Okay, here's another reply from Damon Linker on Rorty and Rawls below the fold. I think I'll let it drop after this since Linker and I don't really disagree on the core point; we're reduced to an exegetical argument about Rorty and since I don't have any copies of Rorty's books in DC that seems like a bad kind of argument to have. I thought, however, that I might also link to Ross's post on the subject.
I appreciate your response. I actually think we're not that far apart. I would merely add that anti-foundationalism was crucial to Rorty's liberalism. It wasn't simply an unconnected interest that he pursued when he wasn't being political or doing political theory, which is how you make it sound when you compare his secular humanism to orthodox Christianity or Islam. The parallel would be valid if these orthodox religious believers insisted that decent politics in the United States depended upon their fellow citizens becoming orthodox religious believers. That's was Rorty's position vis-a-vis anti-foundationalist secular humanism, which he hoped would one day transform the political culture of the nation.
Actually, I think your reference to "background culture" and Rorty's lack of indifference to it (not just as a personal issue, but as a part of his political theory) makes my point. What is the background culture of a pluralistic society of 300 or so million people of differing classes, beliefs, educations, etc.? Liberal politics is designed to allow those differing people to live together in relative peace and prosperity, despite their deep differences about God, good and bad, beautiful and ugly. In other words, it treats diversity and pluralism in the background culture as a given and tries to work with it. Rorty, on the other hand, thinks that this diversity and pluralism needs to be flattened out as a precondition of the achievement of genuine liberal democracy. And that, paradoxically, is illiberal.
The same thing is true, I think, about the recent spake of anti-religious polemics by such authors as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. They don't simply want religion to stay out of politics. They loathe religion per se and would clearly prefer religious believers to simply go away -- a development they would consider to be an enormous benefit for American politics (and politics everywhere).
Political liberalism, by contrast, has, historically speaking, accepted that lots of people are (and are likely to remain) religious -- and it has tried to come up with a way for different kinds of believers (and more recently non-believers) to live together politically, and in freedom. Once again, liberalism treats pluralism about the largest human questions as the default condition of modern life and tries to devise a way for people to live decently with that pluralism. Rortyean liberalism, by contrast, sees much of that pluralism as an obstacle to establishing decent politics. After all, how can the United States develop decent politics (as he describes it, for example, in Achieving Our Country) with all of those ridiculous foundationalists running around, casting ballots?
Anyway, enough for now.