U.S. Intellectual History Blog

The Brilliant and Schizophrenic Politics of Richard Rorty: A Comment by Andrew Hartman

The Brilliant and Schizophrenic Politics of Richard Rorty
By Andrew Hartman

After philosopher Richard Rorty’s death a few weeks ago, many of you wondered aloud how important Rorty is to historical and contemporary social thought. I found myself shamefully unprepared to contribute to that discussion. Some agreed with a Harvard professor quoted by The Chronicle of Higher Education as follows: “It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that one could not be taken seriously as an intellectual in the 1990s without forming some kind of opinion as to Rorty’s views.” Others disagreed.

I was inclined to disagree since I consider myself well versed in U.S. intellectual currents yet not in Rorty. Sure, I knew the basics. I knew Rorty to be a voice of the American left. I also knew him to be a philosophic pragmatist carrying on where John Dewey left off. I understood that Rorty saw these two positions – leftist politics and pragmatism – as interrelated. In this regard, I knew all about how he had been criticized by Marxists such as Terry Eagleton and Slavoj Zizek for his neo-pragmatism, which they considered at one with a depoliticized postmodernism.

But I decided before making the solipsist and fallacious argument that Rorty is unimportant because I am unaware, I had better read the man. I chose to read his Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (1998), because the title drew attention to two of my main interests: leftist politics and U.S. intellectual history.

To read this post in its entirety, go to the Within Empire blog.

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