Richard Rorty, Derek Nystrom, Kent Puckett / Against Bosses, Against Oligarchies / 2002

Against Bosses, Against Oligarchies is an interview with Richard Rorty conducted by Derek Nystrom and Kent Puckett. Interviewed following Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth Century America. Introduction summarizes Rorty: National pride is to countries as self-respect is to individuals, a necessary condition for self-improvement. Absence of patriotism means leftist politics enervated and directionless. 2 leftist sources that shaped the quasi-communitarian rhetoric at the heart of the New Deal, 1) Whitman and 2) Dewey. Dewey and Whitman as opportunity to see ultimate significance in a finite, human, historical project, rather than in something eternal and nonhuman. The secular promise of America was big and diverse enough to exceed its weaknesses and mistakes. Vs. the character of the spectatorial leftist, the cultural pessimist who sees liberal democracy as complicit in larger conspiracy against the powerless. Passivity, turn away from the Old Left and against America in the 60s. Rorty critiques “heirs of the new left” who practice politics of difference, identity and recognition, and who long for total revolution, who are primarily academic intellectuals, and believe the corruption of the Western tradition means reform politics are suspect in theory and impossible in practice. Replacing specific instances of economic injustice and unfair labor practices with totalizing concepts like “late capitalism” and “ideology.” Results in a powerless cultural left that believes it knows better. Rorty believes spectatorial left must return to the messy, contingent business of progressive politics. New left has done good moral work, now risks losing it to the right. Summary of 1979 Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Deconstructs Catesian-Kantian tradition of thought that seeks out absolute, transcendental foundation for knowledge, and underwrites and debunks claims to knowledge via examination of grounds. Rorty follows Wittgenstein, how we describe and explain should be “tools” to help us get along. Sees this as more useful, now. Tradition of American pragmatism with Dewey and William James. Introduction concluded, interview follows.


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