According to Tom, THE difference between Rorty and Plato (and the American Founders) is that Richard didn’t think we could escape from "cave" (convention, our opinions) to the light of the "sun" (or the truth about nature). For Rorty, we’re stuck in the cave and it’s pointless cruelty to try to get out.
But is that quite right? According to Socrates in the REPUBLIC, the philosopher-king completely escapes from the cave into the sun. But the philosopher-king is an idealization or purification human or flawed, mortal experience created by Socrates to convince a potential tyrant of the utter superiority of the philosophical to the tyrannical life. The so-called philosopher-king is actually presented as a wise man who knows what gives being its beingness and so has wholly transcended the limits of images and imagination or language. Socrates actually locates himself in the cave (he says the prisoners are "like us"). For Socrates the point of life might be the attempt, never wholly successful, to escape from the realm opinion into the realm of knowledge and nothing but. The wise philosopher-king is an impossible ideal, an exaggeration of what we can know and do--just as the cave is an exaggeration of the closure of real human cities or countries to the truth.
For Rorty, the inability of contingent mortals to complete any project of turning opinion into knowledge, as well as the acknowledged inability of the philosophers really to persuade most people that they, because of their wisdom, have what it takes to rule justly, means that the democracy described in the REPUBLIC--as the least cruel or most diverse regime--is the best regime. So Rorty. the philosopher, thought he was compelled to engage in a sort of an ironic betrayal of the ideals of the philosophy and truth for the sake of justice; people will be happier if they believe there’s no point in trying to become wise and if they’re free to call true what opinions they find comfortable.
The problem remains, of course, that such a democracy can’t protect itself from tyrants and psychopaths (like our dead friend Tony Soprano). And there’s also the problem of human nobility and excellence, but they’re a problem when philosophers become kings too. Finally, there’s the problem that extreme democracy is a denial of what really know about ourselves. As Socrates explains, in a democracy old people will be compelled to use all means available to look and act young (so they don’t depress people with thoughts of death). And even more amazingly: Teachers will fawn over and be evaluated by students.