Achieving Our Country

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Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America
Richard Rorty - Achieving Our Country Leftist Thought in Twentieth-century America.jpeg
Author Richard Rorty
Cover artist Louis Lozowick; design by Annamarie McMahon
Country

Cambridge, Massachusetts USA, London

Great Britain
Language English
Series Part of "The William E. Massey, Sr. lectures in the history of American civilization"
Subject Politics, philosophy
Genre Non-fiction
Published 1998 (Harvard University Press)
Media type Hardcover
Pages 159 pp
ISBN ISBN 978-0-674-00311-8 (1998); ISBN 978-0-674-00312-5 (1999)
OCLC 37864000
303.48/4 21
LC Class HN90.R3 R636 1998

Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America is a book by American philosopher Richard Rorty. In this book, Rorty differentiates between what he sees as the two sides of the Left, a critical Left and a progressive Left. He criticizes the critical Left, which is exemplified by post-structuralists such as Michel Foucault and post-modernists such as Jean-François Lyotard. Although these intellectuals make insightful claims about the ills of society, Rorty holds that they provide no alternatives and even present progress as problematic at times. On the other hand, the progressive Left, exemplified for Rorty by John Dewey, makes progress its priority in its goal of "achieving our country." Rorty sees the progressive Left as acting in the philosophical spirit of pragmatism.

Contents[edit]

Achieving Our Country is an adaptation of lectures Rorty gave at Harvard University. It consists of expanded versions of the three lectures, two appendices ("Movements and Campaigns", "The Inspirational Value of Great Works of Literature") as well as the notes, acknowledgements, and index.

"American National Pride: Whitman and Dewey"[edit]

Rorty begins by arguing the case for "national pride"; having pride in a nation motivates people to seek to improve their nation - one must feel emotion of some sort[1] But in recent times, such as after the Vietnam War and towards the end of the twentieth century, art and for Rorty literature in particular are not cultivating a form of national pride and hence are affecting politics: "Competition for political leadership is in part a competition between differing stories about a nation's self-identity, and between differing symbols of its greatness.[2]

Rorty singles out Snow Crash and Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead as modern works that serve as exemplars of the second of two predominant narratives, a rejection of national pride with "tones either of self-mockery or of self-disgust" (the other narrative is a "simple-minded militaristic chauvinism"). The rejection of national pride is fundamentally weakening and dispiriting:

"Novels like Stephenson's, Condon's The Manchurian Candidate, and Pynchon's Vineland are novels not of social protest but rather of rueful acquiescence in the end of American hopes."[3]

The second narrative is equally dispiriting but for a different reason; Leftist literature often focuses on what is wrong with America and where there is hypocrisy and actions at odds with avowed ideals, so "When young intellectuals watch John Wayne war movies after reading Heidegger, Foucault, Stephenson, or Silko, they often become convinced that they live in a violent, inhuman, corrupt country...this insight does not move them to formulate a legislative program, to join a political movement, or to share in a national hope."[4] Rorty contrasts the named novels with the socialist novels of the early 1900s - The Jungle, An American Tragedy, The Grapes of Wrath etc.

The essential theme to those novels is that America is not yet achieved, that "the tone of the Gettysburg Address was absolutely right, but that our country would have to transform itself in order to fulfill Lincoln's hopes.".[5]

Rorty quotes approvingly Walt Whitman's Democratic Vistas:[6] "'democracy' is a great word, whose history...remains unwritten, because that history has yet to be enacted." This theme is consistent to the Left and is where Rorty derives the title: "The Left, by definition, is the party of hope. It insists our nation remains unachieved."[7] Whitman and John Dewey are essential to his discussion because he identifies them as crucial to developing the mythology of an unachieved America which was "ubiquitous on the American Left prior to the Vietnam War."[8]

Their contribution is a pragmatic twist on Hegel and Hegelianism, in which America is eventually a glorious synthesis of all the opposed civilizations and ideas mingling in a democracy. This philosophy undergirds the old Left's view. The context understood, Rorty promises to contrast "the Deweyan, pragmatic, participatory Left as it existed prior to the Vietnam War and the spectatorial Left which has taken its place."

"The Eclipse of the Reformist Left"[edit]

"A Cultural Left"[edit]

Translation[edit]

It has been published in Germany as Stolz auf unser Land: die amerikanische Linke und der Patriotismus (ISBN 978-3-518-58275-6) , and translated into Japanese by Teruhiko Ozawa and published in Kyoto by Koyoshobo as Amerika mikan no purojekuto: nijuseiki amerika ni okeru sayoku shiso (ISBN 978-4-7710-1199-1).[9] A Dutch translation was published by Boom in 2001 as De voltooiing van Amerika (which translates as The completion of America), (ISBN 978-90-5352-475-6).

References[edit]

  1. ^ "...insufficient national pride makes energetic and effective debate about national policy unlikely. Emotional involvement with one's country - feelings of intense shame or of glowing pride aroused by various parts of its history and by various present-day national policies - is necessary if political deliberation is to be imaginative and productive." pg 3 of Achieving Our Country.
  2. ^ pg 4
  3. ^ pg 6
  4. ^ pg 7
  5. ^ pg 8
  6. ^ Walt Whitman: Democratic Vistas
  7. ^ pg 14
  8. ^ pg 11
  9. ^ Bibliographic information sourced from WorldCat