Perhaps I should have called this posting America’s own philosophers – forgotten and abandoned – because that is really what it is about. But I studied the existentialists first, and then the American Pragmatists – so that is the context I put them in.
Americans have been against any kind of theorizing for a long time, preferring to think of themselves as practical people. This is in direct contradiction to their beginnings, when the founding fathers were well-acquainted with the ideas of the European Enlightenment – and America was seen as its first great hope. This brilliant start did not last long – and was finally destroyed by the American Civil War. And even later, for the entire Western World, by WWI – followed quickly by WWII.
The American Pragmatists were a counter-current to America’s long decline which began at that time. Eventually, in the middle of the 20th Century, they were forgotten entirely. This is another part of the American Tragedy, because they were brilliant thinkers, and very much a part of the American Tradition.
The Existentialists, by contrast, had much less to say – but were enthusiastically adopted by the French, who after WWII badly needed something to bolster their national prestige. The Americans, who won the war, were content to give the French a philosophical victory – without even realizing it.