Strenuous Citizenship: William James & the Contemporary Debate Over Democracy’s Future

In: Contemporary Pragmatism
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  • 1 Professor of Philosophy, Founding Director – Philosophy, Politics & the Public honors program, Xavier University,

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This essay aims to bring William James into the contemporary discussion concerning the future of democracy in a post-national, globalized world. The current debate turns on a constellation of themes that James had raised in his own philosophical work – the dichotomy between monism and pluralism, and the construction of an active selfhood animated by subjective interests being the most prominent. Using James’s discussion of the reflex triad, the strenuous mood, and his profile of sainthood from the Varieties, the essay sketches a concept of “strenuous citizenship” that can serve as the center around which a pluralistic model of democracy’s future can be fashioned. In this way, James’s voice – marginal and largely ignored in this contemporary debate – can reclaim a significant place in that conversation concerning democracy and its future prospects.

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