Rorty's American Philosophy And Conservatism Comes With An Expiration Date

I Came across the obituary of Richard Rorty who was a giant of American philosophy in the 20th century. Highly complex and difficult to really define, Rorty was essentially a post-modern deconstructionist. But he wasn't anti-American as most post-modern (nutty) scholars (at least that I've seen or read) are. From the NYT:

"Over time, he became increasingly occupied by politics. In “Achieving Our Country” in 1998, he despaired that the genuine social-democratic left that helped shape the politics of the Democratic Party from 1910 through 1965 had collapsed. In an interview, he said that since the ’60s, the left “has done a lot for the rights of blacks, women and gays, but it never attempted to develop a political position that might find the support of an electoral majority.”In recent years, Mr. Rorty fiercely criticized the Bush administration, the religious right, Congressional Democrats and anti-American intellectuals. Though deeply pessimistic about the dangers of nuclear confrontation and the gap between rich nations and poor, Mr. Rorty retained something of Dewey’s hopefulness about America. It is important, he said in 2003, to take pride “in the heritage of figures like Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Martin Luther King and so on,” he said, and “to use this pride as a means of generating sympathy” for a country’s political aims."

The bold part is interesting and explains, in part, an oft cited reason why liberalism can't take itself to a higher political plane.


For its part, Conservatism (in whatever form, Limbaughian, Christian fundamentalism, classical etc.) is the political ideology du jour. Its authors, of the pop variety, rule the best sellers lists and its talk show and television personalities dominate ratings. Naturally, this will lead to scruntiy among those on both the left (with the requisite Reagan bashing) and right (yes, some are concerned about the direction of conservatism) as it does here and here and here.

The first links to The Liberal which graces its pages with debatable phrases like, "By keeping his language consistent and clear, and finding the line between simple and simplistic, Obama reminded America that meaning does inhere in language, and that postmodern politics cannot jettison the fundamentals of communication."

Be that is it may, aside from the fact that to some people decoding his message or speeches, this communicative talent can also be interpreted as "bull shit", Bush was every bit as clear and to the point (I never really was lost on what his intentions were) but was, naturally, considered a moron, as the author skillfully asserted without actually saying it.

And then closes with a quote from Mencken and comment:

The larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, a first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide, and the fight must be waged chiefly at second and third hand, and the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre – the man who can most easily adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

"It seemed to many that Mencken’s prediction had come true with the election of George W. Bush. But in her failure to frighten sufficient numbers of Americans into believing they needed a hockey mom to save them from the liberals under the bed, Sarah Palin showed that if the plain folks of the land would tolerate a moron, they would not, finally, vote for an oxymoron."

I don't like the zero-sum attitude here. As if liberals can't be morons. Please. Mencken certainly wasn't referring to one side of the coin I'm sure. He was waaaayyyy to smart for that.

Liberals often claim, as the writer does, conservatism's essence (as a means to achieve power) is to instill fear. Lost on them, of course, is they employ the same type of tactics; only it's under the guise of "progressive" thought. Conservatives aren't so presumptuous.

The last link (of three earlier in the post) is about Irving Kristol from Slate. Aren't neo-cons, really at the core of it, disaffected liberals?

For kicks I add an informative book review about conservatism here from Dissent magazine.


Proclaming conservatism to be "brain-dead" and the "death of conservatism" (as if in its passing, liberals can finally move forward like a wife who had been abused by her husband) may seem a tad sensationalistic. That doesn't mean there aren't some legitimate concerns as David Frum's New Majority contends. Mr. Frum, just my personal useless advice, should expand on the "NewMajority.com is a site edited by David Frum, dedicated to the modernization and renewal of the Republican party and the conservative movement" blurb on his "About us" page. It's kinda vague.

Of course, the death of conservatism, as it were, is grossly exaggerated if not plain old wrong. It's no more dead or alive as liberalism. There are no expiration dates to philosophies. They may get forgotten and reinvented or even mangled but they don't die.

How do you stab an ideology to death anyway?

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