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Damn Great Empires!William James and the Politics of Pragmatism$
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Alexander Livingston

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780190237158

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190237158.001.0001

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Tragedy, History, and Democratic Faith

Tragedy, History, and Democratic Faith

(p.126) Chapter 5 Tragedy, History, and Democratic Faith
Damn Great Empires!

Alexander Livingston

Oxford University Press

This chapter shows how James’s repudiation of the craving for order introduces a tragic element into his notion of faith, one that cuts against both the hubris of American optimism and the passivity of despair. A central example of this tragic sensibility is James’s account meliorism, finitude, and of the twice-born soul in The Varieties of Religious Experience. The chapter puts James’s account of the twice-born soul into a relationship of reciprocal elucidation with W. E. B. Du Bois’s account of the study of double-consciousness in The Souls of Black Folk in order to critically examine the political consequences of pragmatism's tragic meliorism the Du Bois’s reflections on democratic faith provide a powerful perspective for thinking with and against James concerning the political implications of pragmatism’s tragic interruption of American optimism in the unfinished critique of American empire.

Keywords:   hope, progress, American exceptionalism, W. E. B. Du Bois, race, memory, Prometheus, evil, Richard Rorty

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