A “New Republic”? The debate between John Dewey and Walter Lippmann and its reception in pre- and postwar Germany

Norbert Grube

Abstract


This article tackles the historical context, the genesis and the German reception of two different concepts of elitist governmental people’s instruction and public education drafted by two main intellectuals in the era of American progressivism – Walter Lippmann (1889–1974), journalist and former spin doctor of US-President Wilson (1856–1924), and the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey (1859–1952). The examination of Lippmann’s books Public Opinion (1922) and The Phantom Public (1925) and Dewey’s studies The Public and its Problems (1927) and Freedom and Culture (1939) reveals that both concepts are based on different notions of democracy, but on similar perceptions of modernity. Accelerated sequences of economic boom and depression, technological innovation, rapid social change and the seduction of mass media were seen as threats of public participation and of nationwide mobilization. These pessimistic notions of modernity as well as their implicit interactive perceptions of European socialism, nationalism and fascism facilitated the reception of Dewey and Lippmann in Germany. In doing so, German communication scientists, intellectuals, and pedagogues transformed terms like political leadership, community, action and creativity into the German context of nationalism and holistic community. But is this adoption a misreading or is this interpretation injected in the concept of both, Dewey and Lippmann? The comparison and reconstruction of these two concepts will show that their reception in Germany after 1945 was an amalgamation by intermingling different aspects of both models instead of a clear takeover of one model.

Keywords


pragmatism; progressivism; reception; public education; people’s instruction; Germany; America; twentieth century.

Full Text:

PDF