Richard Rorty's liberalism: A Marxist perspective
A sympathetic reviewer has noted that the best a critic of Rorty can do is to compare his views invidiously to alternative views. Taking this advice to heart, I contrast Rorty's social and political views to Dewey's, and then to an alternative account which I elaborate. My standards of comparison are two liberal ideals than which, according to Rorty, none others are higher. These are: (1) amelioration of suffering, and (2) leaving people alone to pursue their own visions of personal perfection.
In Chapter One, I point out that there are significant differences between Rorty and his alleged progenitor, Dewey, notably when it comes to their respective conceptions of how to harmonize personal freedom with public responsibility. Unlike Dewey, Rorty advocates abandoning the attempt to fuse the public realm of altruism and the private realm of sublimity by means of one all-encompassing theory.
In Chapter Two, I argue that the existing liberal democracies Rorty is concerned to defend bear little resemblance to his democratic utopia, in which "the quest for autonomy is impeded as little as possible by social institutions." I introduce an alternative vocabulary, according to which political institutions, broadly conceived, traverse nearly the entire length and breadth of the private sphere in the north Atlantic democracies.
In Chapter Three, I argue that existing liberal democracies fare little better with reference to Rorty's public ideal of ameliorating suffering than they did with reference to his private ideal of making room for self making. Then I suggest an alternative setup which I believe to be more promising for purposes of ameliorating suffering.
In the final chapter, I argue that Rorty's private role as ironist and his public role as self-described apologist for bourgeois liberal democracy are not so much incommensurable as they are incompatible. The better he fulfills one role, I argue, the more seriously he compromises the other.
0615: Political science