Remembering Richard Rorty

The passing of Richard Rorty attracted little attention in Australia, although there was a discussionof his philosophical work on the ABC. His specifically political work was ignored. Rorty identified himself strongly with the old anticommunist left, in his Achieving Our Country: ‘the war against Stalin was as legitimate, and as needed as the war against Hitler’ and that the liberation of 1989 would not have occurred if the US had come to terms with Stalin in the late 1940s in the war that cold war revisionists argued it should have done so. He emphasised the importance of linking a progressive politics to a sense of national identity and history and provides an acute critique of the ‘Nietzchean left’, represented in Australia authors such as Mark Davis. Rorty’s emphasis on remembering the history of the labour movement came to mind when I was reading Clark’s Select Documents┬árecently and the labour documents in it. History students in Australia learn little of the struggles of the labour movement. Rorty advocated a turn to ‘class politics’ but not in the sense that many of its Australian proponents do. Faint hints of this approach can be seen the Democrats’ populist turn. There are many flaws in his work, he is too dismissive of┬áMarxism as a tool of analysis if not a political philosophy, he places too much blame on the new left for the breakup of the New Deal coalition, and as Posner commented some of his specific views on economic policy are unconvincing. Nevertheless Rorty’s political work deserves more attention in Australia.

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