The Magazine

Refudiate Liberalism!

Sarah Palin was on to something.

Aug 2, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 43 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Just before noon on Sunday, July 18, 2010, Sarah Palin enriched the English language. Referring to the planned Islamic center near the 9/11 site in New York, she tweeted: “Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn’t it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate.”

Refudiate Liberalism!

Shakespalin!

Photo Credit: Newscom

Presumably, Palin was wavering between “refute” and “repudiate,” and, in the heat of the tweeting moment, typed or BlackBerried or iPhoned or texted the new amalgam, “refudiate.” Pedants in the blogosphere got all huffy. Palin decided to double down. A few hours later, she follow-up-tweeted: “English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!”

Gotcha.

So let us celebrate the new term “refudiate.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with “refute.” It means, according to Webster’s Third, “to overthrow by argument, evidence, or proof; prove to be false or erroneous.” Nor is there anything wrong with “repudiate,” meaning “to cast off .  .  . to refuse to accept as having rightful authority .  .  . to refuse approval or belief to.” And they’re distinct. To refute is primarily an intellectual act; a thinker refutes a claim or an argument. To repudiate is a practical or political act; a political party repudiates a sect that holds a discredited (and perhaps refuted) argument. A refutation that isn’t followed by a repudiation is just talk. A repudiation that doesn’t include a refutation is just arbitrary action.

The case for linguistic innovation is this: We need a word that captures and conjoins the meanings of refutation and repudiation. And we need it now. To save the country from the ravages of contemporary liberalism, we have to refute liberal arguments and see liberal politicians repudiated at the polls. 

So the conservative agenda is, in a word, refudiation. Indeed, given the dramatic moment at which we have arrived, one might say that we now have the prospect of a grand refudiation of liberalism.

The meeting of intellectual refutation and political repudiation is, after all, the usual prerequisite for the establishment of a new political order. The Tea Partiers—the most striking political development of our day—have understood this well. The movement is an assemblage of arguers and activists. Indeed, they might be called refudiators avant la lettre

The original Tea Party was followed, of course, by the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims certain truths—that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. These truths are based on a rejection of other claims to rule, monarchical and aristocratic claims—a refutation of them based on “the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born, with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god” (in Jefferson’s famous words). And the proclamation of irrefutable truths is combined with the assertion of a particular act—that the American people repudiate “all allegiance to the British crown” and “political connection” with Great Britain.

The Declaration of Independence—and the successful struggle for freedom that followed—depended, then, on a grand refudiation of the existing arrangements under which America labored. The Constitution similarly depended on a refudiation of the Articles of Confederation. It required both an argument as to why they were failing and action to replace them. Each of our big, realigning elections—in 1860, 1896, 1932, 1980—reflected a refudiation of the political status quo. Politics is both argument and action. Realignment depends on refudiation.

We are conservatives. We ordinarily shun novelties of all kinds, including new words. But desperate times call for desperate measures. The Obama project is one of noxious ideology and wild political overreach. The challenge before conservatives is to beat back both. So say it loud and say it proud: Refudiate liberalism now!

—William Kristol

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