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
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.