… on the absurdity and evil of Richard Rorty, one of her heroes (along with Albert Camus, George Orwell, Christopher Lasch, Iris Murdoch, and Christopher Hitchens). He was simple-minded, non-transgressive, jingoistic, a stick in the mud. Dull, naive, like his pragmatist hero, John Dewey.

You should read way-transgressive Slavoj Zizek, Margaret, and get out of the Rorty rut.

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Slavoj Zizek has announced that he would, if he were an American citizen, vote for Donald Trump.

Like the West Coast Straussians who come at the problem from the right, Zizek’s so disgusted by what he imagines “liberal democracy” to be, he wants someone – anyone – to fuck it up but good.

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Rorty? In his naive chauvinistic way, Rorty spent his career defending liberal democracy as the best thing we’ve got and utterly worth defending with all our heart.

Here he defends it against — Zizek.

Zizek starts off from a Lacanian account of desire and says that ‘The problem with this liberal dream is that the split between the public and the private never comes about without a certain remainder’ and that ‘the very domain of the public law is “smeared” by an obscure dimension of “private” enjoyment.’ He goes on to ‘locate in a precise manner the flaw of Rorty’s “liberal utopia”: It presupposes the possibility of a universal social law not smudged by a “pathological” stain of enjoyment, i.e. delivered from the superego dimension.’

I do not see that political liberalism need presuppose anything of the sort. I imagine that ressentiment, as well as the mild form of sadism which is intrinsic to Kantian notions of obligation, will go on forever – or at least as long as there are judges, police, etc. But I should think the question is whether anybody has any better ideas for a legal and political system than the liberal, constitutional, social democratic one. I can find nothing in Freud, Lacan, Zizek, Derrida [and others on the radical left] which persuades me that anybody does.

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Rorty’s enjoying quite the posthumous vindication. Post-Trump, his name is everywhere. He is widely seen as having anticipated and analyzed more clearly and compellingly than most the rise of Trumpian conditions in the United States. In particular, people are citing these three paragraphs:

[M]embers of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers — themselves desperately afraid of being downsized — are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. …

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past 40 years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. … All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

Jennifer Senior, in the New York Times, rightly notes that, like Lasch, Rorty looked with dread upon the emergence of a “cosmopolitan upper class which has no …sense of community with any workers anywhere,” but lives instead in an exceedingly pleasant, totally insulated, white-noisy bubble.

This group included intellectuals, by the way, who, [Rorty] wrote, are “ourselves quite well insulated, at least in the short run, from the effects of globalization.”

No current group of academics embodies this truth better than those law professors who continue to enjoy high salaries, low course loads, and assorted perks despite so deep a crisis in their profession that astonishingly few people are applying to law school. Critics like Brian Tamanaha and Paul Campos have had a field day with these professors.

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In the book of Rorty’s everyone’s talking about lately – Achieving Our Country (1998) – he makes his critique of what he calls ‘spectatorial’ radicals in the academy more explicit:

When one of today’s academic leftists says that some topic has been ‘inadequately theorized,’ you can be pretty certain that he or she is going to drag in either philosophy of language, or Lacanian psychoanalysis, or some neo-Marxist version of economic determinism. Theorists of the Left think that dissolving political agents into plays of differential subjectivity, or political initiatives into pursuits of Lacan’s impossible object of desire, helps to subvert the established order. Such subversion, they say, is accomplished by ‘problematizing familiar concepts.’

Recent attempts to subvert social institutions by problematizing concepts have produced a few very good books. They have also produced many thousands of books which represent scholastic philosophizing at its worst. The authors of these purportedly ‘subversive’ books honestly believe that they are serving human liberty. But it is almost impossible to clamber back down from their books to a level of abstraction on which one might discuss the merits of a law, a treaty, a candidate, or a political strategy. Even though what these authors ‘theorize’ is often something very concrete and near at hand – a current TV show, a media celebrity, a recent scandal – they offer the most abstract and barren explanations imaginable.

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Dissolve enough agency and you end up marooned on Slavojnia: the most abstract and barren island imaginable.

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3 Responses to “UD used to be lectured, on a regular basis, at academic conferences…”

  1. dmf Says:

    he was a very generous fellow tho I never could get him to accept that the skills needed to be a reader of books are not identical to the skills needed to relate to flesh and blood characters, quite understandable that his fellows in philosophy weren’t thrilled when he pointed out that academic philosophy couldn’t be the grounds for Democracy and the like as they are pinning so much of their ever diminishing market value on these sorts of vainglorious hopes and that likewise scientists resisted his outing their alltoohuman tooling around, sadly he didn’t have much to offer us in times like these: http://www.prickly-paradigm.com/titles/against-bosses-against-oligarchies-conversation-richard-rorty.html

  2. JackOH Says:

    “[M]embers of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported.”

    In my blue-collarish area, union leaders sell out the rank and file for personal advancement. I know that to a certainty in one case. Interviewed on local TV, Trump-voting union workers said their union’s endorsement of Hillary carried no weight because they felt unrepresented.

    About a decade ago I worked with some local union bureaucrats on a statewide health care initiative. Those guys were comatose, and didn’t have a clue what they were talking about.

  3. charlie Says:

    Hey Jack, what you seemed to have run head first into was the mechanics of a business union. Not that much different than any supplier of raw materials, they make bargains but effectively tamp down any radical thought or political independence of the rank and file. If you get a chance, read up on the history of the Sedition Act of 1918 and how it pretty much destroyed the most radical and progressive labor elements of unions…

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