Ann Coulter and the problem of pluralism: From values to politics

Samuel A. Chambers, Alan Finlayson

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This piece operates at two levels: it engages with the debate in political theory over pluralism, but it does so through an analysis of the phenomenon we call 'Coulterism'. Briefly, we regard Ann Coulter as indicative of a more general trend in the political styles and activities that dominate contemporary US politics. Moreover, we also suggest that this trend tends to be too easily dismissed by liberals--liberals who, we suggest, tend to systematically misunderstand it. Furthermore, we contend, no doubt controversially, 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. Precisely because it cannot comprehend what has been achieved by its opponents, liberalism is unable properly to respond to them. Thus, we undertake a critical consideration of the way in which contemporary liberal political theory regards values as the only meaningful level of pluralism, construes this putative fact as giving rise to a host of problems, and then, in response, imposes its presupposed solutions. In response, we call for a radical, multi-dimensional pluralism; we choose the pluralisation of democracy over the liberal project to protect democracy through normative principles. Such multidimensional pluralism requires that the political theorist act less as a city planner who makes rules and designs models, and more as an explorer who discovers new formations. Thus, we eschew a liberal response to 'Coulterism', suggesting that successful challenges to phenomena such as these can only emerge on the terrain of politics. [O]ur future would be one of an ever deeper confrontation with pluralism and ... political theory in such a world would produce paradoxes out of platitudes far more than the reverse (White 2002: 474).
Original languageEnglish
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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