If you’ve read anything by Richard Rorty, then you know that–like many philosphers–his writing is dense and can be a slog to read. Some time back, when I had more self discipline, I read a couple of his books. The one that stands out is Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (1998). Rorty argues that the “left” can be divided into two components: Critical and Progressive. The Critical Left is exemplified by thinkers such as Foucoult and is good at identifying problems but is short on providing solutions. The Critical Left is predominantly concerned with cultural issues (nearly to the exclusion of political issues). Rorty identifies with the Progressive Left which he refers to as reformist in nature. He sees the Critical Left as anti-American and Marxist, with the Progressive Left offering pragmatic civil engagement.
Rorty believed that as the Left moved more to the Critical end of the spectrum that our basic institutions would fail even as we made cultural gains. As democratic institutions fail, workers would seek an outlet. He writes:
Many writers on socioeconomic policy have warned that the old industrialized democracies are heading into a Weimar-like period, one in which populist movements are likely to overturn constitutional governments. Edward Luttwak, for example, has suggested that fascism may be the American future. The point of his book The Endangered American Dream is that members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.
At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. A scenario like that of Sinclair Lewis’ novel It Can’t Happen Here may then be played out. For once a strongman takes office, nobody can predict what will happen. In 1932, most of the predictions made about what would happen if Hindenburg named Hitler chancellor were wildly overoptimistic.
One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words “nigger” and “kike” will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.
As I’ve written previously, only the educated elite were surprised by Trump’s rise. Sixty percent of American’s do not have a college degree, these people are under assault both from the Critical Left and the uncertainties of globalization. As pressure increases, an outlet will be found or created to release the pressure, Donald Trump is the current release. To some extent a conservative Supreme Court may also ease the pressure. After that it will be up to the Critical Left.