Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Crisis of Democratic Theory

The Crisis of Democratic Theory: Scientific Naturalism and the Problem of Value

Edward A. Purcell
Copyright Date: 1973
Pages: 344
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Crisis of Democratic Theory
    Book Description:

    "Widely acclaimed for its originality and penetration, this award-winning study of American thought in the twentieth century examines the ways in which the spread of pragmatism and scientific naturalism affected developments in philosophy, social science, and law, and traces the effects of these developments on traditional assumptions of democratic theory."

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4603-4
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. I The Problems of Democratic Theory

    • 1 Scientific Naturalism in American Thought
      (pp. 3-12)

      In the spring of 1934 the hostility created by five decades of intellectual conflict erupted in a debate held on the campus of the University of Chicago. The renowned physiologist Anton J. Carlson, nicknamed “Ajax” by his opponents, glared across a platform at law professor Mortimer J. Adler before a divided and intensely partisan overflow crowd that had jammed itself into Mandei Hall, the university’s largest auditorium. Although tickets had been free, the demand was so great that enterprising students were able to sell them for as much as a dollar apiece. The students and faculty in the audience reacted...

  5. II The Undermining of Democratic Theory

    • 2 Naturalism & Objectivism in the Social Sciences
      (pp. 15-30)

      By the second decade of the twentieth century the ideal of a science of society was firmly entrenched in American thought. Its roots lay deep in the history of Western civilization, especially in eighteenth century rationalism and nineteenth century positivism. In America Darwin had served as the great intellectual catalyst in producing the formal “social sciences,” which by the beginning of the twentieth century were embarking on a period of astonishing growth. There were many lines of continuity, and yet both intellectually and institutionally a wide gulf separated those early years beginning in the 1870s from the established years after...

    • 3 Methodology & Morals
      (pp. 31-46)

      “The social sciences,” declared Leonard White, “have now reached the point where it is open to them to use laboratory methods.”¹ In 1923 White, together with representatives of a number of departments at the University of Chicago, including Merriam, Lasswell, Park, Thomas Vernor Smith, Ellsworth Faris, and L. L. Thurstone, joined to undertake extensive studies of human behavior in their city. Supported generously by the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Foundation, the group sponsored empirical research into the social processes of the city of Chicago, ranging from population movements to the formation of political factions. Although they could not control the conditions...

    • 4 Non-Euclideanism: Logic & Metaphor
      (pp. 47-73)

      Since Charles Sanders Peirce’s seminal work on logic in the 1870s, American pragmatism had developed a powerful critique of metaphysical first principles.A priorirationality, Peirce maintained, did not mean “that which agrees with experience, but that which we find ourselves inclined to believe.”¹ Metaphysics did not produce real knowledge, but merely put inchoate feelings into a seemingly logical form. Dewey carried the attack further, suggesting that metaphysical systems were originally the products of primitive fears in a world beyond human control and understanding, and that they were later adapted to serve as the ideological rationales of elite ruling groups.²...

    • 5 The Rise of Legal Realism
      (pp. 74-94)

      The interest in non-Euclideanism manifested by such legal scholars as Jerome Frank and Herman Oliphant was part of a broad and dynamic attempt during the twenties and thirties to alter significantly the assumptions of American jurisprudence. As a field traditionally associated with the rigorous use of deductive logic, the law was an obvious and inviting target for those who shared scientific naturalist and non-Euclidean assumptions. Although those attitudes had spread rapidly after the turn of the century, they managed to penetrate legal thinking only slowly and haltingly. The law, with its basis in centuries old custom, its traditionalist orientation, and...

    • 6 The New Study of Politics
      (pp. 95-114)

      While new movements in law were challenging the orthodox interpretation of the legal process, students of American politics were simultaneously undermining other pillars of democratic theory. Sharing the general intellectual assumptions that characterized the legal realists and most social scientists, political analysts turned toward a scientific study of the governmental process. In addition to raising the same theoretical problem about the ethical justification of democracy, their new approaches directly challenged two central assumptions of traditional theory, the rationality of human nature and the practical possibility of a government of or by the people.

      Under the leadership of such scholars as...

  6. III The Crisis of Democratic Theory

    • 7 America & the Rise of European Dictatorships
      (pp. 117-138)

      The disappointment with Woodrow Wilson’s idealism after the First World War and the parallel resurgence of nativism and elitism had combined with such new doctrines as the irrational nature of man and the impracticability of government by the “common man” to spur a forceful reaction against democratic ideas in the United States. Although most Americans undoubtedly continued to cherish their form of government—however they interpreted it—the twenties and early thirties produced more doubts and despair about democracy than had any other period since the early nineteenth century. Democracy led to “mobocracy” and its attitude toward property was “communistic,”...

    • 8 Counterattack
      (pp. 139-158)

      In November, 1929 the University of Chicago inaugurated a new president. Robert Maynard Hutchins, boyish-looking at only thirty, became the fifth president of the most dynamic university in the United States. Coming from the deanship of the Yale Law School, the center of legal realism, Hutchins seemed a perfect choice to lead Chicago’s prestigious and science-oriented faculty. One of the new president’s first duties was to dedicate the recently completed but already famous social science building, which represented the early achievements and the boundless hopes of the scientific naturalists. “If this building does not promote a better understanding of our...

    • 9 Crisis in Jurisprudence
      (pp. 159-178)

      When Robert M. Hutchins returned to Yale for a lecture appearance after several years absence, he met Thurman Arnold, an old acquaintance from his New Haven days. “Hello, Cardinal,” Arnold greeted his former dean. Philosophically few men could have been farther apart. When Arnold’s work was hailed as unique, Hutchins replied sharply. “Yes, Thurman Arnold is unique. So is a rattlesnake unique.”¹

      The early critiques directed against Arnold and the other legal realists tended to be mild and often discriminating, but by 1936 they were becoming almost wholly denunciatory. The tone of the attack grew in bitterness in proportion to...

    • 10 Crisis in Social Science
      (pp. 179-196)

      Although the lines of combat were not as clearly drawn in the social sciences as in law, the multicornered debate reached similar peaks of bitterness and hostility. The rise of totalitarianism forced social scientists, as it had legal scholars, to clarify their central assumptions and to confront the problem of the ethical basis of democracy. Working under great external pressure and already in the middle of an unresolved debate over the theoretical foundations of their disciplines, many social scientists felt an immense strain at the necessity of trying to integrate their philosophical assumptions with their practical and immediate moral judgments....

    • 11 Toward a Relativist Theory of Democracy
      (pp. 197-217)

      “The pressure of events these days,” acknowledged one scholar in early 1942, “is continuously turning criticism against social scientists because of the position they take toward values.”¹ While the late thirties and early forties were surely a rhetorical harvest time for philosophical and religious absolutists, they were unable to force the majority of American intellectuals to abandon the naturalistic orientation that they had begun to embrace some fifty years before. If America were to avoid a regression “into the distant past of forest and jungle,” declared one political scientist, intellectuals had to achieve “the necessary reconciliation of science, including modern...

    • 12 Theoretical Principles & Foreign Policy
      (pp. 218-232)

      In September, 1940, over five hundred American intellectuals gathered in New York City for a special conference on science, philosophy, and religion. A huge tent was erected in the central quadrangle of the Jewish Theological Seminary to accommodate the meetings, and representatives from all over the nation attended. The object was to bring together scholars from all fields and with all points of view in order to formulate the basic principles that underlay the democratic ideal.

      On the first day of the conference Mortimer Adler addressed the assembled scholars. “With a few notable exceptions, the members of this conference represent...

  7. IV The Resolution of Democratic Theory

    • 13 Relativist Democratic Theory & Postwar America
      (pp. 235-266)

      Much of the turmoil of the forties and early fifties tended to obscure the major developments that were taking place among American intellectuals. The resounding democratic affirmations—often couched in absolute terms—the vocal attacks on relativism and excessive empiricism, the apparent disappearance of pragmatism as a philosophical movement, the so-called religious revival of the fifties, and the reassertion of natural law theory accompanied by the emergence of a new philosophical conservatism, all seemed to indicate a significant reorientation in American thought. Indeed there was a reorientation occurring, but it was not a general movement from empiricism and relativism to...

    • 14 America as a Normative Concept
      (pp. 267-272)

      The relativist theory of democracy dominated American political thought during the two decades following the Second World War, but in the late fifties it began to provoke increasing criticism. By the mid-sixties the criticism became a swelling chorus that sought to repudiate the intellectual-political consensus on which the relativist theory rested. Though approaching the issue from a variety of directions, the critics focused their attacks on the accuracy of “pluralism” as a description of American society as well as on the ideological and apologetic nature of the relativist theory itself.¹ As the debate of the late thirties had forced intellectuals...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 273-315)
  9. A Note on Sources
    (pp. 316-320)
  10. Index
    (pp. 321-332)