Modern Socratic Dialogue and Resilient Democracy: Creating the Clearing for an American Bildung

American Journal of Theology and Philosophy 43 (1):40-66 (2022)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Modern Socratic Dialogue and Resilient Democracy: Creating the Clearing for an American Bildung1Laura J. Mueller (bio)Michael Hogue’s American Immanence draws from some of the fundamental features of American philosophy: philosophy is not alienated from life, but rather, part and parcel of the structure of our experiences, a way of living. His notion of “resilient democracy” is particularly representative of this tradition of thought. Resilient democracy is, first of all, an ethos, grounded in “the collective experience of uncertainty and animated by the living desire to bring about a more beautiful world.”2 This ethos is an associational, relational one, and it is democratic because, for Hogue, it must be “empathetic, emancipatory, and equitable,” assuming that each member of the association can be enriched by other members” (AI, 172–73). Vital to this democratic ethos is its anti-foundational politics; we start not with an immutable reality, but rather with the vulnerable reality of our actual, political, experiences (AI, 176). We start with where we are, not where some abstract ideal demands we should be. Democracy, for Hogue, is not just a certain political ideal for which to aim, but rather a way of being, a way of life. Dewey writes:A democracy is more than an associated form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience.... These more numerous and more varied points of contact denote a greater diversity of stimuli to which an individual has to respond... They secure a liberation of his powers which remain suppressed as long as the incitations to action are partial, as they must be in a group which in its exclusiveness shuts out many interests.3Throughout this paper, I use “democracy” in this sense; as a way of life, as a relational ethos, not as any particular political system. [End Page 40]As a way of life, democracy is both the process—the struggle—and that which we aim for. This feature of democracy is similar to the structure of Bildung, in which self-cultivation is both the process and the product.4 For example, for Wilhelm von Humboldt, an individual is in “continuing activity,” whose powers are never stagnant; humankind is always progressing, an infinite object.5 This is an end-in-view, not a fixed end.6 Humboldt “did not formulate a catalogue which prescribed what a person should know, what a person should read, what a person should have heard, what a person should have concerned himself with, so that one can say: this person has Bildung.”7 For Humboldt, Bildung is “the development of the capacities of the individual into a harmonious whole.”8 This paper, in part, looks at Hogue’s resilient democracy as a cultivation of both the individual and the group, as Bildung of both self and culture. In particular, the individual and culture that are being cultivated are relational, grounded in an emancipatory, equitable, and empathetic ethos, with a democratic way of life.Similar to the traditional Bildungstradition, education plays a vital role in this kind of democratic cultivation. If our end-in-view is a democratic society, then the method to reach that end must also be democratically ordered. Myles [End Page 41] Horton put it best: “When you believe in a democratic society, you provide a setting for education that is democratic.”9Modern Socratic Dialogue (MSD) is a particular method of philosophical dialogue that engages in and cultivates the ethos of resilient democracy. It cultivates empathy (in listening), pluralism (difference is accommodated and incorporated) and equity (insofar as no special knowledge is required), and anti-foundationalism (participants approach the conversation with epistemic humility, not trying to grasp a Truth as the ground of knowledge, but rather work together to form a common truth that comes out of their situatedness). These are all traits of Hogue’s resilient democracy, and all traits of an American Bildung, our self-correcting vulnerability, a way of being that replaces an unattainable ideal without sacrificing amelioration.Much like the tradition it addresses, this paper is layered; it is polyphonically pluralistic in method and structure. The many voices of this paper are first stratified and folded in...

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Laura Mueller
Gustavus Adolphus College

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