Autumn-winter 2004
 

 

  Autumn-winter 2004

  INTERVIEW: RICHARD RORTY
  Dino Abazović
 
 

ODJEK: Professor Rorty, during one symposium on the U.S. history few years ago, speaking about American Pride and American Shame, you concluded your remarks with following: “… only by shifting attention from the question ‘How can the United States make itself secure?’ to the question ‘How can the world make itself secure?’ can we begin to reverse the tide of events that are sweeping us into the world that Orwell foresaw. Whether our grandchildren feel pride or shame will be determined by whether we become the first great empire to have higher ambitions than to be a great empire”. Do you see that a higher ambition in today’s America [American politics]?

RORTY: I think that an ambition to be something more than a great empire has pretty well disappeared in the last five years. The Republicans were able to take advantage of 09/11 to begin turning the country in which anything any governmental measure could be justified in the name of war on terror.  When President Bush invaded Iraq, he put aside all the people in Washington, and he shoves aside the whole foreign policy establishment in Washington. All the people whom been the intellectual base for the State Department and for institutes for the study of the international affairs were dubious about invasion of Iraq, and most of them were firstly oppose to that. Bush didn’t listen to anybody. He didn’t put the invasion of Iraq in the context of any long range plan for the future of the world. He pretended to by saying we will democratize Middle East but no one, you know… It is hard to believe that even his closest advisors seriously believed that we will democratize the Middle East. So, it is quite possible that the President is naïve and innocent enough to believe his own rhetoric but it doesn’t really matter whether he believes it or not, the effect on the country is the same, it is to put aside all questions of obligations to the world community, or planning for the world future, and just to get Republican Party re-elected forever as a the Party of War on Terrorism.      

ODJEK: Responding to the Habermas’ and Derrida’ article on “…What Binds Europeans Together” principal question you formulated in a form of a dilemma that European citizenry and its leaders had been faced with was: Humiliation or Solidarity? Could you reconsider the hope for a common European Foreign Policy? Do you see any of solidification of the European Union into a powerful independent force in world affairs as the appropriate reaction to the danger that the direction of American foreign policy poses for the world?

RORTY: I suspect that the failure of the European Constitution means that it is very unlikely that we will have a genuine European foreign policy. The mood of the Europeans seems to be against giving more power to the EU central authority, and people like Berlusconi and Chirac are just constitutionally unsuited to go along as mere members of the single community when it comes to their stands on world affairs. So, I think there is less hope then there was year or two ago for European countervailing force to the United States.

ODJEK: So, two or three years after, we are closer, so to say, to the “American Shame and European Humiliation”?

RORTY: It isn’t exactly that Europe is now humiliated. It is that Europe shrugs and says America is going to go its own way, God knows what their next President will do, but there is nothing we can do about it. It is not exactly the a posture of humiliation, it is just fatalism.        

ODJEK: Professor Rorty, one of the critics of your work, still very interesting to the Bosnian discourse too, comes from the scholar Seyed Mohammad Ali Taghavi. It is published in his article about your approach to cultural difference. Ali Taghavi main argument is that there are a conflict between your political stance of ignoring cultural differences and yours philosophical view, which accounts for rationality, morality and the sense of responsibility in terms of solidarity and ‘ethnocentrism’. What about the issue that you do not translate the moral and philosophical significance of communities and particularly cultural communities into politics?
RORTY: I think that cultural, religious, ethnic communities have moral significance. I just wish they didn’t.  I think it is a primitive stage of morality. The Enlightenment suggested that we take seriously the question idea that all man are brothers, and that we try to ignore as many differences between men and women, gays and straits, Muslims and Christians, as we possible could ignore, in the interest of forming a genuine human community.  So, it seems to me that the last thing we want to do is encourage autonomy of the local cultures. Such autonomy is harmless as long as is doesn’t become a factor in a larger political scene. But, that is a matter of treating… You know, what one want is to treat a culture as a matter, like a religion, as a private matter, that does not play a political role.

ODJEK: While reconsidering the religion in the public space your anti-clericalism is aimed at the religious professionals who devote themselves not to pastoral case but to promulgating orthodoxy and acquiring economic and political clout. Further on, you are explicit that militant atheism is as unattractive as militant religious proselytizing, and you are distinguishing between atheism and anti-clericalism. But, in the most of the so-called post-communistic countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, basic fuel that keeps new ruling “elites” going on is religious nationalism – particular form of collective representation. As Roger Friedland put it, “religious nationalists make politics into a religious obligation”. The Problem of religious nationalists as conversation stoppers!?

RORTY: To say that I value my status as a member of a group smaller then humanity more then I value my relation to the human community as a whole, when someone says that, it is hard to know where the conversation is suppose to get from there. If someone says: “I understand that this proposal would make for the greatest human happiness but it is against my religious convictions, or violates my sense of religious identity”, that is conversation stopper in the sense you don’t know what move to make from there on in. Such a person has simply made the choice of his particle moral identity. From then on, the question is peace or war, rather then what we can agree on.

ODJEK: But we can see, despite the fact there is the strong revival of religion within de-secularizing world, both on the West and East there were not much interest among the scholars for the issues of the religion and politics. Still, situation changed after 09/11. Today, we are witnessing the processes of right-wing religious movements becomes strengthen. In most of the cases, from the USA to the countries of the former Soviet Union, as well as in traditional multi-confessional societies, the new political elites interpreting politics in religious way and new establishments are based on religious interpretation of politics!     

RORTY: It think that in each place where there is so-called revival of religion, what we have are religious professionals, clergy, taking advantage of fear of social unease, of gradually diminish social hope. And this is a predictable phenomenon. In so far, there is anything that links all this revivals of religions in various countries together, it is a general feeling that things are likely to get worse that our hopes are likely not to be fulfill, that the utopian dreams of our parents may become obsolete. And in the situation of increasing hopelessness, people will grab on to anything, and professional ideologists, in particular religious professionals, will take advantage of the fact. There is a certain tendency among contemporary intellectuals to say: “Hey, maybe there was something wrong with the secularization”, as they shown by the fact that people are having doubts about it. I don’t think that anything was wrong with secularization. I think it is just that it looked that secular world was making progress toward utopia, and now it doesn’t look that, and so people beginning to think maybe the religious people were right all the time. But the religious professionals are still the same unscrupulous opportunists, they always were.