1. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, two parallel discussions enveloped a good part of our time in American political discourse, their energies both sometimes denoted by “the culture wars.” At the national level, debate revolved around affirmative action practices and policies. To see the connection to the term “culture,” one must recognize how “political correctness” as a term of abuse was part of the same debate. While political correctness was attaining infamy, the less abusive “multiculturalism” denoted the more parochial “culture wars” in American universities. The idea behind affirmative action practices was that, for example, systemic forms of racism had become embedded in all kinds of American practices (e.g. in the education system or governmental hiring practices or university admissions processes) and that only by active affirmation of equity could these systemic forms of disadvantage based on racial classification be corrected. As an extension, political correctness was the idea that our language is a practice that performs some of this embedding. When minority groups began requesting (or demanding) semantic authority over themselves, the post-Civil Rights milieu was inclined to hear them. So, as an example, within a short space of time accepted parlance went from “colored” to “Negro” to “Negro-American” to “Afro-American” to “African-American,” with the stock of “black” rising and falling randomly.
Now, I said “accepted parlance,” but some instinct in most of us is going to prompt, “accepted by whom?” If I’d said “approved,” then the siren certainly would’ve gone off. Who is handing out this “approval,” judging the “correctness” of our language? I was talking to a friend recently when for some reason this issue of the shift in what to call black people came up. He’s black and was born in the early ‘60s, and so lived through some of these shifts. With impatience he said, “I grew up saying ‘negro,’ but then I was told ‘black.’ Fine. And then I was told ‘African-American,’ and I said, ‘fine,’ but who cares? Why does it matter? I was born on Long Island, not in Africa.” A little while after that, I was talking to an eminent scholar of African-American literature about Ralph Ellison, and we stumbled into that area as well. I told him about my friend, and he related an old quip that someone made in the ‘80s—that only an academic could’ve come up with “African-American.” We laughed. But this is a nexus of the two cultural wars. My friend is no academic by any means, and he votes Republican. His instinct comes out of the American self-reliant tradition. Who is anybody to tell me what I should call myself? And what does it matter? The scholar and I, however, laughed from ironic self-deprecation, at the pieties of academe. For the reason why “African-American” is ensconced in public discourse is in large part because of its enforcement in the cultural sphere of the university, which permeates laterally other intellectually-minded spheres and longitudinally multiple generations of the college-educated.
2. There are many relics of the cultural wars, of which Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind (1987) is probably the most famous. But that book, like the right-wing hatchet jobs that abut it (Profscam, Tenured Radicals), doesn’t interest me in the long-term. What do interest me are the books by those on the non-Marxist left. During this time period, the term “liberal” was used to refer to this left, just as “radical” was used for the kind of leftist that generally preferred a post-Marxist, highly theoretical vocabulary for talking about politics, a left that also had a very negative attitude toward America, sans phrase. Two of these books that I’ve kept close to heart for many years are Richard Rorty’s Achieving Our Country (1998) and Stanley Fish’s There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech (1994). Fish’s book has a more complex relationship to the attitudes and situation of that era, as our own, but Rorty’s book simplifies the issue by splitting the two lefts into the liberal “reformist left” and the radical “cultural left.”
This latter term Rorty picked up at a conference at Duke on liberal education, in the midst of the wars, from a comment Henry Louis Gates, Jr. made about the “Rainbow Coalition of contemporary critical theory.” Rorty thought that this left deserved at least “two cheers,” as he put it in the title to his contribution to that conference. What they were doing in focusing our attention on cultural issues of racism, misogyny, and homophobia, and in particular how our language ramifies those things, was an important step in the history of moral progress. The only problem with this left is that it seemed as if they forgot about the money. Class, as a defining concept in one’s politics, seemed to get left behind, and it was hurting the politics of the left at the national level. And when you see the culture wars against the background of the Nixon/Ford-Carter-Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush sequence, one can see the prescience of thinking that the parochial-level conversation was, perhaps not hijacking, but obscuring what was happening in national-level politics.
I have great sympathy for this point of view, for I tend to think—in my naifish way—that money would solve a lot of problems.  However, David Bromwich doesn’t seem to think that the cultural left even deserves two cheers. Bromwich, a friend of Rorty’s and an English professor at Yale, went after the cultural left, not on political grounds for forgetting about class and producing a skewed and losing political strategy, but on the cultural grounds itself. In Politics by Other Means: Higher Education and Group Thinking (1992), Bromwich argues that the forces at work in multiculturalism are undermining the liberal customs and traditions that support the practice of democracy. I have a lot of sympathy with this trajectory of thought as well, for debates in political theory at the time of the cultural wars were of the thought that the very concept of tradition was at irreducible odds with liberalism. Thus there was that motley crew of “communitarians”: Michael Sandel’s trenchant attack on Rawls in Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (1982), Michael Walzer’s alternative model in Spheres of Justice (1983), Alasdair MacIntyre’s sweeping story of descent into moral unintelligibility in After Virtue (1983), and Charles Taylor’s equally sweeping story in Sources of the Self (1989).
A lot of the debate with communitarians was extremely productive—at the level of theory. The only thing they all have in common is that they are anti-Kantian, and what Rorty and Bromwich have in common is an equally anti-Kantian attitude toward politico-moral philosophy.  The master argument of the communitarians was that liberal political philosophy grew in the bosom of Kantian moral philosophy. Kant argued that “the moral” was produced only by a will that willed actions built on the categorical imperative. These were actions that came from no particular interest—interests are contingent features of your empirical self. Moral action only emits from the transcendental self, which is a will not built out of any particular feature of yourself you may have picked up from your environment of individual growth. This is the form of argument Rawls translated into the “original position” argument: pretend you’re behind a veil of ignorance and know nothing about your own features—what kind of just society would you construct for everyone, including yourself?
Sandel suggested that the nature of the self this politico-moral philosophy imagines is peculiarly “unencumbered.” Thinking of yourself this way, as unencumbered by any relationships to the past, future, or the people around you, then dovetails really quite nicely with a libertarian economics that has produced some really bad socioeconomic disparities. The communitarians, riding high on a crest of anti-Kantian argument, said that the philosophy is unworkable, and without that justification, liberalism must fall apart. Additionally, it has produced a uniquely introverted culture with no tradition of coherence to fall back on because it imagines itself without tradition. As Emerson put it, we are endless seekers with no past at our back. So when Rorty and Bromwich turn to the communitarians, there response is roughly: “No, you’re right—Kant produced a terrible philosophy for liberalism. But political liberalism is a practice and tradition, and it doesn’t stand or fall by its philosophical articulation. What we will do—and the grounds upon which you should debate us—is articulate both a better philosophy that agrees with all your anti-Kantian positions and a sense of what liberalism’s practices and traditions are to help repair what we agree is an increasingly introverted public culture.”
3. What bound the communitarians together was the effort to work from a post-Hegelian tradition of philosophy. This, thus, brought them close to the wisdom post-Marxists wielded. Multiculturalism, however, had quite other sources than Hegel, or even Marx—what motivated and gave it shape was, not the experience of reading a certain tradition of books, but the life experience of individuals shaped by their categorization as an X.  By this I mean, not that a person is a woman, or black, or homosexual, but that the person is reduced to being only that category. If you were a typical white man in 1830 and you saw a man walking down a road in the South, then if that man was black, you knew all you needed to know about him as you approached. “Who do you belong to? Where are you going? Where’s your master?” Multiculturalism was the large-scale implementation of the tactic embedded in the slogan “black is beautiful.” The slogan gets its significance (and efficacy) by rubbing against the practices of treating “black” as if it weren’t—e.g., practices of hair straightening and skin lightening. Multiculturalism was the movement of saying, “it’s okay to be a member of the group you’re identified with.”
The trouble is that that wasn’t all multiculturalism turned out to be. What “multiculturalism” obscures, like every -ism, are the boots on the ground translating the -ism into practice. Bromwich retails a few of these actions, translating them—as every good intellectual must—into allegories for the theoretical and practical commitments at work. Bromwich is very effective in showing how what underlies both the cultural left and the cultural right (e.g., William Bennett and Bloom) is an authoritarian structure. The Hegelian conceptual priority of community to the individual, pace Popper, isn’t inherently authoritarian, but when translated from the arid sphere of political theory to the practical politics of the post-Civil Rights left, emphasis on the embeddedness of the individual in a community produced a line of thought Bromwich calls “group thinking.” An example of its linguistic habits might be seen in my earlier formulation of what happened beginning with the Civil Rights movement: “When minority groups began requesting (or demanding) semantic authority over themselves....” But the concept of a “group” here obscures an ambiguity, for it isn’t like all black people got together, signed a petition of request to be referred to as “African-American,” and then delivered it to white people (a parallel group-designation to go with the first). “Minority group” here is a hypostatization, a rhetorical device to cover the thoughts, feelings, and actions of a number of individuals. The problem is that, unlike the President of the United States who has the authority to speak for Americans in foreign affairs because he received the most votes in an election, there’s no equivalent method for determining who has the right to speak for these rhetorical groups. Thus, when individuals begin formulating their thoughts unreflectively with these kinds of locutions—using the rhetorical “we” as a proxy for oneself and an implicit usurpation of semantic authority—Bromwich says they stop real thinking. 
If a group of individuals all start speaking for the group, everything is fine as long as everyone says the same thing. But as soon as there’s dissension—“hey! that’s not what I think!”—then the group will talk amongst themselves about what the group thinks. The thinking, you’ll see, happens before the next speaking of “what the group thinks.” But “black people” isn’t a real group in the same practical sense because there’s no place they all meet on Fridays to decide what they think and what they’ll bind themselves to, take responsibility for. So what happens when there’s dissension in a rhetorical group? Implicit rejection—by dissenting, and individuating yourself with the “I,” you’re automatically on the outside from all the other voices still saying the same thing. Bromwich’s argument is that this kind of rhetorical “we”-ing produces a covert norm of conformity, because once the habit of chanting begins, you’ll notice when someone stops, and if those people with the habits take control of actual groups—i.e. institutional apparatuses with practical levers of control (e.g. firing a person)—then you’ll have incentive to beware calling yourself out. Every “I” will become an affirmational “Aye!” 
The cultural left wanted to be antiauthoritarian, but its implementation in an institution—which without authority is not—created the situation in which a black person can be told what they should call themselves because they are black. 
4. But who are you to tell me what words I should use? Who am I, indeed—that line of thought cuts very deep, much deeper than we often allow it to. That question is antiauthoritarian in impetus and demands not only an account of authority, but an account of the moral stance generally—the question undermines our ability to use the word should or ought. Bromwich senses the practices of conformity underlying the emphasis on individuals being embedded in demarcated groups, and this is why he smartly suggests Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” as a spiritual antidote: “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.” But who is Bromwich, or Emerson, to tell us who we should, ought, must be? In the polemical context, this kind of Idiot Questioning can get old fast, but if we’re going to take Descartes’ idiocy seriously, why shouldn’t we this? In other words, just as Descartes demanded an account of knowledge, so do we still need an account of authority. 
This is the problem Bromwich faces: The political project of a democratic community, which the United States was formed to embody, values the individual as an end in itself. Political liberalism says that the point of a community is to produce individuals who are differentiated from the community that produced them. Multiculturalism thus seems regressive for seeing individuals as identified with communities (hence, “identity politics”). The problem isn’t that you shouldn’t identify with a community—Bromwich agrees with Rorty that the left’s inability to identify with the American liberal political tradition is harming their ability to be an effective force in American national politics. The problem is that people aren’t given a choice in which communities they can identify with—if you’re born black, then you just are part of the black community. You might be born in America, and thus be part of the American community, but the entire reason Bromwich and Rorty are compelled to argue that the cultural left should act like it is because they have obviously chosen not to so act. There’s no practical mechanism there to make a person identify with the country and its traditions the person was born into. And if there were—like taking a loyalty oath by affixing a flag pin to your lapel—then it would be as dumb or disastrous as it sounds. 
For political liberalism, the idea is that individuals can opt into communities if they wish, like being a cheerleader or going to church. The good point to respond with is that there are some communities you don’t get a choice in, and the analogy here is with family: you don’t choose your family. And likewise, one doesn’t choose what country they’re born into, what genitals they have, what color their skin is, who they like having sex with, or for that matter what church they go to growing up. The point of liberalism, however, is that part of becoming an autonomous adult is growing up and choosing whether to remain in the communities one was “born into” because of who your parents were. Maturity is identified on this scheme with autonomous choice.
5. I find the identification of maturity and autonomy completely persuasive—after all, nobody on any side of American political debate believes in authoritarian political structures. But because socialization requires authoritarian structures, we differentiate between the rights and responsibilities afforded adults as opposed to children in any number of different contexts, thus endorsing a concept of maturation in the life of the democratic community. However, while I think that’s true, I also think that the history of treatment of individuals based on certain attributes (e.g. gender, race, sexual desire, genealogy) has left a mark on the processes of socialization still felt today. In an individual’s growth, this kind of mark is called “trauma” and I think that concept, as many have used it before, is well-suited for talking about the effects of misogyny, racism, homophobia, and hereditary elitism. When the individual is reduced to a group against their will, it traumatizes and arrests their growth into autonomous individuals.
The best way to see this is to recur to the imagined encounter in 1830s Alabama: one must see that one effect of the white man seeing the black man and knowing all he needs to know is that it produces a mirrored response in the black man—as soon as the black man, walking alone on a deserted thoroughfare in Alabama saw a white man, he knew all he needed to know. For if he didn’t realize that he needed to hide in order to avoid those threatening and physically dangerous questions, then he wouldn’t survive 1830s Alabama. If he’d acted like an autonomous Kantian will, behind the veil of ignorance and unencumbered by the consciousness of being black skinned, then he would’ve stumbled into the very real and very dangerous encumbrances of racism. So part of the practical wisdom that had to be passed from generation to generation for blacks was racial categorization—forgetting that the masters think of you in some respect as all alike could lead to death. Indeed, this racial wisdom becomes self-enforced as the community suffers the effects of one individual’s forgetting of it. 
This is why “black is beautiful.” It is an outgrowth of a community forced to be a community by the flimsiest of attributes—one. It doesn’t seem to matter which one; if there’s wisdom in the last 200 years of moral reflection on this, then it might be that the difference between “thin” and “thick” conceptions of moral community might be almost literally quantifiable, and that thin communities might not be durable enough to last and fragile communities might be dangerous to themselves. I’m not convinced of that line of thought, but it seems a profitable direction of inquiry.  “Black is beautiful” is the kind of slogan needed to give self-esteem to people who have been traumatized because of a flimsy but dangerous reduction of self. Racism and the other ugly reductions dug a hole for those it affected—and you can’t just levitate out of that hole or pretend you’re not in it; you have to fill it in.
Self-esteem has gotten a bad rap in the last 30 years because—and in fact during this same time period of the initial culture wars—Americans have been found to have too much of it. The favored statistic is the difference between how good we think we are and our test scores that are supposed to quantify and validate how good we are. It has become a consistent fact that we think we’re better than we are. The rugged individualists of America (and people who so self-identify are often on the right politically these days, for whatever reason, with venerable exception for the late George Carlin) were right to laugh and denigrate the “Everyone’s a winner!” movement. Their instinct is that a win isn’t really a win if you don’t earn it. But what they weren’t fully cognizant of is the depth of the problem they still face as parents (and citizens, for that matter) with respect to self-esteem. For self-esteem is in the same family as pride, courage, confidence, dignity, self-respect, self-trust, and self-reliance. These are needed for individual autonomy, and every person in a liberal democracy has a right to the instruments and conditions for autonomy; for every individual has a right to grow and mature into an adult. So this is a practical problem of balance. You have to trust yourself to stand on your own, but Emerson realized that true self-trust is difficult, and cannot be treated as easy: “And truly it demands something godlike in him who has cast off the common motives of humanity and has ventured to trust himself for a taskmaster” (“Self-Reliance”). But you can’t brutalize a growing self either—we’ve all seen the horrors of that in portrayals of competitive sports families. Shame is the mechanism at work in learning the difference between winning and losing, correct and incorrect, but you can’t shame a person into the Stone Age without destroying the fertile ground out of which autonomy can grow.
6. Rorty understood these difficulties, and so began his Achieving Our Country with a brilliant summary of the relevant balances:
National pride is to countries what self-respect is to individuals: a necessary condition for self-improvement. Too much national pride can produce bellicosity and imperialism, just as excessive self-respect can produce arrogance. But just as too little self-respect makes it difficult for a person to display moral courage, so insufficient national pride makes energetic and effective debate about national policy unlikely. Emotional involvement with one’s country—feelings of intense shame or of glowing pride aroused by various parts of its history, and by various present-day national policies—is necessary if political deliberation is to be imaginative and productive. Such deliberation will probably not occur unless pride outweighs shame.The relevant problem that Rorty confronts is: what do we do when shameful acts seem to outweigh meritorious ones? The title of Rorty’s book is from a famous line in James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (1963): “If we—and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others—do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world.” During Baldwin’s meditation on America, he goes to meet Elijah Muhammad, prophet of the Nation of Islam. Muhammad is essentially a separatist, who cannot hope that America might be able to change. Rorty says of the two:
I do not think there is any point in arguing that Elijah Muhammad made the right decision and Baldwin the wrong one, or vice versa. Neither forgave, but one turned away from the project of achieving the country and the other did not. Both decisions are intelligible. Either can be made plausible. But there are no neutral, objective criteria which dictate one rather than the other.I take this to mean that there is no answer to “Why hope?”—no knockdown argument to force people into the position of being unentitled to give up on a group loyalty. For as I intimated before, being a citizen of a nation is already a rhetorical grouping on all fours with the ones Bromwich is concerned about, of race, gender, or sexual identity. The problem Bromwich cogently faces is the interaction between these latter groupings and the former. For while they are all rhetorical groupings, the rhetorical grouping of national identity also has practical mechanisms for control. That makes an important difference.
The problem Rorty considers, however, is the role such separatism as Muhammad’s plays in the life of individuals negotiating a world in which all are not in control of how they are grouped. Rorty didn’t discuss this kind of problem very much in his work, but it shows up in his major essay on feminism, “Feminism and Pragmatism” (collected in Truth and Progress).  Taking a cue from Marilyn Frye’s book, The Politics of Reality, Rorty says that “individuals—even individuals of great courage and imagination—cannot achieve semantic authority, even semantic authority over themselves, on their own. To get such authority you have to hear your own statements as part of a shared practice. Otherwise you yourself will never know whether they are more than ravings, never know whether you are a heroine or a maniac” (TP 223, emphasis Rorty’s). This is where the interesting friction with Bromwich’s book occurs. The concept of “semantic authority” articulates “control over meaning.” We cannot just define words as we wish—words are public items that ping-pong between users, and thus can be imbued with significance a single individual has no control over. The problem for oppressed groups—individuals who are forced to belong to a rhetorical grouping because of the flimsiest of attributes: one—is that their language has been colonized. (And now you can see how these reflections can be extended even further.)
Language is the instrument of self-definition. The problem Bromwich skirts is that you cannot just declare yourself self-reliant. Self-reliance is earned, but in addition to being an attitude, it is also earned linguistically. Being reliant upon a self you have created from public linguistic materials poses the Idiot Question: are you really reliant upon a self you’ve created and not simply conforming, if unconsciously, to the movements of the herd? You can be confident of such authority when you can “hear your own statements as part of a shared practice.” But what if you’ve historically been disallowed from sharing in the practice? Can you be confident that the practice isn’t just foisting on you thoughts and feelings that are actually detrimental to your well-being, that the practice isn’t a confidence scheme, that you aren’t being conned?
7. This is the existentialist motif of antiauthoritarian instincts, and teenagers often get to this point in their development. We adults say, “trust me: this is yet for your own good—you aren’t being conned.” And, in fact, adolescent rebelliousness is a requisite stage for autonomy. It might not always take the form we’re used to associating with rebellion—nose rings, tattoos, dyed hair—but if you don’t eventually rebel from an authority figure, then you won’t set off on the course of reflection required for making decisions on your own.  So demanding semantic authority looks like adolescent behavior to an adult facing an adult—“take it,” is the response, “I thought you already had it.” But the problem of semantic authority is more difficult than that. This is why the concept of trauma is useful. The problem isn’t “Why don’t you grow up?”; it’s “Who are you to tell me when my trauma is over?” No one can just wish it away, and everyone lives with the consequences. Who are we to tell people to grow up, when—as William James said in another connection—it feels like a fight? In the context of a family, growth and parental figures are part of a neutral, necessary structure of authority. But in the rest of life, treating someone like a child is infantilization and “Ah, grow up!” is fightin’ words. That’s the dilemma right there. Adults without confidence are a moral problem. Telling someone to grow up is cruel. Treating them like a child is equally cruel. Cruelty, as Rorty defined the liberal ethos echoing Judith Shklar, is the worst thing we can do. But we live in a world in which historical conditions have made it difficult to produce autonomy. Worse, even without the weight of history, we don’t know any sure-fire methods of education for producing it. Our only consolation is that the value of autonomy is a relatively recent invention—hopefully we can figure this out.
 For example, I still maintain to friends that money would pretty much solve our problems with K-12 education, something I became convinced of after reading Jonathan Kozol’s book, Savage Inequalities. My conviction remains unshaken, even after hearing some very good points from friends on the inside of the situation and debate. Whatever the utility of Horace Mann’s vision of education for the commercialist agenda of turning us into good little drones that mindlessly consume, books like Dumbing Us Down just don’t provide a viable long-term solution.
 Some of them were more anti-Kantian than others. Bromwich, for example, feels comfortable with enlisting Kant into the articulation of his point of view, whereas Rorty’s distrust of Kant was so deep that he would never do so, even when he could recognize his compatibility on a particular score.
 We shouldn’t, for that reason, underestimate the importance of especially Marx to the theoretical self-understanding of this movement, particularly given the importance of the Communist Party in Chicago and Harlem between the World Wars. (And that’s not to mention the importance of Marx to our current overtheorized left.) One should also mention the importance of Hegel to Franz Fanon in Black Skin, White Masks.
 Anyone familiar with Rorty, and particularly Rorty criticism, will wonder how this fits together with Rorty’s practice of using the rhetorical “we”: “we pragmatists,” “we historicists,” “we liberal ironists.” The rhetorical “we” is a flexible device, I think; my instinct is to say that Rorty’s “we” does not occlude thought the way Bromwich suggests can happen with the “we,” and of which people have implicitly suggested about Rorty’s “we.” But as this is the most interesting and original line of argument in Bromwich’s book (that I’ve perhaps taken some liberty in reconstructing), I haven’t been able to think through all of its ramifications. For I also still believe, with Rorty, that you need to say “we” to construct a tradition and a community. (For a discussion of this facet of Rorty and the issues it involves, see my “Two Uses of ‘We.’”) So some serious thinking still needs to be put into how to say “we” without forming group thinking. How do we avoid that? What practices and habits do we need to have in place to make sure sheep don’t just start bleating back to us what we want to hear? It’s not enough to say “practices of self-reliance” because what are those? As long as power and authority are in play in the world, and on theoretical grounds I don’t think it’s possible to get rid of them, then the issue of telling between sheep, shepherds, wolves, and autonomous individuals will seem always to be in the air. Could this be the democratic equivalent of epistemological skepticism? Not the Problem of Other Minds, but the Problem of Autonomous Minds?
 I discuss some abstract problems with the “we” prompted by Rorty’s work in “Two Uses,” cited in note 4, but see especially Section 3, when I turn to the question I turn to below in the next section. Also, one might compare my discussion of Brandom’s Enlightenment notion of a “norm of commonality” that he invokes to distinguish Truth from the Good, which is at the base of his distinction between commitments to believe and commitments to act—see “On the Asymmetry,” esp. section 9. Perhaps I should add in this note that, despite my rhetoric in this paragraph about “real groups” and “actual groups,” when it comes to the metaphysics of this, rhetorical groups are as real and actual as these other kinds of groups. But we must make a distinction somewhere, rooted in differences in practice (in this case, practical control), even if it shouldn’t be at the level of ontology. And for my current purposes, we needn’t think it through any further. However, if one wanted a taste of the direction I would go, see an old discussion of Rorty and metaphysics in “Philosophy, Metaphysics, and Common Sense.” That paper moves through a discussion of Socrates, Plato, Robert Pirsig and Rorty on how to define philosophy, and what is distinctive about it regarding my shift in thinking and approach, is that it tries to translate problems in metaphilosophy into practical problems of behaving in the world. The discussion of Rorty is toward the end, starting with a paragraph that begins “Rorty treats professional philosophers the same way.”
 The saddest story to my ears was, of course, about the professor: in this case, the black political scientist whose class on black politics was boycotted by the black chairman of the Black Studies department because the latter thought the former “might not sufficiently represent the Afro-American point of view.” See Politics by Other Means, 23-26. What’s sad about it, I think, is not that the chairman had a view about the class—the proliferation of opinions and views and their friction with each other is the essence of Milton’s hope that truth will win in a free and open encounter—but that he led the particular boycott he did, meaning he lobbied the undergraduates in his own class to drop out of the other or get involved in protesting and pressuring other undergrads. (And in the environment we should have the highest expectations for creating a free and open encounter—if not the university, where?)
That’s the same kind of subtle coercion at work as we see at issue in cases like Town of Greece v. Galloway, the recent Supreme Court case where an atheist and a Jewish citizen of Greece, NY sued the town for opening every town meeting with a Christian prayer. During oral arguments, Douglas Laycock—arguing for Galloway and Stephens—suggested there was coercion involved when all are asked to bow their heads or rise to their feet for prayer. Justice Scalia scoffed, saying someone who didn’t want to participate could just stay seated. Laycock responded: “What’s coercive about it is it is impossible not to participate without attracting attention to yourself, and moments later you stand up to ask for a group home for your Down syndrome child or for continued use of the public access channel or whatever your petition is, having just, so far as you can tell, irritated the people that you were trying to persuade.” (See page 37 of the transcript of the oral arguments, found here. An audio version with background of the case can be found here. My knowledge of the case is indebted to a student of mine that did excellent research on it.)
Students in the university need to be able to trust that an instructor’s politics, or other extraneous opinions other than the subject of the course, will not interfere with the student’s ability to take the course and do well. It’s one thing, I think, to let your views about such things filter in through the course in various ways; it’s quite another to begin persuading your students to act on your views. It’s the second that transforms the university space from one of inquiry into one of political persuasion—and political persuasion is coercive if you can be punished for not being persuaded. (I should be honest, though: I have from time to time made a plea for students to pay attention to politics, and to make sure to vote. It’s more or less extraneous to any courses I teach, but I figure I have some sort of civic responsibility to do so.)
 Since my concerns are philosophical and not polemical, I’ll add here that Bromwich understands this problem, though he wasn’t largely concerned with it in the space of his book. Bromwich was concerned with the effect of multiculturalism on our practices of higher learning, and particularly the practices of literary study, and not about offering an abstract account of authority. He does, however, have all the resources for one in his chapter “Reflection, Morality, and Tradition” and mounts a short version of it in Ch. 5 with respect to aesthetic judgment, and otherwise does nothing to undercut the possibility of pulling a more elaborate one together. (I don’t here pull one together, but I think Robert Brandom has made available the conceptual resources to do so. In sections 2 and 3 of “On the Asymmetry” (cited in note 5) I give an outline of the main notions at work.) The line of thought I’m interested in is, taking for granted that an Emersonian account of authority is possible, how does that affect our assessment of the situation Bromwich faced? For Bromwich, it is clear from the tenor of his book, was deeply embedded in his polemical situation—i.e. he was very angry and concerned about literary study in America. But as we all know, emotion can fade—and it is helpful for it to fade for us to make reflective historical judgments about whether we should still be angry, or whether we should’ve been angry.
A case in point is Bromwich’s treatment of Barbara Herrnstein Smith in Ch. 5. I’ve grown to think of Smith as a pragmatist ally on the plane of epistemology, and Bromwich’s treatment of her Contingencies of Value is, perhaps not unfair, but at least unkind. It is in that chapter that Bromwich formulates the thrust of Smith’s book’s argument’s response to an expert community’s judgment: “who are we, after all ... who are we to dismiss the person who judges the game or the work quite differently?” I’m trying to give, in this brief space, a sketch of who the “we” is that produced multiculturalism and whose claims have a certain equal standing to the expert community. I think Bromwich is right about Smith, that if she turns her epistemological pragmatism into Idiot Questioning with a political point, then she’s undermining the very idea of expert communities—which is disastrous. However, I also think that a better understanding of just what the issue is that divides the Emersonian Bromwich from the Marxish multiculturalists can give us a better idea about what the real problem is.
 Bromwich discusses the equivalent of a loyalty oath in English departments on 26-29. I should say here that there’s another, slightly different point that Bromwich agrees with Rorty on here, and that’s the view that the cultural left seemed to think that by doing their academic work they were doing political work. So, if one spends one’s days deconstructing a text (in class or at the computer), exposing phallogocentrism by showing how Woman is in a marginal position, or if you spend it uncovering the capitalist ideology that is really the motivation of a character in a story—then you needn’t attend a rally protesting the very idea of “forced rape” (is there another kind?) or signing a petition for raising the minimum wage. In the words of David Hollinger’s slogan that Rorty liked, “you gave at the office.” See Bromwich’s discussion at 223-25.
 One of the best reminders of this historical experience with its attendant racial wisdom is Richard Wright’s “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow,” which appears as an introduction to his collection of short stories, Uncle Tom’s Children. One way to understand the differences between Wright and the two other major post-Harlem Renaissance writers, James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison, is by the differences in their geographical experience. Wright grew up in the deep South; Ellison in the marginally southern Oklahoma City; Baldwin in Harlem. Wright’s pessimism about being black in America—epitomized in his unforgettable description in Black Boy of it as the “essential bleakness” and “cultural barrenness of black life”—was taken issue with by Baldwin and especially Ellison. Both Baldwin and Ellison sound the polemical notes—Baldwin in his scorching “Everybody’s Protest Novel” and Ellison in “Richard Wright’s Blues”—of autonomous maturity as against what they take to be Wright’s short shrift of black prospects. But it’s possible to see this difference in perspective as one of different experiences—Ellison in particular never experienced the harshness of the Southern experience of being black. Growing up black anywhere in America produced trauma, but it’s important to distinguish between the different kinds of experiences in the different regions that inform those experiences. (I should also add that Ellison’s different experience didn’t stop him from producing an equally unforgettable literary epitomization of Southern black experience in the opening chapters of Invisible Man.) The fight that occurred between Ellison and Irving Howe in print about this issue in the early sixties is probably one of the most enduring polemical exchanges between great minds I know of. Polemic usually causes writings to date themselves, but as Howe suggests in his wonderful reflections on the exchange, their attitudinal differences and the problems raised by both pieces have remained, and prove immensely useful to think through ourselves. Ellison’s piece, “The World and the Jug,” was collected in Ellison’s Shadow and Act, and was a response to Howe’s defense of Wright against Baldwin and Ellison, “Black Boys and Native Sons.” The latter should be read as it has been collected in Howe’s Selected Writings, 1950-1990, with its two retrospective addendums from 1969 and 1990.
 I’m not going to try to unpack the significance of the thin/thick distinction. It has played an increasingly prominent role among a series of thinkers and I think we’ve only begun to understand the distinction’s utility in conceiving the relationship between conceptual thought and politico-moral community. Thin/thick attempts to play the role once played by abstract/concrete, but in an attempt to avoid some of the dialectical seesaws of nominalism and platonism. The idea was seeded by Clifford Geertz in his famous essay, “Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture” (1973; included in The Interpretation of Cultures). It has lived a life in many, but the most important for my purposes are Rorty’s use of the distinction in CIS to articulate the concept of “final vocabularies” (see 73) and Walzer’s usage in his little book Thick and Thin: Moral Argument at Home and Abroad (1994).
 I think this is one of his most visionary essays that we’ve yet to mine completely of insight. Much of Rorty’s later work, as he readily admits, was repackaging of earlier ideas for different audiences. Only occasionally does Rorty find himself in a position to formulate a new insight in this kind of work, since a good portion of it was also carrying further conversations with old interlocutors (e.g. Putnam, Habermas, etc.) or unimaginative ones (e.g. the many responds-to-his-critics books that Rorty took time to do). (I don’t mean to devalue either kind of work, particularly the latter; garden work is important to do for both sides—you can’t always be breaking new ground.) But the essay on feminism puts him into many interesting, new dialectical positions that produce some interesting reflections on pragmatism. One will find the general form of the argument I’ve made above about an individual’s self-esteem on TP 219.
 Against the background of his infamy as the supposed leader of a rebellion against analytic philosophy, Rorty once recalled that “my parents were always telling me that it was about time I had a stage of adolescent revolt. ... They were worried I wasn’t rebellious enough” (TCF 4).