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In “Globalization, the Politics of Identity, and Social Hope,” Rorty presents a pair of claims: tinkering with the concepts of “identity” and “difference” cannot be made politically useful, but tinkering with the concepts of “rationality” and “truth” can be made politically useful. In this chapter, I use this pair of claims to explain Rorty’s reasons for thinking that leftist critics of his liberalism fail to recognize that they are themselves part of the liberal “we” to which he regularly refers. When Rorty claims that tinkering with rationality and truth can be made politically useful, he has in mind the anti-authoritarian idea that moving from philosophy to redescription makes room for social progress. When he claims that tinkering with “identity” and “difference” cannot be made politically useful, he is making two points: the politics of identity as a philosophical program is overly theoretical and overly pessimistic, but the politics of identity as a political project is nothing other than good old-fashioned liberalism. Together, these claims leave leftist philosophers and activists in a position where we cannot radically undermine liberalism, but where we can work to gradually reform it.
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