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Something Has Cracked: Post-Truth Politics and Richard Rorty’s Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism

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Just days after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States, specific passages from American philosopher Richard Rorty’s 1998 book Achieving Our Country were shared thousands of times on social media. Both The New York Times and The Guardian wrote about Rorty’s prophecy and its apparent realization, as within the haze that followed this unexpected victory, Rorty seemed to offer a presciently trenchant analysis of what led to the rise of “strong man” Trump. However, in this paper, Forstenzer points to Rorty’s own potential intellectual responsibility in the unfolding crisis of liberal democracy.

This paper seeks to elucidate the relationship between Rorty’s liberal ironism and contemporary post-truth politics. While the paper ultimately concludes that Rorty is not causally responsible and thus not complicit with the rise of post-truth politics, it contends that Rorty’s philosophical project bears some intellectual responsibility for the onset of post-truth politics insofar as it took a complacent attitude towards the dangers associated with over-affirming the contingency of our epistemic practices in public debate. In the last instance, this paper argues that Rorty’s complacency is a pragmatic failure and thus cuts to the heart of his pragmatism.