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The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis Hardcover – July 3, 2018
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“An elegant and precise stylist, Nussbaum…writes about gut feelings like envy and disgust with an air of serene lucidity...one of the virtues of this slender volume is how gradually and scrupulously it moves, as Nussbaum pushes you to slow down, think harder and revisit your knee-jerk assumptions. [Nussbaum is] a skillful rhetorician…she wants to show how the feeling of fear is primal and therefore universal, reminding us that we were all helpless infants once, dependent on the kindness and mercy of others.” —New York Times Book Review
"An engaging and inviting study of humanity's long-standing fear of the other." —Kirkus, starred review
"Noted philosopher, prolific author and University of Chicago professor Martha Nussbaum assesses our current political crisis, which she argues is essentially a politics of blame and fear. From classical thought to the hit musical Hamilton, she uses a variety of examples to illustrate what brought us to this fraught place and how we can move forward." —Chicago Tribune
"Nussbaum’s erudite but very readable investigation engages figures from Aristotle to Donald Trump in lucid and engaging prose...Nussbaum offers fresh, worthwhile insights into the animosities that roil contemporary public life." —Publishers Weekly
"One of America’s leading philosophers here probes this dangerous fusion of emotions, explaining Trump’s twenty-first-century ascendance as part of a distressing human dynamic manifested through history and around the globe...even readers skeptical about Nussbaum’s political orientation will welcome this call for an emotionally healthier public life. — Bryce Christensen, Booklist
“Nussbaum is an elegant and lyrical writer, and she movingly describes the pain of recognizing one’s vulnerability…” —Rachel Aviv, The New Yorker
“Nussbaum is one of the most accomplished political and moral philosophers of our time…there is almost no domain of political and moral life and thought that her work and apparently endless curiosity have not explored.” —William Adams, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts
About the Author
Martha C. Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, appointed in the Philosophy Department and the Law School of the University of Chicago. She gave the 2016 Jefferson Lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities and won the 2016 Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy, which is regarded as the most prestigious award available in fields not eligible for a Nobel. She has written more than twenty-two books, including Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions; Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice; Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities; and The Monarchy of Fear.
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In addition to his position as a professor of English, Ong also held (from 1970 to his retirement in 1984) an appointment as the William E. Haren professor of humanities in psychiatry in the department of psychiatry in the School of Medicine at Saint Louis University.
Ong supplied the foreword to the English translation of Pedro Lain Entralgo’s 1958 book The Therapy of the Word in Classical Antiquity, edited and translated from the Spanish by L. J. Rather and John M. Sharp (Yale University Press, 1970, pages ix-xvi). Ong’s foreword led me to read Lain Entralgo’s book.
Subsequently, I read Robert E. Cushman’s book Therapeia: Plato’s Conception of Philosophy (University of North Carolina Press, 1958).
Subsequently, I read Martha C. Nussbaum’s clever book The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (Princeton University Press, 1994), in which she mentions neither Lain Entralgo’s book nor Cushman’s.
Subsequently, I read some of her other publications, including, most recently, her short new book The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis (Simon & Schuster, 2018), which I see as a follow up to her earlier book Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013). In her short new book, she frankly delineates her WASP background and conversion to Judaism (pages xii-xvii), and then she weaves in autobiographical reflections about her life and upbringing in various places throughout her book.
In it, Nussbaum says, “Philosophers sometimes show contempt for religion and religious people. That is one reason why they have little public influence in our nation, a deeply religious nation. Our fellow citizens are not stupid or base to embrace religion. We must wish, and this seems as likely as anything good is likely, that each person who embraces religion will find there the ingredients of a hope that is inclusive and loving, rather than divisive and retributive. Philosophy by itself shows how we can respect our enemies; it does not show us how to love them. For that we need the arts, and many need religion” (page 233). Love is an important theme in her new book, as it was in her 2013 book.
Nussbaum’s short new book comes equipped with superscript numerals indicating footnotes – and each footnote appears at the foot of the page. But the book does not come equipped with an index, despite the enormous number of persons she mentions by name – some repeatedly throughout the book. This is my most serious criticism of the book. If this book comes out in a paperback edition, I would urge the publisher to add an index to it, despite everything else I say about it below. Readers who are not as deeply familiar with Lucretius’ thought as Nussbaum is might want to look up and review each of her references to his thought – or to Cicero’s thought or to John Rawls’ thought, etc., etc.
Now, I do not know if Nussbaum ever read any of Ong’s 400 or so publications. Ong characterized his own philosophical thought as phenomenological and personalist in cast. But I know of only one article in which he discusses political thought: “Nationalism and Darwin: A Psychological Problem in Our Concept of Social Development” in the Review of Politics, volume 22, number 4 (October 1960): pages 466-481; reprinted in Ong’s book In the Human Grain: Further Explorations of Contemporary Culture (Macmillan, 1967, pages 83-98).
Now, Ong liked to say that we need both proximity (closeness) and distance to understand something. For distance, we Americans can draw on our Judeo-Christian heritage of thought, on the one hand, and, on the other, our Greco-Roman heritage of thought – both of which heritages include texts that are, in effect, written transcripts of what Ong refers to as primary oral thought and expression -- for example, the Homeric epics and the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. The Hebrew Bible includes, of course, the famous Hebrew prophets who called for social justice – such as the prophet Amos – who emerged during the ancient Israelites' experiment with monarchy as a form of governance.
In our American cultural history, the American Protestant tradition of the jeremiad calls to mind those ancient Hebrew prophets. In our American cultural history, the Declaration of Independence is a famous expression of the American Enlightenment, which is part of the Greco-Roman tradition of Western philosophical thought that emerged in ancient Athens and is exemplified by Plato and Aristotle. The ancient experiment in participatory (but limited to male citizens) democracy also emerged in Athens, and it is an early exemplar on which our American experiment in representative democracy is based.
Because Aristotle wrote his famous treatise on civic rhetoric during the famous experiment of participatory democracy in Athens, we might wonder what he would have thought of the ancient Hebrew prophets such as Amos who called for social justice during the ancient Israelites experiment with monarchy as a form of governance. In short, what would Aristotle have thought about their call for social justice? Conversely, we might wonder what the ancient Hebrew prophets who called for social justice such as Amos would have thought about the experiment in participatory democracy in ancient Athens – or about our American experiment in representative democracy.
For further discussion of the American Protestant tradition of jeremiads, see Sacvan Bercovitch’s book The American Jeremiad, 2nd ed. (University of Wisconsin Press, 2012; orig. ed., 1978) and Cathleen Kaveny’s book Prophecy Without Contempt: Religious Discourse in the Public Square (Harvard University Press, 2016).
In any event, Nussbaum does not happen to advert explicitly to Ong’s claim that we need both proximity (closeness) and distance to understand something. Nevertheless, she carefully draws on both our Judeo-Christian and our Greco-Roman heritages of thought in her short new book
As the subtitle on her new book shows, Nussbaum sees herself primarily as a philosopher – engaging in political philosophy. However, as a convert to Judaism, she is deeply concerned about social justice. Nevertheless, her new book is not a jeremiad. Basically, it is a further contribution to political philosophy. She explicitly states that “this is not a book of detailed public policy” (page 61).
So if Nussbaum’s new short book is basically a further contribution to political philosophy, and if Ong published only one essay remotely about political philosophy, what is the point of discussing his thought in the context of discussing her thought? In short, what does her thought have in common with his thought? Her thought is wide-ranging, and so is his. Her thought involves taking into account a lot of psychological research, and so does his thought. Her thought also involves taking into account a lot of cultural developments, and so does his thought.
As the main title of her short new book suggests, Nussbaum’s primary focus is on fear. But she also discusses certain related emotions – anger, envy, and disgust. In two other books she has discussed disgust (2004) and anger and resentment (2016).
As an undergraduate at Saint Louis University, I took an ethics course. The required textbook was Vernon J. Bourke’s Ethics: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy (Macmillan, 1951), based on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. Among other things, Bourke discusses Aquinas’ account of the seven deadly sins – two of which are envy and anger. According to Bourke, Aquinas sees the deadly sin of envy as the habit of feeling that another person is possessed of more good or excellence than oneself, but without having any intention of seeking vengeance or injuring that person. According to Bourke, Aquinas sees the deadly sin of anger (wrath) as the habit of feeling envy when accompanied by the inclination to seek vengeance. Nussbaum’s nuanced discussion of anger, envy, disgust, and fear remind me of certain nuanced distinctions Aquinas makes in his discussion of the seven deadly sins.
Now, as Nussbaum sees things in her short new book, the political crisis that she addresses involves Trump and Trump voters, on the one hand, and, on the other, catastrophizing liberals and progressives who see Trump and his administration in apocalyptic terms – in short, as the end-times envisioned in the book of Revelation (page 3). However, it strikes me that the non-college-educated white voters who voted for Trump are not likely to read Nussbaum’s new book. However, I suspect that many college-educated people are not familiar enough with Aeschylus’ trilogy of plays known collectively as the Oresteia to benefit from her discussion of the last play in the trilogy (pages 64-67). Fortunately, Nussbaum finds analogous points in the thought of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (pages 88-95; she refers to Dr. King repeatedly throughout her book).
As an undergraduate at Saint Louis University, I heard Dr. King speak on campus on Monday afternoon, October 12, 1964, and again, in Montgomery, Alabama, on March 25, 1965. He is one of my heroes. The latest issue of Universitas: The Alumni Magazine of Saint Louis University (dated Summer 2018) reports that, in 1965, “Approximately 100 SLU students participate [sic] in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery” (page 14). (The entire issue is devoted to celebrating the bicentennial of Saint Louis University.)
Now, in my estimate, the tendency that Nussbaum refers to as “the ‘othering’ of outsider groups” (page 2; also see page 46 [“‘othered’”]) is best accounted for by C. G. Jung’s account of projections onto others involving “shadow” material in our psyches. Over and over Jung alerted us to the potential dangers of projecting “shadow” material onto others – the process that Nussbaum refers to as “‘othering.’”
But Nussbaum does not mention Jung. Nevertheless, she does use the term “projective disgust” (pages 101, 108, 112, 114, 118 [“projective formation”], 126, 127, 129, 130, 132, 170 [“projected”], and 219). Nussbaum says, “Projective disgust is a denial of love and faith” (page 219). But, conversely, love and faith also involve a projective dimension – in a positive sense.
Ong writes about outsider groups in the title essay “The Barbarian Within: Outsiders Inside Society Today” in his book The Barbarian Within: And Other Fugitive Essays and Studies (Macmillan, 1962, pages 260-285); Ong’s essay is reprinted in An Ong Reader: Challenges for Further Inquiry (Hampton Press, 2002, pages 277-300).
Nussbaum is familiar with the Greek/barbarian contrast that Ong works with in his 1962 essay. She says, “so why not pin the blame – as the Greeks did – on groups that are easy to demonize: in place of their rhetorical category of ‘barbarians’ we might focus blame on immigrants, or women entering the workforce, or bankers, or rich people” (page 83).
But Ong is not demonizing anybody. Instead, he works with the Greek/barbarian contrast as a shorthand for in-group/out-group (or insiders/outsiders). But we need to remember that up to the election of Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts to be the new president of the United States, Americans Catholics had been outsiders (“barbarians” in Ong’s contrast) in the prestige culture, which was dominated by WASPs, and ex-Protestants – “Greeks” in Ong’s contrast.
See Robert C. Christopher’s book Crashing the Gates: The De-WASPing of America’s Power Elite (Simon & Schuster, 1989).
Independently of Ong’s 1962 essay about outsiders, Grace Elizabeth Hale has published a book-length study of just how popular it has become in American culture for people, including WASPs, to imagine themselves as outsiders: A Nation of Outsiders: How the White Middle Class Fell in Love with Rebellion in Postwar America (Oxford University Press, 2011).
If we take Hale’s book seriously, then we may wonder who are the Greeks (in Ong’s terminology)? In effect, Nussbaum sees certain white reactionaries as the Greeks who are “demonizing” (her word) the outsiders as “barbarians.”
Indeed, Patrick J. Buchanan’s alarmist book State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America (Thomas Dunne Books/ St. Martin’s Press, 2006) could be adduced to support Nussbaum’s claim about “demonizing” certain people. In effect, Buchanan and others are constructing a coalition of white reactionaries to take the place of the old WASPs – the common denominator being white. In Nussbaum’s terminology, the white reactionaries are “demonizing” immigrants and certain other groups. Fine. I get that much.
But Nussbaum is not just criticizing the political right for “demonizing” certain groups. She also criticizes certain people of the political left for “demonizing” bankers and rich people (page 83). She says, “On the left, many have-nots envy the power of bankers, of big business, and of political insiders who support those interests” (page 136). Her reference to “have-nots” on the left seems to suggest that “haves” on the left did not engage in such supposed envy. In plain English, her critique of both the right and the left is that they are engaging in good-guy v. bad-guy thinking. I get that much. However, the way in which Ong works with the Greek/barbarian contrast in his 1962 essay does not involve good-guy v. bad-guy thinking.
Now, above, I have briefly summed up Bourke’s nutshell accounts of Aquinas’ views of the deadly sins of envy and anger. I now want to dwell a bit further on Nussbaum’s views of envy and anger. She says, “Envy is not simply critique (which is always welcome). Since it involves animus and destructive wishes: it wants to spoil the enjoyment of the ‘haves.’ . . . Envy’s hostile desire, like (and closely related to) the retributive element in anger, is a bad thing for democracy even when the envied don’t have a right to all the good things they enjoy” (page 136).
Speaking of critiques, for a critique of lawyers by a lawyer, see Steven Brill’s new book Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America’s Fifty-Year Fall – and Those Fighting to Reverse It (Knopf, 2018).
In any event, the common denominator of critiques advanced by the right and the left (for example, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont) targeted so-called “elites” in both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, respectively. Nussbaum wants to criticize both the right and the left for “demonizing” certain people. But she is not running for political office.
However, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton was running for president in 2016. She did not exactly “demonize” Trump, or at least she did not “demonize” him as sharply as he “demonized” her. Off the record, she once characterized some of Trump’s supporters as “deplorable” – which strikes me as a mild form of “demonizing” – and when her off-the-record remark was reported in the news media, she apologized for saying what she had said.
You could argue that Clinton won the popular vote by a decisive margin by NOT sharply “demonizing” Trump. But her impressive margin in the popular vote came about by her large margins of victory in certain states. Apart from certain states where she won big, she lost other states by comparatively narrow margins – including certain states that President Barack Obama had won in 2012, when the economy was not working in his favor. But I would argue that Clinton lost certain states that Obama won in 2012 because she was not an inspiring speaker on the campaign trail.
Now, nowhere in Nussbaum’s incisive discussion of misogyny (pages 165-196) does she even mention that Clinton did not draw large enthusiastic crowds in 2016 -- as Trump did – except for her final rally in Philadelphia, when she was joined by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. In plain English, Clinton did not generate much political emotion (in Nussbaum’s terminology), because she was an uncharismatic campaigner – qualified, yes; charismatic, no. But why doesn’t Nussbaum undertake an analysis of Clinton’s failure to generate much political emotion? Wouldn’t such an analysis be instructive?
Now, what advice does Nussbaum have to offer to Clinton about being an inspiring speaker on the campaign trail? As in many of Nussbaum’s other publications, in her new short book, she repeatedly draws on Aristotle’s thought, including certain points in his famous treatise on civic rhetoric. However, she does not mention his famous characterization of the three appeals that civic orators use: (1) logos, (2) pathos, and (3) ethos. This omission strikes me as odd, because Nussbaum discusses logos-appeals and pathos-appeals in detail. In the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump relied on over-using pathos-appeals, which in turn contributed mightily to his ethos-appeal. In contrast, Clinton relied strongly on logos-appeals and her own ethos-appeal simply did not evoke much enthusiasm – qualified, yes; charismatic, no. As to Clinton’s pathos-appeals in the 2016 campaign, they were understated compared to Trump’s, to say the least.
In Nussbaum’s short new book, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., emerges as one of the persons she most admires. But he was a professional preacher. He had practiced preaching for years. Moreover, he was not a political candidate running for elective office. By contrast, Clinton is a professional lawyer, and she is effective at the kinds of pro-and-con debate that Aristotle refers to as deliberative rhetoric and forensic rhetoric – she was effective in the televised debates with Trump. But political campaigns involve epideictic rhetoric, just as pulpit preaching does. Yes, she is a devout Methodist. But she has not practiced preaching for years, as Dr. King had. She could not have been an inspiring speaker on the campaign trail in 2016 by preaching to the best of her ability – as Dr. King preached in churches and in public rallies.
Now, it strikes me as fair to assume that Aristotle would not object to seeing the same three appeals at work in philosophical discourse, so let’s look at Nussbaum’s new book to examine which appeals she uses in her philosophical discourse. Her philosophical discourse involves respectful pro-and-con debate with numerous philosophical opponents as she advances her own positions. Her logos-appeal involves her philosophical reasoning and argumentation. Her ethos-appeal involves, in part, her impressive knowledge of various authors whose views she mentions and, in part, her account of her own life. Her pathos-appeal is expressed in her various expressions of alarm about certain events and trends – most notably in her extended discussion of misogyny (pages 165-196) and, perhaps most poignantly, in her remarks about the march of white supremacists in August 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia (pages 99, 118, 122, 131, 159, and 160).
But the most rousing pathos-appeal occurs in her extended enthusiastic discussion of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical Hamilton (pages 152-157). I can follow what she says about it. However, I have not seen this Broadway musical, and so I do not find her enthusiasm about it infectious. I suspect that others who have not seen the musical might not find her enthusiasm about it contagious, although, like me, they may follow what she says about it.
For further discussion of Aristotle’s view of the projective dimension of the ethos-appeal, see William M. A. Grimaldi’s essay “The Auditors’ Role in Aristotelian Rhetoric” in the book Oral and Written Communication: Historical Approaches, edited by Richard Leo Enos (Sage Publications, 1990, pages 65-81).
Ong’s equivalent account of the projective dimension of faith and love evoked by the human voice can be found in his essay “Voice as Summons for Belief: Literature, Faith, and the Divided Self” in the now-defunct Jesuit-sponsored journal Thought: A Review of Culture and Idea (Fordham University), volume 33 (Spring 1958): pages 43-61; Ong’s essay is reprinted in An Ong Reader: Challenges for Further Inquiry (Hampton Press, 2002, pages 259-275).
Next, I want to turn to Nussbaum’s frequently repeated brief critiques of the Internet and social media (pages 49, 53, 79, 95, 107, 133, 161, 191, and 192). I want to focus on our emotional responses to material we encounter through the Internet and social media.
I will take my cue from Ong’s essay “Technological Development and Writer-Subject-Reader Immediacies” in the book Oral and Written Communication: Historical Approaches, edited by Richard Leo Enos (Sage Publications, 1990, pages 206-215); Ong’s essay is reprinted in An Ong Reader: Challenges for Further Inquiry (Hampton Press, 2002, pages 497-504).
In this essay, Ong discusses how the Victorian Jesuit classicist and poet read newspaper reports about the sinking ship that were submitted by telegraph. From the reports Hopkins wrote his poem “The Wreck of the Deutschland.”
Taking a hint from Ong’s title, I want to draw attention to the immediacies we experience from online reports we encounter. The immediacies that Hopkins experienced from reading the newspaper reports evoked a powerful sense of empathy in him, which he expressed in his famous poem. But immediacies that we experience from material we encounter online can trigger a fight/flight response in us. A fight response can prompt us to express anger and hostility.
In conclusion, Nussbaum’s short new book is timely and deserves to be read carefully by liberals and progressives who are concerned about Trump and his supporters.