In politics, at different times in my life, I have been on the center-right and the center-left and the center. But in spite of having co-authored a book entitled “The Radical Center: The Future of American Politics,” I have never really been a radical of any kind. I understood why recently when I read, for the first time, one of the late philosopher Richard Rorty’s most celebrated essays, “Campaigns and Movements,” published in Dissent in the Winter of 1995.

Rorty began by poking fun at the belief of the editors and writers of Partisan Review in the middle of the twentieth century that it was very important to support both democratic socialism and avant-garde modernism in the arts, which were both linked in some obscure way to “the crisis of modern society.”
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Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.


The philosopher Richard Rorty is dead. These things happen. He’d have been the first person to admit it. But now that he’s dead it makes sense to ask how successful he was in carrying his bugbear to the grave along with him. That bugbear was philosophy itself, which, although most of his books are filed in that category, Rorty was essentially convinced had become a meaningless enterprise.

He wasn’t alone in this. Philosophers have been in the business of some kind of combined form of patricide and suicide for a long time now. Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger come immediately to mind. There are many others. Rorty thought that philosophy was dead — or at least in the final stages of a terminal illness — because the thing we call philosophy is essentially the impulse to find continuities. When we’re doing philosophy we’re looking for the things that are always true…. More…