Community and Political Thought Today

By Peter Augustine Lawler; Dale McConkey | Go to book overview

10
Bloom's Ineffectual Response to Rorty: Pragmatism, Existentialism, and American Political Thought Today PETER AUGUSTINE LAWLER

Pragmatism is the dominant form of thought in America today, although it has significant opposition. America's leading professor of philosophy is the most clever, subtle, and witty pragmatist, Richard Rorty. Contemporary America's most formidable opponent of pragmatism may have been the author of the philosophic bestseller The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom. Rorty teaches that human beings should view as true whatever they find useful in satisfying their desires, and that thus the experience of one's own mortality is neither useful nor true. He attempts to persuade us not to be moved by death. Bloom trumpets the existential truth that Rorty tries to hide about the limits to all pragmatic effort.

But Bloom may concede too much to Rorty to have his view of the truth prevail. He concedes too much to the Rousseauean view of nature Rorty assumes to be true, and so he is too open to the possibility that pragmatism has actually conquered death. The extent of Bloom's and Rorty's agreement on the condition of contemporary Americans should be troubling for those who hold or hope that history has not come to an end. After socialism's collapse, they may present the two fundamental alternatives in American thought today.

Pragmatism might be defined in large measure as the denial of death. Marx, Dewey, and Rorty never discuss the experience of one's awareness of one's own mortality. Marx does say that human misery is caused by the experience of individuality, but he explains that experience of nothingness as essentially economic. It can be transformed by a change in the economic system. Dewey, despite his many elegant accounts of human experience in terms of growth and decay, never discusses the experience of dying alone. He writes of the courageous denial

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