Folly 2020! The Campaign for Foolishness in Twenty-First-Century Politics
This chapter examines twenty-first-century negative political advertisements alongside early modern representations of folly, particularly the Folly who speaks at length in Erasmus’s Praise of Folly. Much of the chapter is devoted to deconstructing political candidates’ required statements of disclosure, which force them to “approve” all the horrors rehearsed in the rest of their negative ads. Thus twenty-first-century attack ads echo several of the lessons Folly teaches in her long encomium to herself, the chief one being that praising the self while panning the other is always an exercise in folly. However, witnesses to this exercise may find in it a reason to engage more generously with the politics of knowledge. When we read negative political ads as Erasmian gestures, we may recognize what is alluring, even precious, about rhetorical philosophies that favor not orderly, intelligible communities but profoundly, dramatically—laughably—indistinct ones.