October 31, 2019 ALL

Shannon W. Sullivan, “Achieving Whose Country? Rorty and Baldwin on the United States”

The Shula Chair in Philosophy Presents:

Shannon W. Sullivan, UNC Charlotte

“Achieving Whose Country? Rorty and Baldwin on the United States”

When: 5pm, Thursday, October 31st 2019

In this paper, I contrast Richard Rorty’s Achieving Our Country with James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time to highlight the main features of Rorty’s understanding of the United States, including the conceptual whiteness that frames Rorty’s book. By “conceptual whiteness,” I mean an unacknowledged racial perspective, typical of a great deal of mainstream Western philosophy, that prioritizes white people’s interests and values and that tends to ignore, overlook, and make invisible matters of race and racism, including many of the concerns and worldviews of people of color. My analysis is guided by three questions directed to both Rorty and Baldwin: (1) What would an achieved America look like? (2) What are the obstacles to achieving America? And (3) how might the obstacles to achieving America be removed? As this paper demonstrates, Rorty and Baldwin hoped to achieve two very different versions of the United States. In addition to recommending different affective relationships with the nation—pride versus love—they have conflicting understandings of the importance of history for achieving the United States, especially regarding the constitution of the self. By fleshing out Baldwin’s deep appreciation of history and his critical love for the United States, we will understand better how Rorty’s pride in the nation is historically and ontologically shallow, producing an ideal of an achieved America that should be rejected.