“If happiness is not the aim of politics, then what is?”: Rorty versus Foucault

  • Wojciech Małecki University of Wrocław


In this paper, I present a new account of Richard Rorty’s interpretation of Michel Foucault, which demonstrates that in the course of his career, Rorty presented several diverse (often mutually exclusive) criticisms of Foucault’s political thought. These give different interpretations of what he took to be the flaws of that thought, but also provide different explanations as to the sources of these flaws. I argue that Rorty’s specific criticisms can be divided into two overall groups. Sometimes he saw Foucault’s rejection of bourgeois democracies and bourgeois utopias as a specific case of his general critique regarding the structures of social life as inherently oppressive. At other times he seemed to attribute to Foucault a view that—while not all forms of social life are inherently oppressive—bourgeois democracies certainly are, in a very specific and radical way. In conclusion I show that Rorty’s interpretation of Foucault should be understood in the context of his approach toward the ‘American Cultural Left.’

Author Biography

Wojciech Małecki, University of Wrocław
Special Issue on Foucault and Pragmatism