Damn Great Empires! offers a new perspective on the works of William James by placing his encounter with American imperialism at the center of his philosophical vision. This book reconstructs Jamess overlooked political thought by treating his anti-imperialist Nachlass his speeches, essays, notes, and correspondence on the United States annexation of the Philippines as the key to unlocking the political significance of his celebrated writings on psychology, religion, and philosophy. It shows how James located a craving for authority at the heart of empire as a way of life, a craving he diagnosed and unsettled through his insistence on a modern world without ultimate foundations. Livingston explores the persistence of political questions in Jamess major works, from his writings on the self in The Principles of Psychology to the method of Pragmatism, the study of faith and conversion in The Varieties of Religious Experience, and the metaphysical inquiries in A Pluralistic Universe.
Against the common view of James as a thinker who remained silent on questions of politics, this book places him in dialogue with champions and critics of American imperialism, such as Theodore Roosevelt and W. E. B. Du Bois, as well as a transatlantic critique of modernity, in order to excavate Jamess anarchistic political vision. Bringing the history of political thought into conversation with contemporary debates in political theory, Damn Great Empires! offers a fresh and original reexamination of the political consequences of pragmatism as a public philosophy.