- Series: The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization (Book 10)
- Paperback: 176 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press; New Ed edition (September 1, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674003128
- ISBN-13: 978-0674003125
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 45 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,131 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Achieving Our Country : Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America New Ed Edition
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There are many shameful incidents in America's past: the institution of slavery, genocidal assaults on the indigenous peoples of this continent, the escalation of the Vietnam War, and so on. What should our response to such acts be? Should we regard the nation as irredeemably tainted by sin and spend our time cataloging its evils, or should we acknowledge its shortcomings and make a conscious effort to turn it into a better nation?
Philosopher Richard Rorty believes that there is hope for America, but that today's Left is not meeting the challenge. He contrasts the cultural, academic Left's focus on our heritage of shame (which, he admits, has to the extent that it makes hatred intolerable had the positive effect of making America a more civil society) with the politically engaged reformist Left of the early part of this century. "The distinction between the old strategy and the new is important," he writes. "The choice between them makes the difference between what Todd Gitlin calls common dreams and what Arthur Schlesinger calls disuniting Americans. To take pride in being black or gay is an entirely reasonable response to the sadistic humiliation to which one has been subjected. But insofar as this pride prevents someone from also taking pride in being an American citizen, from thinking of his or her country as capable of reform, or from being able to join with straights or whites in reformist initiatives, it is a political disaster."
Not everyone, to be sure, is going to agree with Rorty's ideas. But his approach to civic life, which is pragmatic in the tradition of John Dewey and visionary in the tradition of Walt Whitman, is bound to provoke increased discussion of what it is to be a citizen, and his call for a renewed awareness of the history of American reformist activism can only be applauded. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Rorty contrasts two views of America: those of the Old Left and of the New Left. The Old Left he associates with Walt Whitman's "American Dream" and John Dewey's idea of an ever-evolving secular society of varied, autonomous agents whose evils are remediable because they result from failures of imagination. The New Left he associates with spectators who damn America for such past "atrocities" as slavery, the massacre of Indians, and the Vietnam War. Rorty claims that the Old Left was stubbornly reformist, whereas the New Left collaborates with and thereby empowers the Right by supplanting real politics with cultural issues. He urges the New Left to understand that our national character has not been settled but is still being formed. The book contrasts the two Lefts clearly enough, but the rest of it is rather foggy with occasional flashes of light. For larger academic libraries only.ARobert Hoffman, York Coll., CUNY
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
This book is a collection of lectures and should not be treated as if it were to be a rigorous work in philosophy. For this reason I find it quite enjoyable. I do not find myself picking up "Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity" very often, but I tend to pick this off the shelf once a year. The prose is quite eloquent and easy to read, which results in an enjoyable, but thought provoking experience.
The interesting thing about this book is that, despite being a work of political philosophy, the heroes often championed are not just philosophers, but literary writers such as Walt Whitman. Although not a central argument to the book, is does reflect Rorty's belief that philosophers have no exclusive domain over the realms of political thought and the truth. For this reason I believe this book is even great for the non-philosopher; it's prose is more accessible as a lecture, but also practices philosophy with a sense of humility.
In terms of content the most poignant for me is not the question of left vs. right, but what Rorty calls the "progressive left" and the "critical left." The critical left being the side that views the sins of America as an unforgivable impasse which is stuck in the mode of a spectator. The progressive left, on the other hand, acknowledges these wrong-doings, but believes that our ideal country can still be achieved. The progressive left is that of the political agent; those that still have a hope for a more just world.
Overall I highly recommend this book to philosophers and non-philosophers alike. For a book of such intellectual depth, it is quite a leisurely and interesting read; perhaps that has to do with some of the more anecdotal accounts of Rorty once served snacks to John Dewey and Carlo Tresca at a Halloween party his parents hosted during his childhood. This book is great to have on your own shelf, but also great to gift to the young political thinker.
Here's a test: Who are we discussing here? "[Voters] reject social democracy because social democrats failed to recognize what the populists did: that left-behind whites are economically protectionist and socially conservative; that they are deeply anxious about economic disadvantage and threats to their identity, values and ways of life. When social democrats tried to respond, they appealed halfheartedly to economic protectionism, while ignoring these voters’ identity politics altogether or clinging to a liberal commitment to open borders. And none of this was communicated in terms that made sense to working-class voters". It's frm "The Guardian" (January 11, 2017) a "leftist" publication. As it happens, the "social democrats" who are the subject of this insight aren't the Democratic Party; in fact, they aren't even American: they're the British Labour Party and the party is seemingly doomed to a marginal role (at best) and nagging irrelevance (more likely). The phenomenon perfectly illustrates a now nearly universal problem, one anticipated by Prof. Richard Rorty as early as 1998. His diagnosis and prescription for rectifying the matter appears in this brief book.
The afflictions that plague social democracy in the US, EU and elsewhere are, at least in retrospect, entirely self-evident. Prescient thinkers like Rorty forecast the problem nearly two decades ago. Self-delusion and preoccupation with "inexorable" demographic trends and fixation on economic and cultural elites and the "cult of victimhood" blinded the left to the increasing irrelevance of their platforms to the average dude.
Rorty divides the left into a "cultural" camp (shorthand for a platform catering to identity groups with legitimate claim to being victims of "sadism") and a more pragmatic (though essentially defunct) group of realists closely associated with John Dewey and Walt Whitman. Rorty identifies with this group of "pre-Sixties leftists". This group of pragmatists recognize the hand dealt to them. They understand that "the system" requires constant revision and adjustment to produce the maximum good for the maximum people. They stick to achievable goals that must be incessantly refined. They appeal to American patriotism. They recognizes limits. They avoid vaguely defined, utopian goals that even the "average prole" understands lack specifics and beg credulity. Contrast this with "cultural leftists". This group abandoned "the system" as irrevocably tainted, developed nifty new sobriquets on a routine basis, focused on victim and identity group appeals and were dismissive of their former allies in the working class. Oops! As expected, the anticipated demolition of the liberal, social democratic experiment has happened.
According to Rorty, the prescription for reviving the dying patient is obvious: abandon identity politics, develop achievable goals, present the platform to the working voter in an understandable, unpretentious, straightforward manner and realize that patriotism is not a stigma: it's an tendency that must be adopted and given centrality in the new approach. Needless to note, the "cultural, entrepreneurial, international sophisticates" who occupy business class, haunt Silicon Valley, Wall Street and Davos require suasion, since they bring in the bucks. They have also slipped free of alleged preoccupations of the "proles" with NASCAR, "gays, guns and god". Time to change that.
In short, Rorty wants a left that clearly commands an America for Everyone. While that may seem like a facile bromide, consider the alternative Rorty posited (and it happened): the "bourgeoisification" of the working class and co-option by the right. Obviously, at least now, the Democrats got that wrong. The British Labour Party missed the boat. Populism and autocracy are on the rise. Right wing, conservative, religious pandering ultranationalist parties control Poland, Hungary, Turkey, and are on the rise elsewhere. Given the myriad defeats, maybe it's time to pay attention to Dewey, Whitman and Rorty and forget about Power to the People and a vaguely defined social utopia...before the game is over for good. Days of Future Passed, in other words.
Read and you may be as surprised at the prescience!
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In 1997, in a series of lectures at that bastion of wealth and liberal thought, Harvard University, Richard Rorty delivered a short...Read more