Agents, Spectators, and Social Hope

Richard Rorty and American Intellectuals

in Theoria
Author: Marek Kwiek
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Rorty wrote his Achieving Our Country as a philosopher, intellectual, academic and citizen, and each of these perspectives lead to a different emphasis in reading his book, and to a different story (and ‘storytelling’ is one of the themes of the book). The emergent pictures vary: the philosopher tells a story of the growing isolation and cultural sterility of analytic philosophy in the United States of America after the Second World War; the intellectual tells a story of the political bareness and practical uselessness of (the majority of) American leftist intellectuals in the context of the emerging new global order at the turn of the 21st century; the academic tells the story about humanities’ departments at American universities, especially departments of literature and cultural studies, and their students, and contrasts their possible future fate with the past fate of departments of analytical philosophy and their students; and, finally, the citizen tells a story about the nationhood, politics, patriotism, reformism (as well as the inherent dangers and opportunities of globalization). Rorty plays the four descriptions off against one another perfectly and Achieving Our Country represents him at his very best: Rorty is passionate, inspiring, uncompromising, biting and very relevant to current public debates. Owing to the intelligent combination of the above perspectives, the clarity and elegance of his prose, and (although not revealed directly) the wide philosophical background provided by his new pragmatism, the book differs from a dozen others written in the 1990s about the American academy and American intellectuals. It also sheds new and interesting light on Rorty’s pragmatism, providing an excellent example of the application of his philosophical views. One has to note that, generally, it is almost impossible to think of any piece written by Rorty outside of the context of his philosophy, and Achieving Our Country is no exception to this rule.

Theoria

A Journal of Social and Political Theory

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