Paintbrushes and Crowbars: Richard Rorty and the New Public-Private Divide
14 Contemporary Pragmatism 366 (2017)
37 Pages Posted: 1 Dec 2016 Last revised: 22 Aug 2017
Date Written: November 30, 2016
In an often-quoted passage, Richard Rorty wrote that “J.S. Mill’s suggestion that governments devote themselves to optimizing the balance between leaving people’s lives alone and preventing suffering seems to me pretty much the last word.” In this Article, I show why, for Rorty, maintaining a strong public-private divide that cordons off final vocabularies — the religious, racial, ethnic, sexual, gender, philosophical, and other terms so important for citizens’ private pursuits of self-creation and self-perfection — from public political discourse is a crucial means to accomplishing both of these goals in post-secular liberal democracies. Public political justifications should instead be articulated in the foundation-neutral terms of a shared national vocabulary. Like paintbrushes and crowbars, final and shared vocabularies are different tools for different purposes, and a strong public-private divide helps ensure that no harm comes from their misuse.
Keywords: Liberal Neutrality, Pluralism, Identity Politics, Multiculturalism, Politics of Recognition, Politics of Difference, Secularism, Religion, Pluralism, Trump, Humiliation, Solidarity
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