William James Quest for an Ethical Republic

“Trygve Throntveit’s new book William James and the Quest for an Ethical Republic (Palgrave, 2014) is a persuasive and innovative look at the Jamesian social and political legacy, especially as played out in the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. Dr. Throntveit leverages the archives of the James family, including novelist Henry James, Jr. and William and Henry’s father, Swedenborgian theologian Henry James, Sr., to show how Henry Sr.’s ambitious but unfocused educational program affected William James’ vocation and intellectual commitments. In committing to a pragmatic ethic that could accommodate varieties of religious experience, James envisioned how a democratic society should regard the individual. Throntveit reads James in light of James’ personal development in relationship to other public intellectuals with whom he corresponded and was personally acquainted. The author keeps a steady eye on how William James developed as a person and as a scholar through his relationships. Throntveit’s innovation lies in tracing the ways in which others applied, and sometimes modified, Jamesian ideas during the Progressive Era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Social critic WEB DuBois, philosopher of public life John Dewey, urban theorist and reformer Jane Addams, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandies, Theodore Roosevelt, and others directly responded to William James’ pragmatism via their policymaking clout. In turn, these public intellectuals had the attention of Woodrow Wilson. The ideals of democracy—the ethical republic—were set in motion for the trials ahead in the Great War and beyond.”

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