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Defending Rorty
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Liberal democracy needs a clear-eyed, robust defense to deal with the increasingly complex challenges it faces in the twenty-first century. Unfortunately much of contemporary liberal theory has rejected this endeavor for fear of appearing culturally hegemonic. Instead, liberal theorists have sought to gut liberalism of its ethical substance in order to render it more tolerant of non-liberal ways of life. This theoretical effort is misguided, however, because successful liberal democracy is an ethically demanding political regime that requires its citizenry to display certain virtues and habits of mind. Against the grain of contemporary theory, philosopher Richard Rorty blends American pragmatism and romanticism to produce a comprehensive vision of liberal modernity that features a virtue-based conception of liberal democracy. In doing so, Rorty defends his pragmatic liberalism against a host of notable interlocutors, including Charles Taylor, Nancy Fraser, Hilary Putnam, Richard J. Bernstein, and Jean Bethke Elshtain.


'Depicting Richard Rorty as a neo-pragmatic ‘virtue liberal', William M. Curtis provides us with the kind of defense that Rorty himself might have offered us had he been first and foremost a political theorist. Deeply grounded in the relevant literature, forcefully argued, and engagingly written, this book deserves the attention of all those interested in contemporary theories of democratic politics - whether or not they share the author’s enthusiasm for Rorty’s distinctive form of liberal utopianism.'

Thomas Spragens - Duke University, North Carolina

'So much of the existing scholarship on Richard Rorty focuses on his critical project and so little focuses on the positive project; it’s helpful to have so much space devoted, in William Curtis’s book, to outlining a vision of Rorty’s particular brand of liberalism.'

Ari Kohen - Schlesinger Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Nebraska, Lincoln

'Defending Rorty provides a fresh and engaging perspective on how Richard Rorty’s provocative ideas on culture and politics hang together. It breathes new life into long-standing debates on liberalism and its relationship to ethical concerns. Clearly written and sensitive to the issues at stake, the book will appeal to anyone interested in the possibility of a virtue-based conception of liberal democracy.'

Alan Malachowski - University of Stellenbosch, South Africa

'William Curtis has written the most advanced account to date of Rorty as an ineluctably political and moral thinker. His re-description of a ‘virtue liberal Rorty’ establishes a novel interpretive frame with which subsequent writers must grapple. But Curtis does more than illuminate Rorty’s thought in refreshing ways; this book is an astute statement of an ethically robust liberalism for today.'

Christopher J. Voparil - Union Institute and University

'William Curtis offers a provocative rereading of Richard Rorty as a robust virtue liberal whose insights would evade the failings of a convictionless, and therefore possibly unconvincing, minimalist liberalism. This book develops a provocative reinterpretation of one of philosophy’s most provocative figures: Rorty is here displayed not as an accommodating proponent of the proceduralism characteristic of recent political liberalisms but rather as a strong poet of liberal virtues. For Curtis, Rorty’s work thus sustains an ongoing affirmation of political ideals of tolerance, respect, equality, and free self-governance.'

Colin Koopman - University of Oregon

'Curtis’ book opens up an important space for thinking about the possibilities for and of virtue liberalism, and also for thinking about Rorty qua political thinker.'

Susan Dieleman Source: Contemporary Pragmatism

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