In the watershed of the Trump victory in the 2016 election the Neo-Liberals masquerading as the ‘Liberal Elites’ , are desperately looking for scapegoats. Here is Stephen Metcalf’s January 10,2017 essay, at The New Yorker, titled ‘Richard Rorty’s Philosophical Argument for National Pride’ , which certainly qualifies as the most convoluted, and intellectually pretentious attack on ‘The Left’, as yet presented in this unrelenting campaign.
Rorty’s only issue with identity politics was that the left, having worked so hard to transfer stigmatic cruelty away from received categories like race and gender, had done too little to prevent that stigma from landing on class—and that the white working class, finding itself abandoned by both the free-market right and the identity left, would be all too eager to transfer that stigma back to minorities, immigrants, gays, and coastal élites. (Hence the viral prophecy.)
So much of what Rorty wrote was confined to the philosophical essay, and it was composed of a series of critical evaluations of the whole or parts of a very long and complex Philosophical Tradition.
As Metcalf interpolates Rorty, or his usable rhetorical facsimile, the ‘white working class’ was deserted/betrayed by both the ‘free-market right’ and the ‘identity left’. What is strategically absent from this argument is that the New Democrats, the Clintons and their free market allies, the Republicans, made alliance that codified a Reaganite Agenda: Welfare Reform, Financial Reform, and a Crime Bill. In sum the dismantling of the protections of the New Deal Welfare State and its successors.
Welfare Reform ludicrously and euphemistically called Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA)
The 2008 Economic Collapse is the result of the Free Market Theology that both the Republicans and the New Democrats supported, as the answer to what? One wonders in 2017 at the utter absence of the return of prosperity! what of the Myth of ‘The Self-correction Market’? Those technocrats, like Larry Summers, have been proven catastrophically wrong. The Neo-Liberal blight has come to rule both Parties, so the blaming of ‘The Left’ for ‘white working class anger’ is an act of self-serving misdirection, as it was the New Democrats, who with the eager help of Republicans, dismantled the welfare state protections of the New Deal. That New Deal was built on the allegiance of the whole of the working class! The rarefied atmosphere of ‘philosophical tradition/debate’ has rendered Mr. Metcalf myopic to the of jejune concerns of the quotidian world.
Instead of solving these problems, Rorty thought we could ditch them, just as Descartes had ditched the problems of thirteenth-century scholasticism, and at a similarly low cost to the progress of human knowledge. The cheerfully non-philosophical way to ditch them was to ignore them, like most healthy people do. The slightly more philosophical method was to notice that people argued from, rather than to, their moral intuitions—an observation that may encourage us to accept that truth is at best a matter of consensus, not an observable fact of the world. The most philosophical way to abandon them was therapeutically: one could relive the philosophical past the same way an analysand relives her emotional past. By drawing, inch by agonizing inch, an unconscious pattern to the surface, one might discard it forever.
According to Mr. Metcalf’s last sentence, of this paragraph, Rorty eschews the philosophical tradition and engages in its stead the methodology of Psychoanalysis:
The most philosophical way to abandon them was therapeutically: one could relive the philosophical past the same way an analysand relives her emotional past. By drawing, inch by agonizing inch, an unconscious pattern to the surface, one might discard it forever.
The Melodrama of Psychoanalysis that Metcalf presents as Rorty’s borders on the comic, even the ludicrous, as Rorty was always the sober rational Pragmatist: the psychoanalytical strum und drang- more deliberate misapprehension? And on the question of the negative influence of Nietzsche in the thought of Foucault, consider Ronald Lehrer’s book ‘Nietzsche’s Presence in Freud’s Life and Thought: On The Origins of A Psychology of Dynamic Unconscious Metal Functioning’ as demonstrating that Freud too fell under the spell of Nietzsche, but in a good way. If one believes in Psychoanalytic Science or in its status as an elaborate pseudo-science that generations of scholars, among them Frederick Cruz, have unmasked. See ‘The Memory Wars: Freud’s Legacy in Dispute‘ of 1995, Unauthorized Freud of 1998, and Follies of The Wise of 2006. For a more lengthy discussion of the Freud critics, see my essay:
Around the same time Rorty completed his metaphysical therapy, and was reinventing himself as a general-interest writer, his peers in the English department were replacing the categories of mind and world with language and text. They were, in other words, reproducing the epistemological conundrums that had bedeviled modern philosophy since Descartes. Instead of ditching the old neurotic patterns, literary theory repeated them ad nauseum. Problems of knowledge became problems of interpretation. The glamour of its European intellectualism aside, this meant only that literary theory knocked back and forth between the assertion that nothing can be known—versions of this skepticism are found in Descartes, Hume, Berkeley, and Kant—and the assertion that skepticism can be vanquished when knowledge is reconstructed upon a new foundation.
One can only marvel at this sentence by Metcalf:
Around the same time Rorty completed his metaphysical therapy, and was reinventing himself as a general-interest writer, his peers in the English department were replacing the categories of mind and world with language and text.
Rorty was never a ‘general-interest writer’ this is dismissive of what Rorty became. He realized that philosophy was a literary genre, and when he realized that he became a better philosopher and writer. On the question of ‘language and text’ see ‘Philosophy as Kind of Writing: An Essay on Derrida’ in ‘Consequences of Pragmatism’. ‘From ironist theory to private allusions: Derrida’ in Contingency, irony and solidarity*.Two Meanings of “Logocentrism”: A Reply to Norris’ in ‘Redrawing the Lines: Analytic Philosophy, Deconstruction, and Literary Theory’ and ‘A Spectre is Haunting the Intellectuals : Derrida on Marx in ‘Philosophy and Social Hope’. Call Rorty’s advocacy/defense of Derrida to be completely consistent over time.
Rorty was a man and thinker of his time. Perhaps he never encountered Marshall McLuhan’s prescient idea of the Global Village, perhaps it seemed like Pop Sociology of the Television Age. Or Ulrich Beck’s Cosmopolitan notion of ‘global domestic politics’, that was ushered in by the Age of the Internet.
Some of us on ‘The Left’ read ‘The Machiavellian Moment’ by J.G.A. Pocock, ‘Identity and Violence, The Illusion of Destiny’ by Amartya Sen and ‘Twenty Observations on a World in Turmoil’ by Ulrich Beck. These three books put the ‘patriotism’ advocated by Rorty, as interpolated by Metcalf, and the ‘Leftist’ singularity of ‘Identity’, in their proper places. We owe our allegiance, not to the state, but to a republican tradition, that is now expressed as Cosmopolitanism, as embracing the whole of sentient beings, rather that a fealty to a state. And to the realization of that belief. Metcalf as apologist for the losers of the 2016 American election would call this Utopianism, or something more dismissive. Yet the New Democrats were/are corrupt to their core, and even now cling to that corrupt leadership, and their party regulars seeking scapegoats where they can. Rorty as interpolated by Metcalf does their bidding.
*Added January 16,2017