Casey Blake has an interesting review essay in the latest issue of Dissent for anyone curious about pragmatism and, in particular, Richard Rorty’s reinterpetation of it.
Casey does at least two things in the review: 1. He provides a sharp critical assessment of a cadre of historians and philosophers who have attempted to introduce a pragmatic politics into American public discourse since the 1980s (which includes himself). Of particular note in all this is Robert Westbrook, whose 1991 study John Dewey and American Democracy remains the essential text in a populist “producer-republican” reinterpretation of Dewey. Some of this is about how this group has responded to Rorty and, ultimately, who (Rorty or his critics) best understood how to make a significant intervention in American politics. A notable footnote to Bill Bradley’s forgotten run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000 was, Casey reminds us, that these academic pragmatists were his in-house advisors on revitalizing civic life. That Bradley collapsed ignominiously is food for thought.
2. Casey provides a generous and discerning retrospective on Rorty’s career (rooted, in part, in reflections on his biography), noting the idiosyncrasies in his interpretation of Dewey and pragmatism but also allowing for his persistent career in the last 20 years as a steadfast, “connected” critic of American conservative domestic and foreign policy. It is a late career as a public intellectual that demands, Casey suggests, respect.