“George Herbert Mead on Social and Economic Human Rights”
Paper presented at the PROGRAM OF AMERICAN AND EUROPEAN VALUES VII,
International Conference on George Herbert Mead th Anniversary of his Death, Commemorating the 80
Opole University, Opole, Poland, June 21-24, 2011
My reason for examining G.H. Mead on social and economic human rights is highly personal and peculiar. I have long been interested in human rights, and in the pragmatists‟ treatment of them. I have previously published on John Dewey on human rights (1), and on G. H. Mead on human rights (2).
In frequently working with the United Nations 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (hereafter, UDHR), I eventually came to appreciate the division in the document between civil and political human rights and social and economic human rights. Reflecting on this division, I eventually came to the position that, for reasons explained below, the form of national government that is best, best because it guarantees both sorts of human rights, is democratic socialism, or, the same thing, alternately named, social democracy.
I used this claim that democratic socialism is the best form of government to criticize American foreign policy during the Cold War. It seemed to me that the United States was constantly going to any extreme of aggression or subversion to destroy third world movements that were moving towards democratic socialism or had recently achieved it. It then occurred to me that the writings of John Dewey could be a powerful tool to show that this U.S. aggression and subversion was illegal, immoral, and downright evil. I used Dewey‟s writings, though not particularly those on human rights, to show this
U. S. error in its treatment of one of my favorite third-world democratic socialistic governments, the 1979-1990 Sandinista government of Nicaragua (3).
Having shown that Dewey would approve of the democratic socialism of the Sandinista government, I decided to examine whether or not Mead would approve of it. It almost goes without saying that he strongly approved of democracy. It seemed to me that the way to decide whether he approved of the defensible sort of socialism was to examine what Mead had to say of the social and economic human rights that socialism champions. This paper does that and shows that he does approve of socialism and, in his own way, of the social and economic human rights that are basic to socialism.
My next section is on how I derive my claim that democratic socialism is the best form of government from the UDHR. Next I show that the phrases democratic socialism or social democracy very aptly describe Meads position. Lastly, I show Mead‟s way of
explaining and defending the social and economic human rights.
II The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Both the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights were presented to the world in 1966.Their predecessor was the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
As World War II ended, the United Nations was formed. The 1945 U.N. Charter required of U.N. member nations that they take the steps specified in the Charter so that war might be avoided. It was hoped that this would remedy the 20th century problem of aggression of nation state versus nation state that had caused two world wars. This left the equally big problem, think of Nazi Germany, of the horrible oppression by a nation state of its own citizens. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights set standards of national behavior so that this should not happen.
The UDHR is divisible into two kinds of human rights. The first kind are civil and political human rights. These are in Articles 1 to 21. These derived from the great Western social philosophers, the social contract theorists, who explained how democracy arose from the creative actions of individuals with natural rights. These thinkers were Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Kant, and Rousseau. Examples are Locke‟s life, liberty and property.
The second kind of rights are social and economic human rights (cultural ones are set aside in this paper). The Eastern European nations insisted on these. These derived from the philosophers, especially Karl Marx, who fathered socialism. These are in Articles 22 to 27.
The three rights documents that I mention here are lists of abstract human rights. G. H. Mead died in 1931, and knew nothing of these lists. But he knew of the lists of rights in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. Mead gave little importance to such lists of human rights. He said that the French Revolution proved that “it was not possible to build up a new community on the abstract rights of men” (4), but he gave great importance to human rights. Moreover, he did not use, explain or acknowledge the distinction between civil and political rights and social and economic rights. However, the civil and political human rights base democracy, and the social and economic human rights base socialism, and both of these were important to him.
There is something jarring in putting together democracy and socialism as equal interest and key doctrines of Mead. It is laudable in America to foster democracy. It is condemnable in America to foster socialism. However, it is the contention of this paper that Mead championed both democracy and socialism. This paper explains that, and how, Mead was a democratic socialist.
III My Interpretation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
It is clear that the Western delegates to the meetings that drew up the UDHR intended to promote democracy by promoting Articles 1 to 21, the civil and political human rights. These rights are formal and negative. These rights mostly prohibit government or other interference with the healthy normal adult person. These include
rights to equality, non-discrimination, life, liberty, security of person, the protections of the U.S. Bill of Rights, rights to privacy, property, freedoms of thought, conscience and religion, of opinion, expression, association, and assembly. And, perhaps of crucial importance to democracy, Article 21, “Everyone has the right to take part in the
government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.”
And it is clear that the Eastern European delegates intended to promote socialism by promoting Articles 22 to 27. These rights are material and positive. Rather than requiring a government that does not interfere, these rights require a government that helps. These include rights to social security, the free development of one‟s person, work and protection from unemployment, fair pay, a decent standard of living for workers and their families, the right to form trade unions, the right to holidays from work, and rights to food, clothing, housing, medical care, and security for those unable to work. Also, in Article 26 there is the right to compulsory “Education…directed to the full development
of the human personality.”
This would mean that the ideal national government, the one guaranteeing both forms of human rights, would be a democratic socialist government, or a social democracy, one like the Social Democratic parties of Scandinavia had fashioned for their th century. countries in the 20
Beginning with these two names, then, democracy and socialism, what would be the names of the other possible forms of government? That is, what names should be employed for governments that do not guarantee these human rights?
The alternative to democracy is autocracy. Mead often talks of the opposite of democracy as autocracy (5), and so does the news media today in regularly describing how the Arab Spring of 2011 is the fight of citizens to oust autocratic rule and install democracy. And so, a government that does not guarantee the civil and political human rights is autocratic. Democracy is good and autocracy is bad.
The alternative to socialism, its competitor in the modern and contemporary world, is capitalism. This was true for Mead (MT, Ch. XI on Marx), and is true for us today. However, this pairing and opposition, socialism and capitalism, is somewhat different from the pairing and opposition of democracy and autocracy. Autocracy violates, makes impossible, the civil and political human rights which democracy guarantees. But capitalism does not violate the social and economic rights that socialism guarantees. Capitalism simply does not guarantee them. In contrast, the autocratic govrtnment prohibits free speech and popular political movements. The capitalist government does not take away the food, housing, medicines of the ordinary citizen. The capitalist government simply does not guarantee the right to these things. Perhaps the proper way to explain it is not to say, socialism good, capitalism bad, but rather, socialism guarantees a good outcome, capitalism might or might not achieve a good outcome.
Another proviso. Marxian socialism sought to guarantee the end of food, shelter, medicine, and work to the ordinary citizen through the means of the government owning all the productive property. But other forms of socialism, like the Fabian socialism agreeable to Mead (MT, 229, 239), thought the same end could be achieved without government ownership as the means, just governmental regulation of the free market. So by socialism in “democratic socialism” I mean only that the citizens enjoy these goods as their rights, that the democratic socialist government provides for the human needs of all. And once the democratic socialist government achieved this provision of the basic needs
of all, that government could then allow a large measure of free market capitalism so that the rich could still acquire their luxuries. An alternate way of putting it is, first, a regulated market, government--regulated capitalism, to guarantee adequate food and housing for all or the many, but then a free market, laissez faire capitalism, so that filet
mignon and mansions are still possible for some or the few.
So, here is the question generating a schema important to this paper; Does the governmental system guarantee the two sorts of human rights in question?
There are thus these four possibilities: democracy, yes, and autocracy, no, for the civil and political human rights; and socialism, yes, and capitalism, no, for the social and economic human rights. These allow for four combinations.
These four possibilities describe a hierarchy of the four possible governmental combinations. Governments are here ordered from best to worst, depending on their commitments to guaranteeing for their citizens all, some, or none of the human rights.
1. BEST--democratic socialism. The clearest examples are the governments of the Scandinavian countries, but almost all Western European countries and Canada are moving close to this ideal because of their socialized medicine, free education to the Ph.D., and generosity to labor in preference to management. I argue in the Dewey article that Sandinista Nicaragua was such a government..
2. MIDDLE—FAIR--democratic capitalism. The United States is the chief
example, for it is good in guaranteeing the civil and political rights of democracy, but does not fully guarantee the social and economic human rights. It might be true that a majority of U.S. citizens enjoy adequate food, housing, education, medical care, and employment, but by no means do all U.S. citizens enjoy them and this is because the government does not guarantee them to its citizens as rights.
3. MIDDLE—POOR--autocratic socialism. The U.S.S.R. is the example, for it violated the civil and political human rights of its citizens and was not democratic, but it did guarantee the socialistic rights—housing, jobs, free education to the Ph.D. for the
qualified, free complete health care for everyone. Cuba is another example. This is what communism was, and is, autocratic socialism, and it is an unfair distortion of language to call the democratic socialism of Sandinista Nicaragua communism, and then destroy it, which is what the United States did under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush. I explain this in my article on the Sandinistas and Dewey.
I rate autocratic socialism as worse than democratic capitalism because it is worse to violate democratic civil and political rights (e.g. the action of jailing dissenters) than it is to simply not guarantee the socialistic social and economic rights (e.g. the omission of providing medical care to those who die without it). Wrong acts of commission are usually worse than wrong acts of omission. By thus claiming that the U.S. and the Soviet Union were both deficient, I nevertheless grant here that the U.S. was better. I thus escape the charge that my ranking allows a moral equivalence between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.
4. WORST—autocratic capitalism. Anastasia Somoza‟s Nicaragua until 1979 is the example, for this U.S. supported dictator denied Nicaraguans their civil and political human rights and thus the government was autocratic. Somoza also owned 40% of Nicaraguan businesses, and 30% of its best agricultural land for itself and his friends. This is capitalism in the distorted form of “crony capitalism”.
IV Naming Mead as a Democratic Socialist
As far as I can determine, Mead never used the phrase “democratic socialist” in
the laudatory sense I here offer, buthe did come close to doing so. But my sense of this phrase depends upon interpreting the two sorts of human rights in the UDHR in the way that I define them. And Mead died in 1931 while the UDHR was created in 1948. However, I am emboldened in calling Mead a democratic socialist by the discovery of the work of Dmitri N. Shalin, especially his essay, “G. H. Mead, Socialism, and the Progressive Agenda” (6).
Shalin explains that Mead intended to become a social reformer even from his undergraduate days at Oberlin. He settled on a career as a college teacher as a means to support his end of success as a social reformer (Shalin, 30-34). At first, the Christianity of his preacher-teacher father was his inspiration for reform. However, after his first year in graduate study in philosophy at Harvard, Mead won the scholarship allowing him to continue his studies in Germany. There in Germany he underwent a sort of double conversion (Shalin, 29): first a conversion to socialism, then a conversion away from religion, but Mead never deviated from his intention to reform society.
Mead was much impressed with the socialism he met in German academia and politics. He wrote: “Socialism, in one form or another, lies back of the thought directing
and inspiring reform” (Shalin, 32). However, the form of socialism that he rejected was the Marxist form, the form demanding violent revolution as the means to improve the miserable condition of the typical worker (Shalin, 37, 52). But Mead saw that there was a form of socialism that was quite consistent with, and even demanded by, and was moving towards, peaceful democratic means. Mead wrote: “Socialism presented…the goal that society must contemplate, whether it will or not [be] a democratic society in which the means of social expression and satisfactions are placed at the disposal of the members of the whole community” (Shalin, 33).
In Chapter XI of Movements of thought in the Nineteenth Century, Mead treats
Marx and his influence. He again praises the end of Marxian socialism, the “project of control over industry in the interest of the community itself” (MT, 227). Mead talks of the socialism of the “Social-Democratic party” in Germany and how its socialism, and
that of the Fabian socialists in the Labor party in England, much to Mead‟s approval, hit upon “a tendency to substitute evolution for revolution” (MT, 238). These “opportunistic”, rather than “dogmatic” socialists, changed the national scene by “gradual
legislation” and “not… revolution” (MT, 229-230). Here then Mead uses the phrase,
“social democrat”, in an approving manner.
More to the point, however, is Shalin‟s tendency to praise Mead‟s appropriation of a modified and non-violent socialism and to name it democratic socialism or social democracy. Shalin thus includes Dewey, Mead‟s mentor, as an academic with a “commitment to the ideals of social democracy…” (Shalin, 34) and writes: „Dewey shared Mead‟s passion for social democracy…” (Shalin, 31).
Shalin also remarks that “Mead‟s political beliefs…are reminiscent of Eduard Bernstein‟s brand of social democracy…” (Shalin, 33). And before Mead arrived in Germany, his dear friend Henry Castle wrote to him that in Germany “the importance of social democracy here is tremendous…” and its “leaders are...on the side of the general
democratic movement…and as such useful and necessary” (Shalin, 255, n. 7). Also, Shalin writes of what Mead said in a 1919 letter about the Russian revolution to his daughter: “Mead‟s sympathies were with the Mensheviks, i.e. with the moderate social democrats committed to democracy, reform, and the rule of law” (Shalin, 255, n. 9). Notice that Shalin‟s use of the phrase social democrat is consistent with my sense of it, because the social democratic Menshevicks were not the communist Bolshevicks, but were their enemies.
All this is intended to show that Mead‟s espousal of socialism as end, but rejection of Marxian socialism and its violent revolution as the means to the end, should properly be described as democratic socialism. Shalin‟s chapter strongly suggests this, but the suggestion remains oblique, as the title of the chapter indicates, “G. H. Mead, Socialism, and the Progressive Agenda”. That is, even if the implied message of the
chapter is that Mead was a democratic socialist, the explicit message is that Mead was a Progressive, not a socialist of any stripe. Explaining Mead‟s position, Shalin employs the three moments of Hegel‟s dialectical logic;
If capitalism is a thesis, then socialism is more in the nature of an
antithesis---not a synthesis, as socialists would have it. If such a synthesis
is possible at all, it is likely to be provided by progressivism.
Here is how Mead laid out this idea…(S 39).
My reply to this claim is simply that the 1920‟s term “Progressivism” is better described as “democratic socialism” now in 2011, since the UDHR‟s two sorts of human rights, and Progressivism espousal of both, has made it possible to explain better what Progressivism is all about. Shalin supports this identification of Progressivism and “social democracy” (Shalin, 34.)
I want to call Mead a democratic socialist or a proponent of social democracy. He did not call himself so. In part this was because it would have been an anachronism for him to do so. But there is another and stronger reason why he did not do so. It is that, because of Marx and communism, all sorts of socialism were scorned and equated with communism. Shalin explains this hostile intellectual atmosphere as he writes of Mead in Germany:
[T]he popularity of the Social Democratic party, and particularly the
respect Socialism commanded in academic circles deeply impressed Mead,
who found the situation in Germany to be in sharp contrast to the one back
home, where the idea of state involvement in labor-management relations
was still suspect and the term “socialism” had a somewhat odious
connotation. (Shalin, 29)
This widely-shared American opinion that socialism is odious gives Shalin the answer to his question: “Why did Mead not embrace more openly socialist premises?” (Shalin 33). His explicit answer is that, “in American academia at that time…[an] outright endorsement of socialism was pretty much out of the question” (Shalin, 33). Shalin then explains that college instructors—Bemis, Ross—lost their jobs because of it.
Others—Ely, Zueblin, Veblin— “ had to go through endless explanations and humiliating
denials concerning their alleged pro-socialist sentiments” (Shalin, 34). Thus, Shalin‟s
final opinion on this is: “Mead‟s political views, or at any rate his public stance, showed that he understood the limits of the possible for an academic in the Progressive era”
(Shalin, 34). Still, Mead and other proponents of social democracy like Dewey, understood their Progressivism to be socialism democratized.
IV Mead’s Way of Championing the Social and Economic Human Rights
In social contract theory, individuals and their natural rights are prior to the society they agree to form. To Mead, it is just the opposite. All individuals are born into a society which exists prior to their birth. This society gives individuals their minds and even their selves. The baby cries. Responding to this stimulus, the mother speaks to the baby. The baby responds to this particular other, the baby‟s mother, and soon learns how
additional particular others respond to her. When the baby learns to control her behavior by taking the role of the other, and anticipating the response of the other to her words and acts, the baby has become a self with an ever-enlarging mind. The baby learns the roles of others in the family—mother, father, sister, brother, then the roles of playmates. In play, the child learns the roles of teachers, mailmen, policewomen, firefighters, soldiers. In a game like baseball, the youngster learns the complicated role of having to anticipate the responses to his actions of seventeen other players on the field, and, in addition, must learn the roles of umpires, managers, coaches, and fans. At the extreme in this development, the self has imported into her consciousness the shared responses of her whole society. Anticipating the responses of this “generalized other”, this mostly-grown
person is now a mature “social self”. The self is always a social self. (7)
Selves are subjects of consciousness who make themselves their own object of consciousness. A boy responds to his own behavior and gestures as would an other. As he says “Shut the door!” to an other, he stimulates his own self to the response of shutting the door if the other does not immediately respond.
The mind of this social self is bestowed by society as the generalized other is imported into the self and becomes the “me”. The me is the deposit of past experience. It is the habits the person has acquired in that society, its institutions, values, customs, settled patterns of doing things. But there is another side to the self, the “I”. The I represents the freedom, uniqueness, spontaneity, unfettered assertiveness of the self. Often, in matters of conduct, the I proposes, and the me, shocked at the unruliness of the I‟s proposal, disposes and censors and blocks the behavior.
This is what happens in questions of rights. A right is a claim to a good which one makes while conscious that others have similar claims. One claims her purse as hers by property right when she realizes that her neighbor claims his wallet as his by property right. The right holder is a self who takes the attitude of the other in seeing that the other will respect her claim just as she must respect his claim. One can claim by right only what others, similarly situated, can claim by right. Only those claims are rights if they are claims of the generalized other in one‟s society. Thus, if her I is tempted to steal his wallet to add more cash to her purse, her me, the deposit in her of the generalized other, forbids the act. She has no right to do so. To be a self in and because of one‟s society and to have rights and obligations in that society are one and the same thing. Rights only exist in society.
Does Mead explain rights the UDHR way? Does he distinguish the Western civil and political rights and the Eastern European social and economic rights? Does he give a
complete list of rights? No, he does not. But he constantly demands that governments do exactly what holders of both sorts of rights demand.
In reflecting on the Western rights basing the French and American revolutions, Mead stresses their negative character. A right is a freedom, and freedom negatively is freedom from. The revolutionaries felt their free actions blocked and sought to remove the blockage. Freedom meant escape from the dominance of England in the American revolution, and escape from the dominance of the ancienne regime in the French
revolution. The right to property meant the avoidance of taxes like those in the Stamp Act to American colonials. The right to equality meant the abolition of the class distinction between the aristocracy and the commoners to French revolutionaries. Mead lectured thus:
Liberty became the slogan for the French Revolution. It was naturally the
gathering ground in the fight against arbitrary authority. It carried with it
the assumption that, if men were free, their interests would be common
interests. That, you see, is what is implied in the conception of rights—
that the interests of men are, after all, common interests. Even such an
interest as that of possession becomes a common interest when one
recognizes it as property. If what one wants is not simply possession but
property, then one wants something that is universal, because that which
he wants involves his recognition of the possession of property by
others….What is essential for a community is common interests. This was
represented in the slogans of the French Revolution, not simply by liberty,
but by the others—equality and fraternity. These all imply that the
interests of men are common interests, that that which one person wants is
something which other persons want, and which, at the same time, he
wants them to have. (MT 21-22)
This passage shows that Mead well understood that citizens deprived of their rights have the right to take up arms to realize their rights, and so I believe that he would approve of the rights realizing 1979 Sandinista revolution (S, 34, 39), for a human rights affirming reconstruction of Nicaraguan society was a part of their revolution.
By the same token, Mead knew very well that the American Revolution claimed to be necessary because the rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness had been violated by the King of England and that the French Revolution championed the rights to liberty, equality and fraternity. So Mead did think of revolution as threatened or even necessary when rights were denied. He does not condemn these revolutions for their violence.
But Mead was mostly interested in separating violent means from the end of securing rights, was against the Marxian insistence that violent revolution was absolutely necessary, and so could not espouse Marxian socialism, though Mead did espouse socialism. He, like Marx, wanted the welfare of the miserable industrial worker (MT, 217). But Mead wanted democratic socialism. And he thought of peaceful democracy as the means as well as the end. He taught that democracy made violent revolution unnecessary because it made peaceful revolution a permanent feature of government. This was because a democratic constitution allowed for amendment. Amendment could possibly mean the replacement of a constitution by an entirely new substitute. Democracy
thus incorporates revolution into the peaceful procedures of democratic society (MT, 361; NR, 150).
Mead always championed democracy. He understood by it that those subject to control by institutions should have a say in determining what those controls and their attendant values are. Mead held that democracy is for all institutions, not just for the political institution. It is also for the church, club, and especially the workplace. Industrial democracy would mean that the workers in a factory in business should have a say in the operations, planning and control of the business. Dewey said: “democracy is not in reality what it is in name until it is industrial as well as civil and political…” (Shalin, 31). This industrial democracy, worker control at their workplaces, is characteristic of socialism. And Mead and Dewey held that democracy fully realized demanded socialism.
Mead held that “socialism in America must start from the city…” (Shalin, 31). Mead admires Marx‟s reason for revolution—the misery of industrial workers. This was
what Mead saw around him in the city of Chicago, especially in the case of uneducated immigrants who worked in Chicago‟s factories (8). Mead wanted many of the same things for the poor as violent revolutionaries wanted, but he worked for them in a democracy, and so thought of himself as a social reformer rather than a revolutionary (Shalin, 26, and passim). He wanted to relieve the misery of both the working and non-working Chicago poor. He wanted government to act to allow or promote their unions, to improve their Chicago public schools, to protect their health and safety, to legislate unemployment insurance for them. Mead contrasted these acts of government protecting the powerless with mere lists of abstract human rights (Shalin, 37). However, it is noteworthy that the UDHR, one of these lists of abstract human rights, does mention the rights to unionize, to effective education, to health care, and “the right to security in the event of unemployment” (Art. 25). It is clear that Mead wants these social and economic
human rights for workers because, though not naming the rights, he wants what the rights demand in the government‟s response to the worker‟s misery. Shalin uses the language of social and economic human rights to explain Mead‟s frame of mind about this:
[C]ivil rights alone could not guarantee personal dignity and ensure the
realization of human potential to which every member of human society is
entitled. A measure of economic well-being…is imperative for a
democratic society. (Shalin, 38)
The reasons why Mead does not bother to quote from the lists of abstract human rights are instructive. The UDHR list came after him, but he often mentions the Declaration of Independence and the French Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man.
One reason is that he holds that citizens fighting for their rights always tend to state them negatively (NR, 153-155). Thus, the right of freedom is freedom from an
oppressive autocrat. But Mead believes that every right also has a positive form, a role to play in continuing social acts constituting a wider social whole. Thus a full measure of the right to freedom is freedom to, for instance, the freedom to drive a car and, possibly, the freedom which owning a car allows. It is like the saying he has freedom of the press who owns the press.
Another reason for not quoting lists of rights is the fact that he does not separate rights as they are in their abstract statement. Freedom might appear at first glance as a “do not interfere”, negative, social and political right. But Mead understands it as partly a “please help” positive, social and economic human right. The free person is well
educated, and is fully free to speak only if well educated and has something sensible to say. The person is free to travel only if in good health and with a job that provides the income for vacation trips (NR, 158). The political freedom to participate oneself in governing is also effective only if one has a good education.
This social right to education was a main concern of Mead‟s. The government of
Chicago had been basing education on social class. The students from the nicer neighborhoods received a liberal education to improve their minds. The students living in poor neighborhoods were treated in public schools as if they had no minds, only bodies to be trained in, and accustomed to, mindless physical labor. Thus Mead espoused not a general right to education, but specific programs even in vocational schools to prepare future employees to understand and control their factories and to participate in their own governance (S, 42).
A third reason why Mead did not quote from lists of rights is that he held that any one right must be understood in terms of its effect on all other rights, all other rights both of the individual and of others. Like Dewey, Mead often talks of reform as reconstruction. Older conceptions of rights cry out now for reconstruction. He had much to say of the Western, classical right of property in this regard. He deplored the fixed, selfish understanding of this right: “[T]he right to the use of what is termed property being once fixed, the expenditure of it in luxuries while others may be starving…” (9) seemingly follows. Also, “the otherwise unquestioned right of a man to expend his own wealth in
his business, family, and personal interests comes in conflict with the needs of youths in impoverished classes for enlightened and adequate training” (10). Mead held that such conflicts of rights need to be talked out in democratic courts and legislature in order to define what any rights will mean in specific circumstances. This public dialogue “serves…the purpose of enabling all the interests that are involved in the issue at stake to come to the surface and be adequately estimated” (NR, 166). Also, every struggle over
the meaning of a right like the right to property “will lead to a quite different definition from the one with which we started” (NR, 159). And this is highly desirable, because the usual understanding of property is as a negative and “do not interfere” warning. But
Mead holds that society must work out “the positive definition of property…, its social uses and functions…” (11).
There is a reason related to Mead‟s pragmatism why Mead is not interested in lists of rights. He is a Deweyan pragmatist. Dewey held that we only think seriously when we encounter problems, difficulties, blocks to continuing successful action, evils. Mead uses Dewey‟s view of how experimental science solves such problems in his essay, “Suggestions Toward a Theory of the Philosophical Disciplines” in Reck‟s Selected
Works. Rather than imagine wonderful future goods, those things to which we might have a right, Mead as problem solver engages present terrible evils. These are the things that make life miserable for the illiterate immigrants suffering in the Chicago factories and slums. Thus the things he does list are a mix of experienced evils and specific experimental cures for them: for example, better wages, improvements in working conditions, joblessness, pensions and other helps in old age, improved sanitation, neighborhoods with high rates of TB and alcoholism and crime and truancy, small parks, playgrounds, community and social centers, better housing (S, 40; S, 52; PJ, 234; PJ, 236). That is, rather than talk of abstract human rights, Mead focused on evils to be overcome and the specific governmental efforts to remedy them, “utilizing the powers of