James Baldwin’s Pragmatist Politics in
The Fire Next Time
Courtney D Ferriter
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
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.
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 democraticsociety, 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
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
democraticsocieties, and its impossibility as a coherent ideal.1 In her introduction to a comprehensive collection on tolerance and intolerance in
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
democraticsociety: moral perfectionism. However, there appear to be
two ways in which we can interpret exemplarity in Cavell
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.
In May 1958, and four years into the Algerian War of Independence, a revolt again appropriated the revolutionary and republican symbolism of the French Revolution by seizing power through a Committee of Public Safety. This book explores why a repressive colonial system that had for over a century maintained the material and intellectual backwardness of Algerian women now turned to an extensive programme of 'emancipation'. After a brief background sketch of the situation of Algerian women during the post-war decade, it discusses the various factors contributed to the emergence of the first significant women's organisations in the main urban centres. It was only after the outbreak of the rebellion in 1954 and the arrival of many hundreds of wives of army officers that the model of female interventionism became dramatically activated. The French military intervention in Algeria during 1954-1962 derived its force from the Orientalist current in European colonialism and also seemed to foreshadow the revival of global Islamophobia after 1979 and the eventual moves to 'liberate' Muslim societies by US-led neo-imperialism in Afghanistan and Iraq. For the women of Bordj Okhriss, as throughout Algeria, the French army represented a dangerous and powerful force associated with mass destruction, brutality and rape. The central contradiction facing the mobile socio-medical teams teams was how to gain the trust of Algerian women and to bring them social progress and emancipation when they themselves were part of an army that had destroyed their villages and driven them into refugee camps.
without value as a tool for
analysing democraticsocieties. 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
was becoming a mass,
democraticsociety – 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
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 democraticsociety that aspires to be more
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,