Pragmatist Notes, part III

In spite of the fact that diversity of political forms rather than uniformity is the rule, belief in the state as an archetypal entity persists in political philosophy and science. Much dialectical ingenuity has been expended in construction of an essence or intrinsic nature in virtue of which any particular association is entitled to have applied to it the concept of statehood. Equal ingenuity has been expended in explaining away all divergences from this morphological type, and (the favored device) in ranking states in a hierarchical order of value as they approach the defining essence. The idea that there is a model pattern which makes a state a good or true state has affected practice as well as theory. It, more than anything else, is responsible for the effort to form constitutions offhand and impose them ready-made on peoples. Unfortunately, when the falsity of this view was perceived, it was replaced by the idea that states “grow” or develop instead of being made. This “growth” did not mean simply that states alter. Growth signified an evolution through regular stages to a predetermined end because of some intrinsic nisus or principle. This theory discouraged recourse to the only method by which alterations of political forms might be directed: namely, the use of intelligence to judge consequences. Equally with the theory which it displaces, it presumed the existence of a single standard form which defines the state as the essential and true article. After a false analogy with physical science, it was asserted that only the assumption of such a uniformity of process renders a “scientific” treatment of society possible. Incidentally, the theory flattered the conceit of those nations which, being politically “advanced,” assumed that they were so near the apex of evolution as to wear the crown of statehood.

– John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems (1927)

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