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This paper on "Ann Coulter and the Problems of Pluralism" by Samuel Chambers and Alan Finlayson (h/t: Patrick Appel, subbing for Andrew Sullivan) defines Coulterism as "a distinct form of political-performance-action that exceeds the imagined rules of 'proper' public speech" and suggests that, despite being "one of the most important political developments of our time," it nonetheless "tends to be too easily dismissed by liberals:"

Furthermore, we contend...that Coulter and her ilk in fact succeed in a political critique of mainstream political liberalism in America and that the failure of liberalism to recognise this fact lies at the heart of many of its problems - be they conceptual, electoral, ideological or governmental.

How is Coulterism's critique to be considered a success? Indeed, in what respects does it actually function as a critique? Chambers and Finlayson answer obliquely later in the piece:

Every time a Coulterist remark causes outrage or anger, every time it succeeds in causing offence and every time it garners the accusation of having 'gone too far' [...] this reaction provides evidence not of the failure but of the success of the Coulterist polemic. For it shows that the polemic has effectively put into question what had previously seemed settled and habitual.

This is less a substantive critique of liberalism than a deliberate effort to continue moving the Overton window further to the right. This is borne out by the authors' later observation that "The genius, if we may call it that, of Coulterism is that in playing the political game in this way it extends and rewrites the rules to trap those who most believe in them." Chambers and Finlayson also write that:

"it is not only extremely easy but also terribly tempting to dismiss Coulter as a minor media-made irritant, a flaky extremist or just another pundit. And Coulter has, of course, been accused of deliberate distortion, selective misquoting and outright falsification (Franken 2003). But all five of her books, from her 1989 indictment of Bill Clinton through to Godless, have topped the New York Times' best-seller list."

This is a non-sequitur. The sales figures for Coulter's books have nothing to do with her numerous distortions, misquotations, and falsifications (which are quite solidly proven, and not just by comedians). Pretending that they do is a way of side-stepping the issue, or--even worse--pretending that that the facts don't matter if a book sells well enough. Chambers and Finlayson prefer to focus on Coulter's style rather than her (lack of) substance:

While liberal theory is preoccupied with rational deliberation and the ultimate neutrality of justice, Coulterism speaks in angry, aggressive, mocking and emotive terms - all the while rejecting any pretence of neutrality. Coulterism remains gleefully, fiercely partisan while denouncing liberals as the partisan ones. And this is not simply - or certainly not only - an irrational challenge to liberalism.

It is this inversion of reality that we liberals find so difficult to comprehend--the politically powerful posing as the powerless, the economic elites pretending to be populists, the media mavens complaining of censorship. As a liberal, I have no qualms about "giving up on a normative pre-judgement of Coulterism as clearly 'out of bounds' or simply 'wrong' in a moral sense," although it would greatly trouble me to give up basic rules of non-contradictory argumentation and truthfulness. Issues of decorum can be easily dealt with, but offenses against rationality itself are more problematic.

I don't despise Coulter because she's abrasive or offensive--that's her shtick, after all--but because she's full of shit. As the authors write, "Coulter wants a dirty fight; perhaps we should respect her wishes." I believe that I've already done so; see here and here for the most recent examples.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on August 2, 2008 1:48 PM.

Mickey Hart: Spirit into Sound was the previous entry in this blog.

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