Prophetic Pragmatism: Cultural Criticism and Political Engagement

  • Cornel West
Part of the Language, Discourse, Society book series


The move from Rorty’s model of fluid conversation to that of the multi-leveled operations of power leads us back to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Like Friedrich Nietzsche, Emerson is first and foremost a cultural critic obsessed with ways to generate forms of power. For Rorty, these forms are understood as activities of conversation for the primary purpose of producing new human self-descriptions. But for Emerson, conversation is but one minor instance of the myriad of possible transactions for the enhancement of human powers and personalities. Ironically, Rorty’s adoption of Michael Oakeshott’s metaphor of “conversation” reflects the dominant ideal of the very professionalism he criticizes. This ideal indeed is more a public affair than are Emerson’s preferred ideal transactions, e.g., gardening, walking, reading, and yet it also is more genteel and bourgeois.


Moral Vision Political Engagement Political Praxis Marxist Theory Cultural Criticism 
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Copyright information

© The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cornel West
    • 1
  1. 1.Princeton UniversityUSA

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