The individual and the public

Dewey has as his target two pathologies. The first sets the state against the public, and is attributed to liberal individualism and its arguments for the minimum state. The second is attributed to the conditions of modern corporate capitalism in which there appears to be an ‘eclipse of the public’ brought about by the dominance of corporate interests over the state. Dewey argues that the first undermines the individual as surely as it seeks to set the individual free. This is because the ruling idea of liberalism is that of the individual free of associations, which is linked with the idea of the ‘naturalness’ of economic laws (embodied in market exchanges). It is precisely the ideology of liberal individualism, according to Dewey, that suggests that the market can replace the state as the regulator of social life, but leaves the individual vulnerable to the outcomes of the market.

However, according to Dewey, this doctrine emerged just as the idea of an ‘individual’ free of associations was being rendered untenable by the very developments of corporate capitalism with which it was linked. Thus, Dewey says that, “”the individual”, about which the new philosophy centred itself, was in process of complete submergence in fact at the very time in which he was being elevated on high in theory’ (1927: 96). The ideology which operates in the name of the individual, then, serves to undermine the very protection of the individual from egoistic, corporate associations that were themselves the very antithesis of the doctrine being espoused.”

– John Holmwood in A Manifesto for the Public University  (pg 23)

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