Rorty’s Last Interview

In The Progressive, Danny Postel interviews Rorty (via normblog):

Danny Postel: How do you feel about the spirited engagement with your work in Iran today? You were invited to lecture in Tehran in 2004 and encountered intense interest in what you had to say. More recently, the Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji sought you out in California and the two of you had a long discussion. I was in a bookstore in Tehran in March and saw several of your books, as well as a collection of essays about you, in both English and Persian. I wonder what you make of this.

Richard Rorty: When I visited Tehran I was surprised to hear that some of my writings had been translated into Persian, and had a considerable readership. I was puzzled that rather fussy debates of the sort that take place between European and American philosophers, and in which I engage, should be of interest to Iranian students. But the reception of the talk I gave on “Democracy and Philosophy” made clear that there was indeed intense interest in the issues I discussed.

When I was told that another figure much discussed in Tehran was Habermas, I concluded that the best explanation for interest in my work was that I share Habermas’s vision of a social democratic utopia. In this utopia, many of the functions presently served by membership in a religious community would be taken over by what Habermas calls “constitutional patriotism.” Some form of patriotism — of solidarity with fellow-citizens, and of shared hopes for the country’s future — is necessary if one is to take politics seriously. In a theocratic country, a leftist political opposition must be prepared to counter the clergy’s claim that the nation’s identity is defined by its religious tradition. So the left needs a specifically secularist form of moral fervor, one which centers around citizens’ respect for one another rather than on the nation’s relation to God.