How Profane Politics Challenges American Democracy
by Finbarr Curtis
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Pub Date 05 Jul 2022 | Archive Date 12 Oct 2022
Liberalism puts its trust in civil discourse and rational argument. Today, its opponents enthusiastically flout these norms, making a show of defying so-called political correctness. In the Trump era and beyond, right-wing figures delight in sheer offensiveness. What is at stake in breaking the rules of civility to “own the libs”?
Going Low examines how the offensive style of contemporary politics challenges liberal democratic institutions. Considering the rise of illiberal politics and debates about the limits of free speech, Finbarr Curtis draws on the insights of religious studies to rethink provocation and transgression. He argues that the spectacle of brazenly violating taboos is a show of dominance over a supposedly censorious liberalism. Profaning liberal pieties is the ultimate form of “winning.” Curtis contends that deliberate offensiveness dovetails with the privatization of public goods: both represent the refusal to accommodate the sensibilities of others in a diverse society.
Going Low offers a series of essays that recast recent controversies, including Trump’s reality-TV presidency, white evangelical complaints of liberal bigotry, bakers who refuse to bake cakes for LGBTQ weddings, and hostility toward the activism of athletes and college students. Together, these essays shed new light on contemporary political discourse and reveal why illiberalism has turned to profane politics for a profane age.
Finbarr Curtis is an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Georgia Southern University. He is the author of The Production of American Religious Freedom (2016).
"Going Low is a wide-ranging exploration of today's political culture deploying conceptual tools from religious studies scholarship. There's something distinctive about how political discourse works in the Trump era—from right, left, and center—and this book limns this new landscape."
--Vincent W. Lloyd, author of In Defense of Charisma
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