Wednesday 12 November 2014

James, politics and prescriptive pluralism: part 2

Just to finish off what I raised in my last post now that I've finished that book (Kennan Ferguson's William James: Politics in the Pluriverse).

It's an easy read if a little tame; meek, even. Lightweight in both style and length (only 93 pages). Chapter 3 ('Sovereignty, Self-Determination and the Nation') is interesting as it ties James' pluralist political theory to International Relations literature (this hardly ever happens and so I'm very pleased when it does). Chapter 4 ('La philosophie américaine: James, Bergson, and intercontinental pluralism') does a good job of narrating James' relationship, personally and philosophically, with Henri Bergson. However, there is more to it than this. Particularly intriguing is a point made late in the chapter, specifically that James was popular in Russia around the turn of the century. This, of course, did not last.
For Lenin, of course, pluralism was inadmissible; one could not doubt what actions to take, nor admit to more than one possibly right approach. (64)
This would be an interesting case to develop further. The final chapter ('Onticology recapitulates philosophy') seems at times to posit a kind of 'object-oriented' James (Ferguson does discuss him in relation to object-oriented programming) but doesn't quite follow through; things never quite seem to achieve the status of differences that make differences, they are more like 'always-theres.' However, Ferguson certainly makes the case against the reduction of James to a thinker of 'flows' and 'streams.' In this reading, everything for James, in the end, comes down to the question of plurality—and this is better articulated in terms of things than flows.