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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Democratic Stupidity


Ascriptions of stupidity have become common in US political discourse. I argue that the ascriptive practice reflects a democratic predicament of having to obtain solidarity with strangers through the use of speech. Stranger relationality generates both norms of rational argument and frequent breakdowns in intentionality. Thus, democracies have a structural tendency to produce antagonistic forms of populism and rationalism. Once polarized, enforced solidarity and critical reason become communicative habits that can each lead to bad judgments. This paper reviews representative ascriptions of stupidity as well as the discourse of anti-intellectualism, sets out my theoretical argument and analyzes a characteristic exchange on the Internet to suggest how habitual responses can be negotiated more effectively.

Insights Paper