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Achieving Our Country

Achieving Our Country

Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America

Richard Rorty

ISBN 9780674003125

Publication date: 09/01/1999

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Must the sins of America's past poison its hope for the future? Lately the American Left, withdrawing into the ivied halls of academe to rue the nation's shame, has answered yes in both word and deed. In Achieving Our Country, one of America's foremost philosophers challenges this lost generation of the Left to understand the role it might play in the great tradition of democratic intellectual labor that started with writers like Walt Whitman and John Dewey.

How have national pride and American patriotism come to seem an endorsement of atrocities--from slavery to the slaughter of Native Americans, from the rape of ancient forests to the Vietnam War? Achieving Our Country traces the sources of this debilitating mentality of shame in the Left, as well as the harm it does to its proponents and to the country. At the center of this history is the conflict between the Old Left and the New that arose during the Vietnam War era. Richard Rorty describes how the paradoxical victory of the antiwar movement, ushering in the Nixon years, encouraged a disillusioned generation of intellectuals to pursue "High Theory" at the expense of considering the place of ideas in our common life. In this turn to theory, Rorty sees a retreat from the secularism and pragmatism championed by Dewey and Whitman, and he decries the tendency of the heirs of the New Left to theorize about the United States from a distance instead of participating in the civic work of shaping our national future.

In the absence of a vibrant, active Left, the views of intellectuals on the American Right have come to dominate the public sphere. This galvanizing book, adapted from Rorty's Massey Lectures of 1997, takes the first step toward redressing the imbalance in American cultural life by rallying those on the Left to the civic engagement and inspiration needed for "achieving our country."


  • Richard Rorty [is] John Dewey’s ablest intellectual heir and one of the most influential philosophers alive… In lively prose, [Achieving Our Country] offers a pointed and necessary reminder that left academics have too often been content to talk to each other about the theory of hegemony while the right has been busy with the practice of it. If those criticized in the book dismiss it the way they brush aside the Blooms and D’Souzas of the world, an opportunity will be lost. Rorty invites a serious conversation about the purposes of intellectual work and the direction of left politics. I wouldn’t want him to have the last word, but the conversation should be joined. If it is conducted with the verve of Achieving Our Country, and if it shares Rorty’s genuine commitment to revitalizing the left as a national force, it will be a very good thing.

    —The Nation


  • Richard Rorty (1931–2007) authored several landmark books and essay collections, including Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature; Consequences of Pragmatism; Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity; and Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America. He taught at Wellesley College, Princeton University, the University of Virginia, and Stanford University.

Book Details

  • 176 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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