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An Academic Exegesis On ‘Coulter-isms’

From Borderlands E-Journal:

Ann Coulter and the Problem of Pluralism: From Values to Politics

Samuel A. Chambers & Alan Finlayson
Johns Hopkins University & Swansea University

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).


1. Contemporary liberal political theory has reached its own internal limit – and that limit is politics. When confronted by today’s proliferating political claims, the ‘normative’ approach of liberal political philosophy finds itself on the horns of a dilemma: either it stretches its universality in order to cover more cases, or it hardens its edges in an attempt to maintain critical purchase. But the former choice makes liberal theory so thin that it no longer clothes even the most modest of claims. And in taking the latter approach, liberal theory is forced to declare it ‘reasonable’ to place so-called indecent peoples beyond the purview of universal human rights. To maintain its commitment to universalism, liberalism must become meaningless; to remain meaningful, it must become illiberal. Divided within itself, the limits of liberalism belong entirely to it alone…

So now Ann Coulter is officially a political phenomenon.

Moreover, she is part of an “ilk.” Though we like to think of her as an ilk of one.

Some highlights:

Political Theory and the Ann Coulter Question

11. Ann Coulter is a living rebuke to almost all of contemporary liberal philosophy. One of the most successful of contemporary Conservative media polemicists, Coulter breaks every rule of ‘fair and balanced’ discourse that liberal political theory has sweated to justify and that Fox News openly mocks with its own tag line. Utilising the media outlets of a powerful private and international corporation to portray liberalism as an intolerant creed functioning only to enhance the self-interest of its believers, Coulter is proof that every principle of fairness and equality, for which liberalism has so laboured to dig secure foundations, is almost entirely irrelevant.

12. The Coulter style is instantly recognisable; her visual image and appearance are carefully crafted. She dresses and is photographed in ways that emphasise her big-eyed, blonde femininity, yet overlays this background with sometimes shocking invective and the manner of the school headmistress-cum-dominatrix. She signals sexuality but not availability; she dominates without threatening (at least not straight men). And this is much more than ‘mere’ image. Coulter’s political performances make heavy use of tropes of appropriate and inappropriate gender and sexuality. For example, in 2004 she described the Democratic National Convention as ‘the Spawn of Satan convention in Boston’ and the women attending as ‘corn-fed, no make-up, natural fiber, no-bra needing, sandal-wearing, hirsute, somewhat fragrant hippie chick pie wagons’ (Lacayo & Stein 2004)…

13. Coulter not only advocates ‘intelligent design’ (an outright rejection of the theory of evolution) but goes further to define Darwinism as liberalism’s ‘creation myth’. She consistently excoriates liberals as ‘treasonous’, describing them as people who constantly attack and undermine their own country. And, to the extent that Coulter is known internationally, it is for seeming to share Wahhabi lust for a global religious war. After 9/11 she wrote: ‘We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity’. This is not an isolated remark. Coulter continues to refer gleefully to Arabs as ‘ragheads’, ‘jihad-monkeys’, ‘tent-merchants’ and ‘camel jockeys’ (Coulter 2006b).

14. On the basis of these radical ramblings 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… 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… It is a safe bet that Ann Coulter is much better known amongst Americans than John Rawls or Joshua Cohen will ever be. Furthermore, while Coulter may be on the edge of the American political spectrum this is simply indicative of how far the centre has been pulled to the right. And it has been pulled there by people such as Coulter, who herself must be understood as part of a much more general and highly successful political style that has achieved national prominence thanks to channels such as Fox News, talk radio and, latterly, internet conservative town-halls and blog fora.

15. Understood in this context, we would contend that ‘Coulterism’ is one of the most important political developments of our time. If political theorists were like theorists and historians of Art then we would certainly identify ‘Coulterism’ as a significant and powerful trend in the style and practice of political art: one which has reverberated throughout the entirety of its institutions and forced reactions and adaptations from almost all other artists. Unfortunately, at least from our perspective, political scholars are not like art historians and theorists. Very often we take our cue not from what is happening but instead beaver away at small and focused problems generated from within our own field of action. But phenomena such as Coulterism are central not marginal to politics…

And it goes on and on in similarly obtuse scholarly prose — all the way to belabored point 54.

Still, it is an (albeit unintentionally) hilarious read, if you’ve got some time to kill. 

Academia at its laughable best.

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, July 28th, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

One Response to “An Academic Exegesis On ‘Coulter-isms’”

  1. Marc says:

    ‘Liberal Objectivity’ vrs Coulterism.

    Liberals are not objective at all, they just claim to be.
    Liberals in the past allowed for dissenting voices(but not necessarily respecting them) because in the past, Liberals had a monopoly on the National Press & Media.

    Does ‘Objectivity even exist?
    I would say no, everyone has an agenda, just like anyone who thinks has an opinion.
    There are just The Facts and honesty about one’s agenda!

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