New Phrases for the Ann Coulter Talking Doll?


In the spirit of Dan Solove’s recent posting on the airport security playset, I would like to recommend the Ann Coulter talking doll.

Check out the link and you can hear sample phrases. My favorite is the one about liberals hating American more than terrorists. God bless politics.

Perhaps a phrase that could be added to the next edition of the doll is this one, which Dave Hoffman includes in his discussion of Coulter’s attack on Harriet Miers: “[A]ll the intellectual firepower in the law is coming from conservatives right now.”

All of this leads me to some serious questions (which modify Ms. Coulter’s statement): are conservative legal academics the ones producing the most influential or the most interesting scholarship these days? There was a time (in the nineteenth century) when the legal treatises were almost all written by conservatives (James Kent’s Commentaries; Joseph Story’s Commentaries; Timothy Walker’s Introduction to American Law). I can only think of one important antebellum legal treatise writer who was a Democrat: Henry Sedgwick. And his treatise on constitutional law was a success because he did not let his Democratic politics interfere with reporting on the law as it was.

That’s not to say that the outsiders didn’t have important things to say about law–and a critical influence on public respect for law. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and her now-obscure Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp, Henry David Thoreau’s Slavery in Massachusetts, and Resistance to Civil Government, and Melville’s Billy Budd to name only several of the most obvious examples, all had important things to say about law. In some pretty cool ways, Stowe engaged in debate with lawyers and judges.

It seems as though the literature that critiques the present system is often on the left of the political spectrum. That supporting it is on the right. This is not surprising. As Emerson said in his much-overlooked lecture on “The Conservative,” the reformers are able to indict the present system easily. The defenders of the present system have in some ways a hard time. Though defenders of the present system also have the benefit of a known and well-tried system. In a lot of ways it’s easier for them to defend what is known and what is (mostly) working.

It’s hard to have compelling fictional literature that says, “hey, the present system’s awesome!” That’s one reason why proslavery fiction of the 1850s was so uniformly lousy. But isn’t it also hard to have legal literature that critiques the present system and replaces it with another, better system? I wonder if part of the problem with left-leaning scholarship is that while it’s possible to critique, it’s extremely hard to articulate a complete vision of what a reconstructed legal system ought to look like.

And perhaps those supporting the system (or offering minor modifications of it) are better able to produce scholarship that influences or engages the system, rather than those who offer wholesale critiques.

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8 Responses

  1. Law Student '06 says:

    Despite the fact that she went to a good law school, I think it’s pretty safe to say that Ann Coulter is an academic of any type.

  2. Paul Gowder says:

    are conservative legal academics the ones producing the most influential or the most interesting scholarship these days?


    It seems to me that conservative legal academics are mostly mired in L&E (where the interesting work is generally blatantly wrong [e.g. fairness vs. welfare, everything Posner or Viscusi has ever written] and the correct work is boring and hypertechnical [e.g. everything in the journal of law and economics]), or originalist interpretations of every single misplaced comma and mustard stain in the constitution (interesting and influential, but a bit of a one-note song).

    On the other hand, the much more interesting behavioral law and economics stuff comes from the left mostly (Hanson, Sunstein, Jolls, etc.), most of the cyberlaw people seem to be at least liberalish. And then there’s Balkin, Ackerman, Cole, Levinson, etc. etc.

  3. thelawguy says:

    In the legal academy, the liberals are the establishment. Tribe, Sunstein, Kamisar, Lessig, etc. The conservative legal academics are the outsiders looking to create change. They key is that most legal scholarship today tends to be inward; it looks to change other legal scholarship, not the world.

  4. Bruce says:

    To the extent it makes sense to talk about liberals and conservatives in the 19th century at all (other than to refer to people who favor or oppose monarchies, for example), weren’t Democrats the more “conservative” party? It’s only post-1932 that the party alignment came to resemble what it looks like today.

  5. Alfred Brophy says:

    Bruce’s comment is interesting; it’s true, there was a realignment of the positions of parties in the early part of the twentieth century (though that was more along the lines of attitudes towards African Americans than economic issues).

    In the antebellum era, the Whigs (the fore-runners of the Republicans) were, of course, diverse. They included such divergent thinkers as Lincoln, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Alexander Stephens (later Vice-President of the Confederacy). However, Whigs also stood (by and large) as the party of property rights. (Whigs also were more in favor of government regulation, at least of morals.) The Democrats (then, as now) were by-and-large more concerned with concentration of wealth than the Whigs. One classic confrontation between Whig and Democrat views of property was the Charles River Bridge case, in which Chief Roger Taney narrowly construed a state charter, to allow a competing bridge to be built. Joseph Story dissented.

    The Whigs portrayed themselves as the party of respect for property and ordered liberty. Democrats (particularly Andrew Jackson) were seen as not sufficiently respectful of property or the rule of law. Hard to make Kent out as anything other than a conservative. He was opposed to expanding suffrage in New York, for instance. I think part of why Whigs authored legal treatises and Democrats didn’t has something to do with their attitudes towards law. If one takes law seriously, I suppose, that you’re more likely to explore its intricacies. At least that’s been my operating hypothesis for a long time.

    My colleague at the University of Alabama, Lawrence Kohl, published a very fine book on the differences between Whigs and Democrats, The Politics of Individualism: Parties and the American Character in the Jacksonian Era, a few years ago. He discusses the nuances of what I’ve just painted in very broad brush here.

  6. Simon says:

    It seems as though the literature that critiques the present system is often on the left of the political spectrum. That supporting it is on the right.

    this may be a silly thought, but I was interested to compare the use of the word system in Al’s post with the use of the word establishment in TheLawGuy’s. It seems like the two should go together, but as TLG points out, “[i]n the legal academy, the liberals are the establishment.” It strikes me as being interesting – it seems as though the establishment is determined to bring down the existing system, while the conservative counterrevolutionaries are determined to sweep away the current establishment to protect the system.

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