Natalia Rogach Alexander, Philip Kitcher
March 30, 2021
Many recent writers on democracy have lamented its decay and warned of its imminent death. We argue that the concerns are focused at three different levels of democracy. The most fundamental of these, celebrated by Tocqueville and by Dewey, recognizes the interactions and joint deliberations among citizens who seek sympathetic mutual engagement. Such engagement is increasingly rare in large-scale political life. In diagnosing and treating the problems, we recommend returning to the debate between Lippmann and Dewey, in which many of the concerns now prominent were already voiced. This inspires the main work of the paper – the reconstruction of Dewey’s conception of democracy as a ‘mode of associated living’. We focus on the thesis that democracy is educative and explicate Dewey’s notion of growth, showing how democratic education contributes to three important functions: the capacity for sustaining oneself, the enrichment of individual experience, and the ability to enter into cooperative discussions with fellow citizens. Dewey’s conception of democratic education is directed at fostering particular virtues and, if citizens come to possess them, the need for Lippmann’s ‘omnicompetent individual’ vanishes. We conclude by suggesting that Dewey’s project of educating democratic character is pertinent for addressing the disaffection of our times.