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Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism - Richard Rorty

Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism - Richard Rorty

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Journal of Philosophy, Inc.

Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism Author(s): Richard Rorty Reviewed work(s): Source: The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 80, No. 10, Part 1: Eightieth Annual Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division (Oct., 1983), pp. 583-589 Published by: Journal of Philosophy, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2026153 . Accessed: 07/05/2012 15:07
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Call these people "Kantians.Such marginalizationis. no appeal beyond the relativemeritsof various actual or proposed communitiesto impartial criteriawhich will help us weigh those somerits. those (like the post-Marxist * To be presentedin an APA symposiumon The Social Responsibility Intellecof and Alasdair MacIntuals. Rocies. will comment. thatthereis no human dignitythat and is not derivative fromthedignityof some specificcommunity. tyre C THE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY OF INTELLECTUALS 583 POSTMODERNIST BOURGEOIS LIBERALISM* of OMPLAINTS aboutthesocialirresponsibilitytheintel- 0022-362X/83/8010/0583$00. December28.Inc.and an ahistoricaldistinctionbetweenthe demands of moralityand those of prudence. move out fromone communityby of interioridentification herselfwith some othercommunity-for or example. this issue.lectuals typically concern the intellectual's tendency to to marginalize herself. Some people believe that thereis such a community.an invisiblecollege.70 ? 1983 The Journalof Philosophy.see this JOUIRNAL. sembled the literary and artistic can be It is not clear thatthosewho thus marginalizethemselves One cannot be irresponsible criticizedfor social irresponsibility.common to intellectualsand to miners. toward a communityof which one does not thinkof oneselfas a under the Berlin member." They are opposed by people who say that "humanity"is a biological ratherthan a moral notion. .intrinsic human rights.If such criticismwere to make sense there would have to be a supercommunityone had to identify with-humanity as such.respectively.Otherwiserunawayslaves and tunnelers Wall would be irresponsible. anothercountry historicalperiod. Then one could appeal to the needs of that communitywhen breaking with one's familyor tribeor nation. or some alienated subgroup within the larger community.These are the people who think thereare such things as intrinsichuman dignity. 572-582 and 590/1. however. 1983.Call thesepeople "Hegelians. In the early days of the United Mine Workersits members rightly put no faithin the surroundinglegal and political institutions and were loyal only to each other. Virginia Held will be co-symposiast. and such groups could appeal to the same thing when critiof cizing the irresponsibility those who break away." Much of contemporary cial philosophy in the English-speakingworld is a three-cornered debate between Kantians (like John Rawls and Ronald Dworkin) distinction a as who want to keep an ahistoricalmorality-prudence democrabuttress the institutions for and practicesof thesurviving philosophical leftin Europe. In this respect theyreavant-garde betweenthe wars.

so theyview as the Kantians' use of 'social responsibility' misleading.while eithernaturalizingor junking the restof Hegel. Kantian criticismof the traditionthat runs fromHegel through Marx and Nietzsche. more concrete." Dworkin calls this view "relativism.then thereare no ahistorical criteria fordeciding when it is or is not a responsibleact to deserta community.. will not survivethe removalof the tradipracticesand institutions which include an account of tional Kantian buttresses. So when Michael Walzer life says that"A given societyis just if its substantive is lived in . noting which Walzer wishes to commend that the veryAmerican society and to reform one whose self-imageis bound up with the Kanis tian vocabularyof "inalienable rights"and "the dignityof man. Alcibiades' loyalties to Athensand to Persia. of communitiesvis-a-visthose of those who Kantians tend to accuse of social irresponsibility doubt that thereis such a point of view." are of Hegelian defenders liberal institutions in the position of dealone.584 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY berto Unger." "Justice. If the Hegelians are right.It suggeststhat thereis a point of view that and adjudicates therights abstractsfromany historicalcommunity individuals. Antior gone's loyalties to Thebes and to her brother. but an illusorycontrastbetweenloyalty to a person or a historical community and to something "higher" than either.forexample. a way faithful to the shared understandingsof the members.. and Alasdair MacIntyre)who want to abandon these philosophy both because theypresuppose a discredited institutions and for other.a traditionwhich insistson thinkingof morrather of conditionedcommunity ality as the interest a historically of than "the common interest humanity."ofteninsiststhatsuch a philosophical outlook is-if one values liberal practicesand instithatsuch on rests a prediction Such criticism tutions-irresponsible.on the basis of solidarity tionallyasked to be based on somethingmore than meresolidarity. a societywhich has tradifending.any more than fordeciding when to change loversor professions." Such Kantian comby plaints can be defendedusing the Hegelian's own tactics. "rationality"and "morality"as transcultural and I shall call the Hegelian attemptto defendthe institutions . For that use suggestsnot the genuine contrastbetween. The Hegelians see nothing to be responsible to except personsand actual or possible historicalcommunities. and those (like Michael Oakeshott and John Dewey) who want to preservethe institutions while abandoning theirtraditionalKantian backup. These last two of positions take over Hegel's criticism Kant's conceptionof moral agency. buttresses and ahistorical." Dworkin retorts. reasons. "cannot be leftto conventionand anecdote.

" as of rativeswhich describeor predicttheactivities such entities the These metanoumenal selfor theAbsoluteSpiritor theProletariat. collection of Kantian principles thought to justifyus in having those hopes.and in particular this to distinction. but not forjustifying in self vergesupon in his Dewey Lectures). but as a network beliefs.the mais partlybecause. But partlyit is because it is hard to disentanglebourfromthevocabularythattheseinstitutions geois liberal institutions vofromtheEnlightenment-e. I thinktheyshould tryto clear themselves chargesof irneed be responsible by responsibility convincingour societythatit and not to the moral law as well.I use 'postmodernist' a Lyotard. I want to the to contrast bourgeoisliberalism. theeighteenth-century inherited cabulary of natural rights.which judges. mightbe reinterpreted suit the needs of us postmodto ernistbourgeois liberals.the embodimentof rationality. is The crucial move in thisreinterpretation to thinkof themoral not as one of Rawls's original self. choosers. and constitutionallawThis vocabularyis built yerssuch as Dworkin. Hegelians thinkthattheseprinciplesare usefulforsummathem(a view Rawls himrizing thesehopes.and especially economic.but which are neither with. only to its own traditions.THE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY OF INTELLECTUALS 585 practices of the rich North Atlantic democracies without using such buttresses"postmodernistbourgeois liberalism.In what follows I want to show how this vocabulary.who says that sense given to this termby Jean-Frangois narof thepostmodern attitudeis thatof "distrust metanarratives..g.must use ex officiis. conditions.theattempt fulfill hopes of the a NorthAtlanticbourgeoisie. around a distinctionbetweenmoralityand prudence. .This reasons. "Postmodernistbourgeois liberalism" sounds oxymoronic. certain contemporary historical narrativesabout what these or othercommunitieshave done in the past nor scenarios about what theymight do in the future.withphilosophical liberalism. and that such loyalty no longer needs an ahistorical of backup. forlocal and perhaps transitory and as jorityof those who thinkof themselves beyondmetaphysics as metanarratives also thinkof themselves having opted out of the bourgeoisie. I hope thereby suggesthow such liberals might convince our society that loyalty to itselfis morality enough. or breaks communities. are narratives storieswhich purportto justifyloyaltyto. somebodywho can distinguishher self fromher talents of and interests and views about thegood." I call it "bourgeois" to emphasize that most of the people I am talking about would have no quarrel with the Marxistclaim that a lot of and practicesare possible and justifiableonly in those institutions certain historical.

not by reference general criteria(e. 179. a Quinean view. featureswhich it uses to constructits self-imagethrough with othergroups. both physicsand ethics.Irrationality. whosemoral . For some purposes this adaptive behavior is aptlydescribedas "learning" or "computing" or "redistribution electricalcharges in neural tissue. without and great costto thoseloyalties convictions force in from that living them inseparable by is consists partly thefact ourselves theparticular peoplewe are-as members understanding as ofthisfamily community nation people. citizens this as republic.. forpurposes of bala a listicsshe is a point-mass. Sandel's remarkablebook argues masterfully that Rawls cannot naturalize Kant and still retainthe meta-ethical authority Kantian "practical reason.and emotionswith nothingbehind it-no substrate the attributes." and for of othersas "deliberation" or "choice.. What plays therole of "human dignity"on thisview of the self? The answer is well expressedby Michael Sandel. and the further group.." as Rawlsian choosers." of .and that nothing else has any moral force.There is no "ground" forsuch loyaltiesand convictions save the factthat the beliefsand desiresand emotionswhich buttressthemoverlap those of lots of othermembersof the group with which we identify purposes of moral or political deliberafor of factthat theseare distinctive features that tions. the othermembersof some in relevantcommunity. Nations dignityof a group with which a person identifies 'Liberalism and the Limits of Justice(New York: Cambridge. p. purposes of moral and political deliberationand For as conversation. or be strippedof.or forpurposes of chemistry linkage of molecules. who says thatwe cannot regardourselvesas Kantian subjects "capable of constituting meaning on our own.in similar circumstances. This means thatthenaturalizedHegecontrasts lian analogue of "intrinsic human dignity" is the comparative herself.g.586 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY behind desires.as bearers this of hisor or or of of as tory.1982).is a matterof behavior that leads one to abandon. rational behavior is just adaptive behavior of a sort which roughlyparallels the of behavior. membership in some such community. She is a networkthat is constantlyreweavingitselfin to the usual Quinean manner-that is to say.' I would argue that the moral forceof such loyaltiesand convictions consists wholly in this fact. "rules of meaning" or "moral principles") but in to the hit-or-miss way in which cells readjust themselves meet the On pressuresof the environment." None of thesevocabulariesis privilegedover against another. sons and daughters thatrevolution. person just is that network.

a matter "we-intentions. One part consists of those beliefsand desires and emotions which overlap with those of most othermembersof some community with which. apotheosizing its heroes."Most moral dilemmasare thusreflections thefactthat of mostof us identify and are witha numberof different communities equally reluctant to marginalize ourselves in relation to any of them. The principal backup for historiography not philosophy but the arts.Persons have dignitynot as an interiorlumiIt nescence.at its called "remindersfora best.A person appeals to morality ratherthan prudencewhen she appeals to this overlapping.some of these are altered. its A further corollaryis thatthemorality/prudence distinction now appears as a distinctionbetweenappeals to two parts of the network that is the self-parts separated by blurryand constantly shiftingboundaries. avoiding theformulation generalprinciplesexceptwherethesitof ..of the sort which Dworkin rightlysays mark our pluralistic society.she identifiesherself. and refocusing attention. just as the numberof communitieswith which a person may idenincreaseswith civilization. diabolizing its enemies.are rarelyresolvedby appeals to general principles of the sort Dworkin thinks necessary.but because theyshare in such contrast-effects.or unless. and which contrastwith those of most members of other communities with which hers contrastsitself. for purposes of deliberation. by. mounting dialogues among its members. as WilfridSellars has said. tify Intra-societaltensions. This diversityof identifications increases with education. on this view. shared part of herself.THE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY OF INTELLECTUALS 587 or churchesor movements are. shining historicalexamples not because they reflectrays emanating from a higher source." Moralityis." The political discourse of the democracies. of the contemporarybourgeoisie-is mostlya matterof historicalnarratives (including scenarios about what is likelyto happen in certainfuture contingencies).g.is a corollary of this view that the moral justificationof the institutions and practices of one's group-e. ratherthan of philosophical metanarratives. which is serveto develop and modifya group's self-image forexample.those beliefsand desires and emotions which permit her to say "WE do not do this sort of of thing.More frequently theyare resolvedby appeals to what he calls "convention and anecdote. but because of contrast-effects-comparisons with other. worse communities. The moral deliberations of the postmodernist bourgeois liberal consists largely in this same sort of discourse.is the exchange of what Wittgenstein of particular purpose"-anecdotes about the past effects various of practicesand predictions what will happen if.

They identifiedwith it easily. The largestsingle reason fortheirloss of identification was theVietnamWar. Othersattempted rehabilitate to Kantian notions in orderto say.Dewey's naturalized Hegelianism has more overlap with the belief-systems the communitieswe rich North Ameriof can bourgeois need to talk with than does a naturalizedKantianism. is that most American intellectuals in Dewey's day still thoughttheircountry was a shininghistoricalexample. I to think. but was immoral. but theirlong-runeffect been to separatethe intellectualsfrom has the moral consensus of the nation ratherthan to alter thatconsensus. as well as leaving Americanintellectualsin a betterposition to conversewith theirfellowcitizens.Part of theexplanation.This is indeed a consequence.one which we had had no rightto engage in in the first place. It is also useful to reflect why this toleranceforanecdote was on replaced by a reattachment principles. So a reversion the Deweyan outlook mightleave us in a betto terposition to carry whatever on conversation betweennationsmay still be possible. Further.days when "legal realism" was thoughtof as desirable pragmatismratherthan unprincipledsubjectivism. with Chomsky.588 THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY uation may require this particular tactic-as when one writesa constitution. has as much or as little relevance to our treatment of . who would like to let differences thatbetweenthe Kantian and like the Hegelian remain "merely philosophical." The existence of human rights. Dewey would have thoughtsuch attempts further at self-castigation pointless. but it does not follow thatshe may be treatedlike an animal. to be reclothed with dignity.has no share in human dignity.that the War not merelybetrayed America's hopes and interests and self-image. The first objection is thaton my view a child found wandering in the woods. For it is part of the tradition of our community that the human strangerfrom whom all dignity has been stripped is to be taken in. The War caused some intellectuals to marginalizethemselves entirely.in the sense in which it is at issue in thismeta-ethical debate. rules foryoungchildrento memorize. They may have serveda useful catharticpurpose. I shall end by takingup two objections to what I have been saying.It is usefulto or remember that this view of moral and political deliberationwas a commonplace among American intellectuals in the days when Dewey-a post-modernist beforehis time-was thereigningAmerican philosopher. the remnantof a slaughterednation whose temples have been razed and whose books have been burned.This Jewish and Christian element in our traditionis gratefully invoked by free-loading atheistslike myself.

" and that relativismis self-refuting." then post-modernism post-philosophical. in ." forthcoming Praxis International in and in "Solidarite ou ObjectivitO?" forthcoming Critique. 1982). and the issue of relativism in "Habermas and Lyotard on Postmodernity.3 to of University Virginia RICHARD RORTY 2Reason.p. thereis a difis but ferencebetween saying that everycommunityis as good as every other and saying that we have to work out fromthe networkswe are. Truthand History(New York: Cambridge.THE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY OF INTELLECTUALS 589 such a child as the question of the existenceof God. fromthe communitieswith which we presently identify. of Minnesota Press. 'I discuss such redefinition the Introductionto Consequences of Pragmatism in (Minneapolis: Univ.' because she had no need to inquire or deliberate.1981).Such a being would have escaped from historyand conversation into contemplation and metanarrative. I thinkboth have equally littlerelevance. Relativismcertainly self-refuting. One will do this if one identifies "holding a philosophical position" with having a metanarrative available. If we insiston such a definition "philoof sophy. someone who had no need to use (but only to mention)the terms'rational' or 'moral. Postmodernismis no morerelativistic than Hilary Putnam's suggestion thatwe stop trying a "God's-eye view" and realize that"We can for only hope to produce a morerational conceptionof rationality a or betterconception of moralityif we operate fromwithin our tradition. The second objection is that what I have been calling "postmodernism" is betternamed "relativism. 216."2 The view that everytraditionis as rational or as moral as everyothercould be held only by a god. accuse postmodernism relativismis to tryto To of in put a metanarrative thepostmodernist's mouth. But it would is be better change the definition.

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