María Pía Lara at the LARB:
Why then was Rorty ever considered a relativist? Here is one answer: Throughout his career, Rorty was against prescriptions, against thinking that he could provide us with universal foundations or discoveries. Instead, he sought to recover the successes of labor unions and other leftist organizations. This included younger leftists, who engaged in social disobedience, after seeing anticommunism being used as an excuse to destroy innocent people in southeast Asia. Rorty maintained that the killing of civilians and soldiers in Vietnam was morally indefensible and that the war had ended up degrading the morals of the United States. Moreover, he claimed, that the political effectiveness of the antiwar movements would give hope to future generations.
Rorty often cited the contributions of pragmatists like John Dewey or William James, whose essays he compared to Walt Whitman’s poetry, because they were aware that it is in the making of something — a movement, a concept, a turn of a phrase to describe our world — rather than in finding “truths,” that we articulate social and political changes for the better. He observed that both writers believed that “democracy” and “the project of America” was “a political construction” and could be taken as “convertible,” that is, “equivalent” terms.