Ethnocentrism, social contract liberalism and positivistic-conservatism: Rorty's three theses on politics

Res Publica 6 (1):1-23 (2000)
In this article I argue that Rorty has three separatearguments for liberalism. The pragmatic-ethnocentric argument for liberalism,as a system which works for `us liberals'', is rejectedfor entailing relativism. The social contract argument results in an extreme formof individualism. This renders politics redundantbecause there is no need for the (liberal) state toprotect poetic individuals, who are capable ofdefending themselves. Even if the less able areharmed, the state could not prevent this, givenRorty''s arguments about discursive enrichment withina language game. Finally, the positivistic-conservative argument legitimisesliberal politics by fiat, and makes normativediscussion about the status quo illegitimate. Herethe argument is that politics is a matter of reactivetechnical piecemeal problem-solving, to restore theharmony of the status quo. As politics deals with`facts'', normative `problematisations'' of thefunctional status quo are illegitimate (in the public/political sphere). So, either anything goes, andpolitics is redundant, or discussion of politics isdepoliticised and confined to the private sphere.Consequently, Rorty has no way to explore issues ofpower, or normative contestation. Therefore he isunable to address issues of social justice withinliberal democracies, such as feminist arguments aboutan ascribed gender status limiting equalityof opportunity.
Keywords equality of opportunity  gender  liberalism  pragmatic-ethnocentric argument  Rorty  social contract argument
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Reprint years 2004
DOI 10.1023/A:1009688631636
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