Solidarity and Dissent: Rorty and the “Consequences of Pragmatism”



“Words fail me,” says the narrator of J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians, remembering his doomed confrontation with the ruthless Colonel Joll. As a mob of villagers looks on, Joll — a military officer dispatched from the capital to secure the borders of the Empire — prepares to make a spectacle of captured barbarians by crippling them with a hammer. Coetzee’s narrator, the aging magistrate of an obscure frontier outpost, is moved to object. “‘Look,’ I shout. ‘We are the great miracle of creation! But from some blows this miraculous body cannot repair itself! How —!’ Words fail me. ‘Look at these men!’ I recommence. ‘Men!’ What I wanted to say next I cannot remember.”3 In the face of hitherto unimagined cruelty, as in the face of tragedy, words sometimes seem inadequate. Only tears, prayers, or inarticulate groans seem capable of conveying unspeakable horror. Moreover, it often is easier to acquiesce than to speak up. “Would I have dared to face the crowd to demand justice for these ridiculous barbarian prisoners …?” Coetzee’s disgraced magistrate wonders later. “Justice: once that word is uttered, where will it all end? Easier to shout No!”4


Moral Obligation Social Criticism Correspondence Theory Intellectual Tradition Totalitarian Society 
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