Rorty’s Post-Foundational Liberalism: Progress or the Status Quo?


Richard Rorty’s liberal utopia offers an interesting model for those who wish to explore the emancipatory potential of a post-foundational account of politics, specifically liberalism. What Rorty proposes is a form of liberalism that is divorced from its Kantian metaphysical foundations. This paper will focus on the gulf that appears between Rorty’s liberal utopia in theory, the political form that it must ultimately manifest itself in, and the consequences this has for debates on pluralism, diversity, and identity, within liberal political thought. The strength of Rorty’s liberal utopia, in his analysis, lies in the fact that with the rejection of philosophy and metaphysics, we can simply get on with the job of reducing cruelty through experimental tinkering with the liberal political system. Instead of trying to develop intellectually sophisticated justifications for why we act, we should just act. Political action, for Rorty, does not require a philosophical or metaphysical justification. However, upon closer critical examination, we can see that whatever potential Rorty’s liberal utopia may have in theory, this is negated by the fact that at the level of political praxis, his re-description of liberalism leaves us with a conception of liberalism that is essentially unchanged. Whilst Rorty has re-situated liberalism from the philosophical to the political, his solution fails to address any internal problems.



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Matthew Jones
University of Greenwich

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