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An Admiring Account
(part 2 of 3)

The same teacher writes:

« “Idealist” or “absolutist” politics are driven by commitment to a pre-defined End (Dictatorship of the Proletariat, Free-Market Capitalism, Christian America, ... etc.) »

None of these goals are assumed out of the blue  “pre-defined”  by their adherents.  Marx sought the dictatorship of the proletariat based on ethical and economic ideas, Christians have a mass of theological thought behind them, free-market advocates have the thinking and observations of Bastiat, Adams, Mises and other political economists to support them, etc. (*)

“Pre-definition” is not the issue.  What was wrong with Nazi Germany, for example, was not that the Nazis’ goal  state control of each and everyone’s life  was “pre-defined,” but rather that that goal would violate human rights.

Dewey’s notion of “pre-defined”  or “pre-determined” or “pre-conceived”  is itself in need of definition.  In practice it seems to include anything.

To which Dewey would reply:  Yes, and I intended it to.  Any thought is “pre-defined” until it is carried out, neither true nor false until it is translated into physical action.  Mass and force are real, thoughts are meaningless until made real.  The thought follows the act.

One consequence of this is that we couldn’t have known Hitler and Stalin were potential mass killers until after they had slaughtered a few million people.

Lest you think that an outlandish example, consider an admirer of Dewey, Mr. Dykhuizen writing in The Life and Mind of John Dewey (page 239):

“Summing up his impressions, Dewey suggested that the most instructive way to view events in Russia was as a great national experiment whose outcome was still in doubt.  Like all experiments, the Soviet one involved continuous adjustments, risks, inconveniences, and uncertainties; ...”

Mr. Dykhuizen goes on to say  “because of this Dewey was frank to admit that ‘for selfish reasons I prefer seeing it tried in Russia rather than in my own country.’ ”  (Sarcasm on.)  What’s a few Russians more or less?  (Sarcasm off.)

Dewey uses his experimental method to justify trying any means, especially means towards a socialist end.  Protests to the contrary, Dewey’s experimentation is merely a shabby rationalization for “by any means necessary.”

The respondent avoids acknowledging Dewey’s admiration for much of the totalitarian machinery of Soviet Russia.  Clearly Dewey loved that “great experiment.”  Yet the means were as wrong as what they ultimately entailed.

One wonders what Dewey would count as success and what as failure in the Soviet experiment, and whether his notions of success and failure were “pre-defined.”

A valid theory is based neither on abstract thought divorced from reality, nor mindless observation divorced from analysis — both split mind from reality.  Rather a valid theory is based on thoughtful observation of reality; experiments where you do something to see what happens can be a part of that.  This, in telegraphic form, points to a far better method than Dewey’s act now think later. (**)

Getting back to politics, it is especially in human affairs that you ought to be careful about experimenting.

America itself is sometimes referred to as an experiment.  The difference between it and the Russian one lies in the political and ethical theory behind them. America was based on the Enlightenment’s discovery of individual rights, the Soviet Union on collective ownership harkening back to primitive tribes.  If human life is the standard, it’s easy to choose which experiment deserved a try.


Communists, fascists, religious fundamentalists, etc. have only one thing in common:  they believe something.

The respondent uses the words, “absolutist” and “idealistic” as meaningless ejaculations, like cuss words.  If you assert anything that a Skeptic disagrees with you are “absolutist” and “idealistic.”

But that they assert that is perfectly all right.

The problem with a fascist is not that he believes something, but rather that what he believes is wrong.

* Ultimately everything you can know is based on observations and extremely fundamental assumptions.  Error is possible  Marx and Bastiat cannot both be right  which is why one needs to study the theory of knowledge:  to learn how to distinguish fallacies from valid observation and argument.

** Dewey strikes at the root of human thinking.  His “the thought follows the act, what’s true is what works” (not quoting anyone) as a general philosophy denies forming generalizations from concrete instances, denies abstracting essentials from chaos, denies the integration of knowledge  so that in Dewey’s world you cannot know or predict anything.

continue to part 3 (conclusion) >>