insider for the elevation of Elizabeth Warren to the United States Senate.

  8. timbo says:

    I’m not convinced that “early American” settlements and communities were all that stable.

    • PeterS says:

      Nobody quite said what you say you’re unconvinced by. Which begs the question of whether you quite understood what was written.

      • skua says:

        From OP:
        “9. Earlier American communities were stable. But technological forces create instability, mobility and constant change. …”

        Did you miss this or am I missing something?

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Perhaps timbo is questioning the assumption that a less technological and mobile society was more stable, subject as it was to a harsh environment, famine, an influx of immigrants, competition with other communities, lack of trade and availability of essential goods, and frequent conflict with the Native Americans it was dispossessing.

          (And contra @joshtpm, question begging is not begging for a question to be asked. It is circular reasoning, assuming as true the thing about which one argues or asks a question.)

          • skua says:

            I belong to a different sect as far as the meaning of language.
            Sure there was a time, back when gentlemen (and only the occassional gentlewoman) were educated in the classics, rhetoric, and academic terms – and those people taught that language had set meanings.
            My sect has context as queen, king, the army, and the peasants, when it comes to meaning.
            “Begs the question” is these days frequently being used in a context where it means, “begging for a question to be asked”.

    • Ed Walker says:

      Nice point. As EoH suggests, you are right to observe that stability in the US and territories was subject to a number of factors not applicable for example in England, where communities were reasonably stable over fairly long stretches of time, even after the Industrial Revolution began. But I think that compared to the changes in US society at the end of the 19th and early 20th C., there were comparatively stable.

      • timbo says:

        I’m arguing that stability in the English Colonies in North America in the pre-Revolutionary period is almost entirely a myth, a semi-Jeffersonian sentimentality, not some reality that ever actually existed. Here’s an article that documents some of the population growth after 1682 in and around the Delaware:

        And here is a description of the growth of New York from 1665 to the early Revolutionary period:

        These are just samples of the continuous turmoil that rarely gave respite for more than a decade at a time to any community in the English Colonies in North America. Throughout the period, there were continuous technological innovations that would change the course of European power dominance in Europe, and in North America. In fact, one could argue that the Revolutionaries sought to separate themselves from the upheavals that European conflicts often brought to the colonies, to remove themselves from being seen as prizes of war in conflicts that might not even directly involve the colonies directly but almost always did geopolitically. Just look at what happened to various French and Dutch colonists as England grew in power—suddenly, one could one day be a subject of one European power and then the following day, seemingly inexplicibly the subject of another. It is in this milieu of this ever expanding and diverse society that the political savviness of the colonists, and from eventually the canniness the Revolutionary Founders and US Framers grew…

        To be sure, technology has accelerated in the number of innovations per unit time, but to the mind of someone in the late 16th through mid-17th C in the English Colonies, stability was more of some sort of idealized goal on rare occassion, and not a factual reality very often. The impact on a “simpler” society by any innovation is greater practically when compared to what was before in general than innovations now. Perhaps one might say that it was easier to grasp more of the implications of many of the technological advances at the time, and harness them in ways one could foresee the impact of somewhat more easily than one can nowadays… the ‘chickens hatching there eggs’ a bit slower then than now.

        • Ed Walker says:

          I think the point I’m trying to extract from the book has to do with forms of democracy. The form of democracy devoloped in colonial times was not suited to an industrialized society. Here’s another description of the main point.

          John Dewey (1859–1952) lived from the Civil War to the Cold War, a period of extraordinary social, economic, demographic, political and technological change. During his lifetime the United States changed from a rural to an urban society, from an agricultural to an industrial economy, from a regional to a world power. It absorbed millions of immigrants from Europe and Asia, but faced wrenching conflicts between capital and labor as they were integrated into the urban industrial economy. As the face-to-face communal life of small villages and towns waned, it confronted the need to create new forms of community life capable of sustaining democracy on urban and national scales. Dewey believed that neither traditional moral norms nor traditional philosophical ethics were able to cope with the problems raised by these dramatic transformations. Traditional morality was adapted to conditions that no longer existed. Hidebound and unreflective, it was incapable of changing to address the problems raised by new circumstances. Traditional philosophical ethics sought to discover and justify fixed moral goals and principles by dogmatic methods. Its preoccupation with reducing the diverse sources of moral insight to a single fixed principle subordinated practical service to ordinary people to the futile search for certainty, stability, and simplicity. In practice, both traditional morality and philosophical ethics served the interests of elites at the expense of most people. To address the problems raised by social change, moral practice needed to acquire the disposition to respond intelligently to new circumstances. Dewey saw his reconstruction of philosophical ethics as a means to effect this practical reconstruction.

          In other words, one form of democracy works in small face-to-face settings where the population is homogeneous and stable, and mostly independent of a central government either State or Federal, is not going to work well in a mass industrialized society.

          Beyond that, the ethics and the morality that work in the small setting may not be adequate to the larger, heterogeneous, multi-cultural, society.

          These points aren’t dependent on stability in the sense you are using the word. Everything changes all the time. The rate of change varies. The rate of change is the important factor, as we saw in the reading of The Great Transformation. Polanyi argues, I think correctly, that when the rate of change is too high, society becomes unstable, unable to react quickly enough, and people suffer. Not the rich, of course, just the common people.

          • Eureka says:

            To your/Dewey’s point wrt stability in this sense: observers of fission-fusion in primate social groups note roughly consistent numbers (say 130-150 individuals in some great apes such as common chimpanzees) at which a group starts to break (up into smaller/ new groups). [The point is not a parallel or magic number per se but an observation about what happens, or starts to, as social groups grow larger: the characteristics of the organization change, a typical size-and–scaling problem which must be (re)solved in some way — a general issue not even getting into details such as diversity and territory and such. (Also,) There’s only so much info / so many other individuals that folks can keep track of.]

            Need I ETA that we are social primates…

            • Epicurus says:

              Eureka, I’ll break my promise for you. There is a book “Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language” by Robin Dunbar. I recommend it to you. Among other observations in the book the author observes socialization among the apes and humans in line with your observation above. He notes that in groups people can only keep track of so many relationships in order for the informal rules of the group to be understood and consistently applied by everyone. Once that number of relationships is exceeded one of two processes happens, at least in human groups. The group adopts formal rules and regulations so each member can know what the rules are or the group splits and reforms into another informal rules controlled group where formal rules are unnecessary. An example of relationship understanding would be a family of five people where each member must understand not only her/his relationship with the other members but also each of the other’s relationships with each of the other family members. So the relationship understanding of informal rules for the five person family for each member requires an understanding of 4+3+2+1 or 10 relationships. The author contends the group size where relationship understanding for all members with each of the others for informal rules control falls apart is somewhere in the 50 -75 person range. Thus one sees, not allowing for entreprenurial spirit, the break apart in many professional groups – law firms, accounting firms, medical practices, search firms, investment firms e.g. – at the 50 to 75 person level. Or they grow larger but with formal rules taking precedence or replacing informal rules.

              Stability is like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. It depends on what the viewer’s basic determinant of stability is. I look at something and it is stable, someone else and it is unstable. Think Democrats and Republicans looking at each other’s party. Along those same lines something is pragmatic for Mitch McConnell, not pragmatic for Chuck Schumer (think filibuster), i.e. it is not the reality of the situation but rather the practical uses to which each party thinks its concepts, beliefs, ethics, and morality can be put. I don’t think pragmatism all that sustaining for a democracy. Just the opposite really.

              Instability affects rich and poor as Marie Antoinette, brokers committing suicide in the Great Depression, and the 1030’s Dust Bowl emigrants can attest.

  9. PeterS says:

    “Earlier American communities were stable.” I think it was perfectly clear that the intended meaning was comparatively stable. What else could possibly have been meant?

    No community which had any freedom and was not isolated was literally “stable”, so to point out that earlier (not early) communities were not completely stable seemed unnecessary, akin to highlighting a typo.

    I believe the post was arguing that, in terms of creating a public, the earlier communities were more stable, more coherent; and to take one example, the external (destabilizing) threats would have helped maintain that public. I didn’t read the post as any sort of discussion of pre-revolutionary history.

    P.S. I think a saying can have two meanings/uses, and even then the two uses are not so different. A suspect statement can demand to be questioned whether it is suspect due to circular logic or for another reason.

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