In Pragmatism, Democracy, and the Necessity of Rhetoric, Robert Danisch examines the search by America’s first generation of pragmatists for a unique set of rhetorics that would serve the needs of a developing democracy. Digging deep into pragmatism’s historical development, Danisch sheds light on its association with an alternative but significant and often overlooked tradition. He draws parallels between the rhetorics of such American pragmatists as John Dewey and Jane Addams and those of the ancient Greek tradition. Danisch contends that, while building upon a classical foundation, pragmatism sought to determine rhetorical responses to contemporary irresolutions.
Danisch highlights the similarities between pragmatism and classical rhetoric, including pragmatism’s rejection of philosophy with its traditional assumptions and practices. Grounding his argument on an alternative interpretation of pragmatism and its antifoundationalist commitments, he discusses the need to find appropriate rhetorics for American democracy and to delineate the intellectual conditions for the realization of such rhetorics.
Danisch suggests that first-generation pragmatists articulated an orientation to the world that necessitates the practice of rhetoric. To establish such claims, he addresses William James’s philosophy of pluralism, Dewey’s attention to the practical arts, Addams’s belief in a social democracy, Alain Locke’s celebration of African American art, and Oliver Wendell Holmes’s judicial decisions. In each instance Danisch shows how different iterations of pragmatism point to and recommend the development of unique rhetorics capable of shaping particular forms of democratic life.