Monday, September 12, 2011

Barth, Dewey and Hating Democracy....

As I contextualize Barth lately, I could not help but notice the period of his popularity (right after WW1) and the period of his decline (right after the 1950s) coincided with the same type of reception the American thinker John Dewey received. What is also amazing is that with the rise of postmodern thought in the late 1980s, both Barth and Dewey have been rediscovered. In some sense, both thinkers, in their radically different ways, tried to find a third way as opposed to some of the binary ways fostered in the Cold War or in traditional thought.

Rorty has brought me back to American thought especially to the tradition known as Pragmatism. In light of the 10 year anniversary of 09/11, I remember taking my first philosophy class at El Camino college and reading the work of Charles Peirce. I recall that I considered myself a pragmatist at this point of time because it just made a lot of sense to me.

Where pragmatism and Barth further coincide is in their epistemological doubts; in short, the idea that we must find an absolute true idea to call true knowledge as the primary concern for philosophical thought. Both Barth and the pragmatists doubt we can get to the place where we can be so comfortable with our understanding of knowledge. Instead, it is how this way of life dictates how we live that is important. It is to limit the scope to what us humans can really know but not in the way that denies hope to the actual choices in life's decisions.

For Barth, it is to say yes to life because God has said Yes to us in Christ; he insisted that democracy in an open way is the best way to live in the public world for both the public and the private spheres. For Dewey, democracy was important to foster both individual freedom and responsibility to others to make good decisions, which is why education was so important to him. I wonder have we lost some of that optimism toward democracy today? There seems to be loud voices coming from both the Left and Right who have given up on this idea or judge it as facile and naive. My question is what would you replace it with then? Most of these voices don't have a concrete answer, and I think perhaps never will. To give up on the democratic process is to give up on the public space itself. From my readings of history both Barth and Dewey, again radically different thinkers, would be disappointed if we took the doom and gloom prophets too seriously...

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