Richard Rorty’s Warning Against Authoritarianism

Chris Lehmann in The New Republic:

Of all the recently departed thinkers who might have helped us puzzle through the dismal political, intellectual, and socioeconomic prospects of the Trump era, perhaps none looms as large as Richard Rorty. Shortly after the 2016 election, the great pragmatist philosopher, who died in 2007, won fresh viral renown thanks to a widely quoted passage from his 1998 book Achieving Our Country, which appeared to prophesy the conditions of Donald Trump’s shocking ascension to the presidency.

Working-class Americans, he wrote, “will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or jobs from being exported.” Nor will suburban white-collar workers, struggling against their own brand of office-park precarity, “let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for somebody else.” So in short order, Rorty argued, “something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed them and start looking for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodern professors will no longer be calling the shots.”

Never mind that Trump actually won a majority of the white suburban electorate’s support as well; the general outlines of Rorty’s forecast helped explain the pseudopopulist, protectionist, and white nationalist takeover of the Republican Party—a realignment that has outlasted Trump’s term in office.

More here.