Pragmatism, Feminism, and Democracy: Rethinking the Politics of American History

By James Livingston | Go to book overview

4

Narrative Politics

Richard Rorty at the “End of Reform”

Derek Nystrom and Kent Puckett introduce their recent interview of Richard Rorty with a warning to readers who expect professional philosophers to discount or deny the political import of their scholarship: “Rorty's work is well known for its geniality and measured tone, . . . [but] there appears in these pages a combative Richard Rorty familiar, perhaps, to those who have seen him in debate, but new to those who know him only from his published work.” 1 This combative Rorty has of course been in print since 1991, when he treated Andrew Ross of Social Text as the representative of a cultural Left that deserved debunking, even dismissal, by those who understand that “cynical greed” still regulates party politics and public policy. Nystrom and Puckett are nevertheless right, I think, to draw our attention to the split between the genial, academic Dr. Jekyll, who wants to “keep the conversation going” because there are no transcendental principles that can justify any one voice, and the combative, indeed combustible Mr. Hyde, who wants to silence certain voices because there are good practical reasons to do so. In what follows, I ponder this split by examining the either/or choices that seem to proliferate in Rorty's approach to both political and philosophical questions. In concluding, I suggest that

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