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James Baldwin’s Pragmatist Politics in The Fire Next Time

In The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin argues that the American dream is far from being a reality in part because there is much Americans do not wish to know about themselves. Given the current political climate in the United States, this idea seems just as timely as it did in the 1960s. Baldwin’s politics and thinking about race and religion are informed by an optimistic belief in the human capacity to love and change for the better, in contrast with Ta-Nehisi Coates, the heir apparent to Baldwin’s legacy. Considering current events, it seems particularly useful to turn back to The Fire Next Time. Not only does Baldwin provide a foundation for understanding racism in the United States, but more importantly, he provides some much-needed hope and guidance for the future. Baldwin discusses democracy as an act that must be realized, in part by coming to a greater understanding of race and religion as performative acts that have political consequences for all Americans. In this article, I examine the influence of pragmatism on Baldwin’s understanding of race and religion. By encouraging readers to acknowledge race and religion as political constructs, Baldwin highlights the inseparability of theory and practice that is a hallmark of both pragmatism and the realization of a democratic society. Furthermore, I argue that Baldwin’s politics provide a more useful framework than Coates’s for this particular historical moment because of Baldwin’s emphasis on change and evolving democracy.

James Baldwin Review
Reasonable tolerance

The idea of toleration as the appropriate response to difference has been central to liberal thought since Locke. Although the subject has been widely and variously explored, there has been reluctance to acknowledge the new meaning that current debates offer on toleration. This book starts from a clear recognition of the new terms of the debate, reflecting the capacity of seeing the other's viewpoint, and the limited extent to which toleration can be granted. Theoretical statements on toleration posit at the same time its necessity in democratic societies, and its impossibility as a coherent ideal. There are several possible objections to, and ways of developing the ideal of, reasonable tolerance as advocated by John Rawls and by some other supporters of political liberalism. The first part of the book explores some of them. In some real-life conflicts, it is unclear on whom the burden of reasonableness may fall. This part discusses the reasonableness of pluralism, and general concept and various more specific conceptions of toleration. The forces of progressive politics have been divided into two camps: redistribution and recognition. The second part of the book is an attempt to explore the internal coherence of such a transformation when applied to different contexts. It argues that openness to others in discourse, and their treatment as free and equal, is part of a kind of reflexive toleration that pertains to public communication in the deliberative context. Social ethos, religious discrimination and education are discussed in connection with tolerance.

Open Access (free)
The oddity of democracy

the wearing of distinctive religious clothing by pupils in schools an assertion of the fact that all citizens are equal and that there are no special distinctions or social credit points, or is it an interference with the right of every citizen to dress as she pleases? The uncertainty of the answer, and the absence of a single, authoritative, imposed, and universal orthodoxy, is what makes for the constant uncertainty of a democratic society, but is also the mark of its necessary freedom and vitality. It is also a mark of this freedom that not only can there be

in Cultivating political and public identity
Open Access (free)
Reasonable tolerance

MCKIN 1/10/2003 10:15 AM Page 1 Introduction: reasonable tolerance Catriona McKinnon and Dario Castiglione Theory and practice are often at odds. Yet there is something particularly strange in the way in which the received theory and the presumed practice of toleration in contemporary societies seem to go their separate ways. Theoretical statements on toleration posit at the same time its necessity in democratic societies, and its impossibility as a coherent ideal.1 In her introduction to a comprehensive collection on tolerance and intolerance in modern life

in The culture of toleration in diverse societies

. Two models of exemplarity In much of Cavell’s writing on film he seeks to show us that the protagonists of the films he terms “remarriage comedies” live a form of perfectionism that he upholds as desirable for contemporary democratic society: moral perfectionism. However, there appear to be two ways in which we can interpret exemplarity in Cavell

in Cinema, democracy and perfectionism
Joshua Foa Dienstag in dialogue
Series: Critical Powers

This book engages in a critical encounter with the work of Stanley Cavell on cinema, focusing skeptical attention on the claims made for the contribution of cinema to the ethical character of democratic life. In much of Cavell's writing on film he seeks to show us that the protagonists of the films he terms "remarriage comedies" live a form of perfectionism that he upholds as desirable for contemporary democratic society: moral perfectionism. Films are often viewed on television, and television shows can have "filmlike" qualities. The book addresses the nature of viewing cinematic film as a mode of experience, arguing against Cavell that it is akin to dreaming rather than lived consciousness and, crucially, cannot be shared. It mirrors the celebrated dialogue between Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Jean D'Alembert on theatre. The book articulates the implications of philosophical pessimism for addressing contemporary culture in its relationship to political life. It clarifies how The Americans resembles the remarriage films and can illuminate the issues they raise. The tragedy of remarriage, would be a better instructor of a democratic community, if such a community were prepared to listen. The book suggests that dreaming, both with and without films, is not merely a pleasurable distraction but a valuable pastime for democratic citizens. Finally, it concludes with a robust response from Dienstag to his critics.

Open Access (free)

without value as a tool for analysing democratic societies. Public opinion arises from the political culture of a society and is only partly influenced by elites manipulating it by using ‘spin doctors’. Public opinion supporting the essentials of democratic values and norms is a vital element in underpinning democratic culture. When it is essentially ‘conservative’ in its attitudes it might be considered as

in Understanding political ideas and movements
Open Access (free)
The beast that no-one could – or should – control?

, and clarification of the notions of academic freedom and responsibility. The journey since the 1990s suggests that no-one is in overall control of these processes. This is perhaps inevitable, and may even be desirable in a democratic society that aspires to be more open. Open access 35 What is open access and how has it been implemented as a policy? Open access is very much an academic initiative, largely conceived as a tool for researchers. Its origins lie at the messy confluence of digital technology and open licensing for software (Eve, 2014; Suber, 2012

in Science and the politics of openness

was becoming a mass, democratic society – symbolised by the abolition of the House of Lords’ legislative veto power (1911), the enfranchisement of women over thirty (1919), and the development of a modern mass media. As David Cannadine has argued, these transformations made the monarchy a greater novelty, with Buckingham Palace becoming a tourist trap rather than a centre of power, and royal memorabilia

in Royal tourists, colonial subjects and the making of a British world, 1860–1911

MCK2 1/10/2003 10:19 AM Page 38 2 The reasonableness of pluralism Matt Matravers and Susan Mendus Introduction In ‘The Idea of an Overlapping Consensus’, John Rawls remarks that the aims of political philosophy depend upon the society it addresses, and that modern, democratic societies are characterised by ‘the fact of pluralism’: they are societies in which different people have different and conflicting comprehensive conceptions of the good, different and conflicting beliefs about the right way to live morally speaking.1 Moreover, and troublingly, these

in The culture of toleration in diverse societies