Rorty Deserved More

by | June 13, 2007

by Casey N. Blake

I am disappointed that The New Republic's only response to Richard Rorty's passing is Damon Linker's article, which is at best grudging in its appreciation of his contribution and otherwise dismissive of a body of work noteworthy for its originality and significance. I have written recently on Rorty's career for Dissent and won't repeat my assessment here, but I would like to make three brief points that may be of interest to readers of this magazine. First, Rorty did more than any other thinker in the last thirty years to restore John Dewey and the progressive milieu he inspired (which of course included the "old" New Republic) to the center of American intellectual life. Like Dewey, Rorty explored how a culture committed to the expansion of individual freedom might at the same time promote human solidarity without requiring agreement on the nature of the good life, religion, or other "first" principles. One can take issue with Rorty's proposed solution to this long-standing problem in liberalism in *Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity*, but it's hard to imagine a more pressing intellectual project at this perilous moment in our history. Finally, Rorty modeled in his own interventions what a vital, democratic culture looks like at its best by his unflagging commitment to intellectual debate. Unlike most people in the academy, he was willing to live with disagreement. I found plenty to disagree with in Rorty's work over the years. But disagreeing with Rorty as I read along was always stimulating and productive, at times even exhilarating. I can't say that about most of the work that commands my assent. In this and other ways, his passing is a genuine loss for our culture.

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