Richard Rorty's Postmodern Case for Liberal Democracy: A Critique

Humanitas, Forthcoming

31 Pages Posted: 20 Jul 2005


Liberal democracy, the combination of a representative polity and a market economy, was originally founded on the belief in moral absolutes - that is, on the idea that human beings intrinsically bear rights of freedom and equality against the state. Today, the existence of moral absolutes is widely rejected in what Jean-Francois Lyotard has called the postmodern condition. With no objective foundation to readily draw upon, advocates of liberal democracy are left with the challenge of mounting a compelling defence of that regime.

Richard Rorty, one of America's most prominent philosophers, responds to this challenge by supporting liberal democracy on explicitly postmodern grounds. Rather than proving its superiority, Rorty merely aims to persuade his readers of liberal democracy's appeal.

We conclude that Rorty's case fails. He goes too far in abandoning the socially useful ideals of rationality and objectivity, leaving us with a way of thinking that just does not square with our everyday experience of the world. He ends up with an overly politicized conception of philosophy, one which unashamedly descends into the most blatant partisanship. Rorty, too, ignores the growing evidence in favor of a partially fixed human nature, gives too much credence to social democratic economics, while vainly trying to ennoble the self-absorption that liberal democracy inevitably encourages and tolerates by passing it off under the exalted guise of self-creation.

Keywords: liberal democracy, rationality, objectivity, postmodernism, social democracy, rights, political theory, moral theory

JEL Classification: K00, H1

Suggested Citation

Bragues, George, Richard Rorty's Postmodern Case for Liberal Democracy: A Critique. Humanitas, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

George Bragues (Contact Author)

University of Guelph-Humber ( email )

207 Humber College Boulevard
Toronto, Ontario M9W 5L7
416-798-1331, Ext. 6049 (Phone)
416-798-3293 (Fax)

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics