There are many facts which seem to be routinely “lost”: we know them, but we forget that we know them until we are reminded of them. That Richard Rorty’s grandfather was the quintessential Social Gospeler Walter Rauschenbusch is one of those facts, in part because Rorty seems to exist at such a great distance from Rauschenbusch, both chronologically—is the Progressive Era really only that long ago?—and ideologically: while not a Dawkins-like secularist, Rorty’s avowed secularism was such a fundamental part of his philosophy and his public life that we may have trouble seeing him as the grandson of a person so devoted to bringing the Kingdom of G-d to earth.
Two weeks ago I argued that it is unwise to call Rorty a prophet for what amount to political reasons: doing so canonizes his “prophecy” as a privileged interpretation of “what really happened”—because he “predicted” our present, he must have had some kind of privileged knowledge or more penetrating awareness of the trends and tendencies of the world which led us here. Those reasons, I hope, are good enough to make us hesitate before laying the mantle of prophet retroactively on Rorty’s shoulders, but there are other reasons as well more specific to Rorty’s own self-understanding and his understanding of the nature of the United States and its history that should make the title seem singularly inappropriate. This post explores those reasons and goes on to show—I hope—why Rorty’s antipathy to much that goes along with prophecy is equally inappropriate both to our present and to the nation’s past. Continue reading