Oct 16, 2008

Trotsky and the Wild Orchids (1992) Richard Rorty

Reprinted from Philosophy and Social Hope (Penguin Books, 1999).

The other day – as I watched George W. Bush, our Neo-Conservative, Market-Fundamentalist President announce the purchase by the US government of 250 billion dollars of equity in nine of the largest US banks – I had a near-realization. That maybe, something BIG is afoot -- not exactly a birth of something – but rather a sudden death, the terrible end of something that we never thought would end in our lifetimes. It felt more or less (although I know this is not accurate or even similar—but that’s how it felt) like the day I stood in Brandenburger Tor – beer in hand – and awestruck as the Berlin Wall was torn down by ordinary German citizens from both sides of the iconic wall that defined and symbolized an era. This brought me to Rorty’s piece and the bigger picture: Where are we today in America? Where do we want to go? Some excerpts follow: (read the complete version) (HT)

“The left's hostility is partially explained by the fact that most people who admire Nietzsche, Heidegger and Derrida as much as I do - most of the people who either classify themselves as 'postmodernist' or (like me) find themselves thus classified willynilly - participate in what Jonathan Yardley has called the 'America Sucks Sweepstakes'. Participants in this event compete to find better, bitterer ways of describing the United States. They see our country as embodying everything that is wrong with the rich post-Enlightenment West. They see ours as what Foucault called a 'disciplinary society', dominated by an odious ethos of' liberal individualism', an ethos which produces racism, sexism, consumerism and Republican presidents. By contrast, I see America pretty much as Whitman and Dewey did, as opening a prospect on illimitable democratic vistas. I think that our country - despite its past and present atrocities and vices, and despite its continuing eagerness to elect fools and knaves to high office - is a good example of the best kind of society so far invented.

The right's hostility is largely explained by the fact that rightist thinkers don't think that it is enough just to prefer democratic societies. One also has to believe that they are Objectively Good, that the institutions of such societies are grounded in Rational First Principles Especially if one teaches philosophy, as I do, one is expected to tell [5] the young that their society is not just one of the better ones so far contrived, but one which embodies Truth and Reason. Refusal to say this sort of thing counts as the 'treason of the clerks' - as an abdication of professional and moral responsibility. My own philosophical views - views I share with Nietzsche and Dewey - forbid me to say this kind of thing. I do not have much use for notions like 'objective value' and 'objective truth'. I think that the so-called postmodernists are right in most of their criticisms of traditional philosophical talk about 'reason'. So my philosophical views offend the right as much as my political preferences offend the left.”

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