Front Page Titles (by Subject) Social Engineering for Progress - Literature of Liberty, January/March 1979, vol. 2, No. 1
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
Social Engineering for Progress - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, January/March 1979, vol. 2, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
This work is copyrighted by the Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, and is put online with their permission.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Social Engineering for Progress
“Radicalism vs. Liberalism: C. Wright Mills' Critique of John Dewey's Ideas.” American Journal of Economics and Sociology 37 (October 1978): 413–430.
C. Wright Mills errs both in his claim that Dewey's instrumentalism fails to stress and criticize the structure of liberal society, and in assuming that Dewey was unwilling to change that society to work for progress and social development.
Dewey's instrumentalist philosophy seeks truth not in the mind's objective and speculative grasp of reality but in the practical way of judging truth by whether it “works,” whether its consequences are valuable to society. Dewey's pragmatic version of truth shapes his ideas about man and society. Dewey thought that man must associate with others to achieve life, full development, “growth,” and progress. Through scientific method Dewey sought to evaluate such human associations by the standard of their social effects and consequences.
The state enters when such associations are judged to be hindering “growth” and social progress. Not simply an umpire, that state more positively aims to reorder those associations in order to achieve social development. State action in education is contenanced by Dewey when parents have not been able to educate their offspring. State education would prepare future citizens to maintain conditions conducive to progress.
It is true that Dewey lacked a vision of an immutable social order or ultimate good society. New conditions rendered outmoded the old principles that governed failed societies. But Dewey had clear ideas about what was not “good” or not “working” in his own society. Among the cultural conditions that he judged were blocking progress were big business and modern industrialism (with its alleged overproduction in the midst of poverty). Individualism Old and New (1930), written in the critical period of the Depression, expressed Dewey's preference for socialism (as a “socially planned and ordered development”) over capitalism (“a blind, chaotic and unplanned determinism”). Although critical of Roosevelt as not radical enough to satisfy the socialistic ideal, Dewey (in Edward Bordeau's words) applauded the New Deal as “greatly under the influence of his instrumentalism and pragmatism even if this pragmatism was more ad hoc and headless than his own.”