Reconsidering Dewey’s Democratic Socialism in the Age of Populism

Abstract

From Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, to Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in the US, political forces proclaiming a connection to the tradition of democratic socialism have been recently growing in popularity. In the face of the financial crisis, the subsequent sovereign debt crisis and growing wealth inequality across Europe and North America, there is a thirst for a more just social, political and economic system. To a greater extent still than democratic socialism, however, far right nativist and xenophobic politics are on the ascent across the democratic world. In response, democratic socialism promises to offer a ‘live’ alternative by articulating a vision of a democratic politics that neither harks back to an outdated political ideal (i. e. Communism), nor retreats from the need to radically reshape the basis of economic relations. That is why this article seeks to revive and reconsider Dewey’s democratic socialism. In particular, this article argues that Dewey’s pragmatist democratic socialism offers a rich and appealing political ideal for our times, provided that we understand it as an ethical and dynamic egalitarian notion of social change, rooted in democratic dialogic practices across the lifeworld. To this end, it begins by discussing how Dewey’s pragmatist democratic socialism emerges as a response to Classical Liberalism, before offering a positive account of what Dewey’s democratic socialism actually consists of and considering some important objections to the project of reviving Dewey’s democratic socialism.

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