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Between Means and Ends: Reconstructing Coercion in Dewey's Democratic Theory


John Dewey's democratic theory is celebrated as a classic statement of the theory of deliberative democracy. This article challenges deliberative appropriations of Dewey's political thought by situating his democratic theory within the contentious history of American labor politics. In his writings on direct action, strikes, and class struggle, Dewey advocated coercive and nondeliberative modes of political action as democratic means for democratic ends. Examining Dewey's writings on democracy, action, and the use of force reveals how a means-oriented pragmatism circumvents the problematic dichotomy of ideal ends and non-ideal means framing contemporary debates about idealism and realism in democratic theory. Pragmatism's account of the interdependence of means and ends in political action, as a process of creative and collaborative experimentation, combines a robust defense of coercive tactics with a consequentialist critique of violence.

Corresponding author
Alexander Livingston is Assistant Professor, Department of Government, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY (
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I would like thank Gerry Berk, Robin Celikates, Sam Chambers, Simone Chambers, Ani Chen, Çiğdem Çidam, Rom Coles, Jeff Flynn, Dennis Galvan, Ayten Gündoğdu, Jason Frank, Jill Frank, Burke Hendrix, Gary Herrigel, Nicolas Jabko, Colin Koopman, Erin Pineda, Ed Quish, and Adam Sheingate for sharing their comments and criticisms on earlier drafts of this essay, as well as my anonymous reviewers, and Leigh Jenco for her insightful editorial guidance.

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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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