- This essay grows from John Dewey’s insistence that “Democracy is a form of government only because it is a form of moral and spiritual association.”— a form of community. Our democracy is guided by laws, and we are citizens of a free society, but, following Dewey, our freedom should end where oppression of others begins.
“Moral and spiritual association” entails such restraint. In a healthy democracy people would restrain themselves not from fear of consequences or punishment but because of their moral values, their conscience, and their understanding of each citizen’s impact on society. As Richard Posner argues in A Pragmatist Manifesto, “We should study the effects of an inefficient state legal system on the state’s welfare and the feedback effect on the legal system.” It is our responsibility as a society to identify our moral values and to reform our legal system so that it reflects those values. If we understand democracy as a “moral and spiritual association,” then it is our responsibility to ensure justice and protection for all our communities. Oliver Wendell Holmes claimed that “To have doubted one’s own first principles is the mark of a civilized man. To know what you want and why you think such measure will help it is the first but by no means the last step towards intelligent legal reform.” We need to take another step toward legal reform. This essay explores the applicability of Pragmatism to the related efforts of law reform and the rebuilding of our communities.