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Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice Hardcover – October 1, 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The latest book from University of Chicago law and ethics professor Nussbaum (The Fragility of Goodness) stimulates readers with challenging insights on the role of emotion in political life. Her provocative theory of social change shows how a truly just society might be realized through the cultivation and studied liberation of emotions, specifically love. To that end, the book sparkles with Nussbaum&'s characteristic literary analysis, drawing from both Western and South Asian sources, including a deep reading of public monuments. In one especially notable passage, Nussbaum artfully interprets Mozart&'s The Marriage of Figaro, revealing it as a musical meditation on the emotionality of revolutionary politics and feminism. Such chapters are a culmination of her passion for seeing art and literature as philosophical texts, a theme in her writing that she profitably continues here. The elegance with which she negotiates this diverse material deserves special praise, as she expertly takes the reader through analyses of philosophy, opera, primatology, psychology, and poetry. In contrast to thinkers like John Rawls, who imagined an already just world, Nussbaum addresses how to order our society to reach such a world. A plea for recognizing the power of art, symbolism, and enchantment in public life, Nussbaum&'s cornucopia of ideas effortlessly commands attention and debate. (Oct.)
[Nussbaum] maps out the routes by which men and women who begin in self‐interest and ingrained prejudice can build a society in which what she calls ‘public emotions’ operate to enlarge the individual’s ‘circle of concern’…Those who would extend the sympathy individuals feel to include fellow citizens of whatever views, ethnicity, ability or disability must ‘create stable structures of concern that extend compassion broadly.’ Those structures cannot be exclusively rational and philosophical--as they tend to be in the work of John Rawls and other Kantian liberals--but must, says Nussbaum, be political in the sense that they find expression in the visible machinery of public life…It is one of the virtues of Nussbaum’s book that she neither shrinks from sentimentality (how could she, given her title and subtitle?) nor fears being judged philosophically unsophisticated. (Stanley Fish New York Times 2013-10-14)
Nussbaum [is] one of the finest theorists on law and ethics…Her journey is a tour de force that travels through Greek and Indian epics, the music of Mozart in ‘The marriage of Figaro,’ the poems of Rabindranath Tagore and Walt Whitman, the rhetorical speeches of Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., the writings of John Stuart Mill, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, B.R. Ambedkar, Auguste Comte and John Rawls to make a case for establishing just societies by foregrounding emotions that can be developed through critical reasoning…Then she, with incisive brilliance, investigates three emotions that pose special problems for compassionate citizenship: fear, envy and shame and also explain that some societies instead of combating them make the situation worse…Her magnum opus. (A. S. Panneerselvan The Hindu 2013-10-28)
There’s no more interesting or persuasive writer on the wider and connected subjects of emotions and social justice than Martha Nussbaum…Here she brings together strands that go back to her own The Fragility Of Goodness (1986), and in the process delivers a book as important in its way as John Rawls’s definitive but slightly bloodless A Theory of Justice. Here, she draws on aesthetics as well as philosophy to make her point…It’s a great book, though, and goes straight on the shelf beside John Rawls. Political morality for the new age. (Brian Morton Glasgow Herald 2013-11-02)
Political Emotions is an important work, and Nussbaum has created valuable space for love and human imperfection to be weighed more heavily in the search for justice. (Geraldine Van Bueren Times Higher Education 2013-11-07)
Nussbaum stimulates readers with challenging insights on the role of emotion in political life. Her provocative theory of social change shows how a truly just society might be realized through the cultivation and studied liberation of emotions, specifically love. To that end, the book sparkles with Nussbaum's characteristic literary analysis, drawing from both Western and South Asian sources, including a deep reading of public monuments. In one especially notable passage, Nussbaum artfully interprets Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, revealing it as a musical meditation on the emotionality of revolutionary politics and feminism. Such chapters are a culmination of her passion for seeing art and literature as philosophical texts, a theme in her writing that she profitably continues here. The elegance with which she negotiates this diverse material deserves special praise, as she expertly takes the reader through analyses of philosophy, opera, primatology, psychology, and poetry. In contrast to thinkers like John Rawls, who imagined an already just world, Nussbaum addresses how to order our society to reach such a world. A plea for recognizing the power of art, symbolism, and enchantment in public life, Nussbaum's cornucopia of ideas effortlessly commands attention and debate.
(Publishers Weekly (starred review) 2013-08-12)
Justice is hard. It demands our devotion as well as our understanding. For that reason, it must grip our emotions. We must feel its absence and its presence with the depth of feeling that we associate with love. That is the compelling message in Martha Nussbaum's remarkable--and remarkably original--account of political emotions. She explores the place of love in a decent society that aspires to be just. And she explains--with great intellectual and emotional force--how we can cultivate a political love with the kind of complexity that does justice to our humanity.
(Joshua Cohen, author of The Arc of the Moral Universe and Other Essays)
In her sweeping panorama of society and culture, Nussbaum skillfully and flexibly uses her understanding of public emotions to produce a book of considerable wisdom and merit. Her study is anchored in a well-rounded view of a complex but largely unexplored theme in the West as well as in South Asia. (Mushirul Hasan, author of Faith and Freedom: Gandhi in History)
Political Emotions is a remarkable synthesis of two of the most distinctive strands of Nussbaum's thought--a conception of the emotions as essential to our understanding of the world and a political liberalism attuned to the fostering of human capacities. Readers will not fail to be enlightened and moved. (Charles Larmore, author of The Autonomy of Morality)
Martha Nussbaum rises above all the disciplinary boundaries. This wise and engaging study of what patriotism is and how to cultivate it is written by a philosopher, a political theorist, a psychologist, a literary critic, and a historian--all of them at their best and all of them one amazing person.
(Michael Walzer, Institute for Advanced Study)
Reading [Political Emotions] has reinforced, but more importantly broadened, my understanding of love’s significance in political life and how it can be fostered there…I find much political wisdom in Nussbaum’s book. (Walter Moss LA Progressive 2013-11-19)
Martha Nussbaum’s is one of the most influential and innovative voices in modern philosophy. Over the past four decades, a steady stream of books and articles has issued from her prodigious mind. She stands out among her contemporaries for insisting that philosophy must be rigorous and, above all, useful…The book demonstrates how people of different identities can be brought together around a common set of values and political principles through the power of art and symbol…As a culmination of her monumental contribution to academia, in Political Emotions she has produced an incandescent work that will not only be an inspiration to scholars and lay readers alike, but be a beacon for societies that aspire to justice and goodness. (Govindan Nair The Hindu 2013-11-26)
This volume is impressive for its breadth of references in liberal political philosophy to literature and art theory, but all the more impressive for the care and enthusiasm expressed for the subject matter. The heart of the book, and what makes it a rather novel contribution, is Nussbaum’s attention to the psychology of emotions, particularly in how she draws upon the lessons of attachment theory to inspire lessons for building a caring, loving society and a rich notion of political justice…Political Emotions is an exciting contribution to liberal political theory. Nussbaum’s recent forays in bridging political philosophy with attention to aesthetic affect, emotion and attachment have genuinely enriched the terrain of liberal theory. Hopefully the discussions Nussbaum introduces here will help to enrich our collective public life as well. (Michael Larson Metapsychology 2013-11-19)
Genuinely bracing. (Brian Morton The Tablet 2013-12-07)
[Nussbaum] reinstates the role of emotion in politics and draws attention to and rejects any kind of false emotionalism vis-à-vis nationalism. She examines how figures like Rabindranath Tagore and B. R. Ambedkar, through their emotional appeal on relevant issues, were able to build the right kind of nationalism. In the very contemporary context of Hindutva and its very particular link to patriotism, I would recommend this book to everyone. (Indira Jaising Outlook India 2014-01-13)
Impressively erudite. (Julian Baggini Financial Times 2014-01-04)
Continuing her philosophical inquiry into both emotions and social justice, Nussbaum now makes the case for love, arguing that emotions rooted in love can foster commitment to shared goals and keep fear, envy and disgust at bay…To sustain democratic institutions, Nussbaum claims, a liberal society should cultivate the emotions that underpin imagination and sympathy for others, and the way to do this is through education and the arts. Imaginative capacities will be developed very early in the family, and should be furthered via art, poetry, music and literature. These skills enable us to see each person’s fate in every other’s, and to picture it vividly as an aspect of our own. For Nussbaum, the liberal tradition should not cede emotion to anti-liberal forces (fascism, for example, was particularly good at using emotions for political ends). But all political principles need a proper emotional basis to ensure their stability over time, and all decent societies need to guard against division by cultivating appropriate sentiments of sympathy and love. This is why political emotions, narrative imagination, and love matter for justice. (Marina Gerner Times Literary Supplement 2014-02-28)
Martha Nussbaum has been a productive and creative commentator on the questions raised by A Theory of Justice, and her book Political Emotions is a long and thoughtful discussion of one of them: How can we engage the citizens’ emotions…on behalf of a more just, more inclusive, gentler, and more imaginative society? …Nussbaum takes Rawls’s account of justice as her starting point, but she greatly extends its range. She wants to turn away from hypothetical and bloodless contractors behind the veil of ignorance to focus on our actual flesh-and-blood selves. (Alan Ryan New York Review of Books 2014-10-09)
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As in other recent books, she makes much of the idea of the religion of the state. She tries to carve out a "moderate" space for her ideas by positioning them between the extremes of Rousseau and Locke/Kant. But it doesn't really seem to work. In her mind, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is not a holiday honoring a man. Rather, its a state-religious occasion where citizens reaffirm state policy on racial equality and rededicate themselves personally to carry out the policy while history is used to whip them up into an emotional frenzy. As is often the case, she hides broad arguments behind morally simplistic examples involving racism. The idea of a state religion and the ideas of using emotional appeals to reinforce that state religion seem very dangerous.
She raises the views of poets and musicians up as if there were philosophical arguments to be contrasted with the views of historic philosophers. She also goes on and on and on about Tagore throwing thin Indian references around. She tries as well to define a "liberal" nationalism and patriotism which is immune to the usual faults of such ideas because of the love of those involved. Her use of "love" at times evokes almost Orwell's use of the term in the book 1984. Using the power of the state to shape its citizens through education, created political rituals and so on is what is being talked about. Sugaring up that authoritarian state-speak with talk of "love" is really rather messed up. Especially when all the talk of justice and equality is mixed together with the state's role in the destruction of "radical evil". Her arguments are full of unresolved contradictions which are glossed over with easy examples loaded in her favor or statements to the effect that while it all sounds authoritarian, it is not.
The mentality she presents is often nothing new. She often represents at best the thinking of the worst of the Wilson, FDR and the Johnson administrations. The church of populism grants morality to itself and puts those who don't agree with it outside of the protections of "good" society. Shame is bad when its directed against people who vote for the party while shame is good when it is directed toward the enemies of the party. Its wrong to hate people for how they might look, but its absolutely fine to hate them for not thinking like you do or for not conforming to consensus political views. That sort of morality and justice based on politics has never been a positive. I will not bother to mention who she represents at her worst.
For a book that talks so much about love and empathy, the author often has very little of it to offer to those outside her "tent" of political consensus. The impression is created that "good" people all generally think the same, share the same values and generally have the same political ideas. "Radical evil" people on the other hand are implicitly held to be driven by greed, egotism and aggression. Its a very naive notion of evil. It is quite possible for evil to be done in the name of a good cause. It is all too easy for evil to arise as well out of alturism, selflessness and passive behavior. Kindness can turn into condescension. Love is of course an emotion that can go wrong in all too many ways. The caution that must be offered is that state power (outside the crimminal context) is a very blunt instrument for correcting the moral flaws of individuals. The key point being that while people can generally leave other social institutions and private groups, its not really practical to opt out of the state.
Too many people these days are talking about cutting back or re-defining rights within the state in the name of creating a consensus-based civil society. There is a fascist mindset at work among the intellectuals of both the left and the right. They don't differ much in their asperations or goals. They only seem to differ in the arguments which they use to cloak their agendas.
Making the state a religion while using the powers of the state to shape its citizens according to consensus politics is neither the product of love or justice. Its the product of a mind given over to authoritarian beliefs which always end up eventually at fascism.
As Senator Warren understands, a country of anarchists will not long survive. For this reason, she claims that we are not a country of anarchists. (I'd love to vote for her to be president of the United States in 2016.)
As a result of my justified anger at their action, I would urge Professor Nussbaum to study Barbara Koziak's book RETRIEVING POLITICAL EMOTION: THUMOS, ARISTOTLE, AND GENDER (200). I would argue that justified anger is rooted in love for justice - a claim that Professor Nussbaum probably would accept.
The Republican anarchists who shut down the federal government hope to rally like-minded anarchists to support the Republican party in the elections of 2014 and 2016. The Republican anarchists in Congress are drawing on the resources of the part of their psyches that Plato and Aristotle refer to as thumos (or thymos), the part of our psyches that controls our fight-flight-freeze reaction. By taking their stand, the Republican anarchists hope to rally other Americans to support their larger cause of obstructing the federal government.
Of course Nussbaum's larger point is that love (roughly, the old French motto "fraternity" but without the old gender bias) is necessary for social and political cohesiveness in liberal democracies such as the experiments in democratic governance in the United States and India.
Nussbaum borrows the term "radical evil" from Kant to refer to the many-sided enemy of social and political love. Basically, she is an Aristotelian. However, she excels at using Kant's thought to her advantage in this book, most notably in her many-sided discussion of the psychodynamics of radical evil.
She says that "the central `narrative' of `radical evil' [is] the effort to cope with helplessness and finitude" (page 198). To one degree or another, all of us have to cope with helplessness and finitude. (I can understand why she encloses Kant's term in quotation marks the first time she uses it, but I do not understand why she keeps enclosing it in quotation marks thereafter. Is she afraid that she will be thrown out of the University of Chicago for referring to radical evil? If the spirit of political correctness at the University of Chicago has determined that no one on the faculty should refer to radical evil without enclosing the words in quotation marks, then she should create a politically correct substitute term to use instead.)
Nussbaum says that "`radical evil' gets its start in the form of tendency to subordinate other people to one's own needs" (page 172) - as infants do. "From this early situation of narcissism grows a tendency to think of other people as mere slaves, not full people with needs and interests of their own" (page 172).
Nussbaum's perceptive account of the origins and psychodynamics of shame (esp. pages 168-174) nicely complements John Bradshaw's discussion of toxic shame versus healthy shame in his 1988 self-help book HEALING THE SHAME THAT BINDS YOU (expanded and updated edition 2005).
Just as she moves to suggest certain educational approaches, so too he moves to suggesting certain educational approaches in his book RECLAIMING VIRTUE: HOW WE CAN DEVELOP THE MORAL INTELLIGENCE TO DO THE RIGHT THING AT THE RIGHT TIME FOR THE RIGHT REASON (2009). (In his lengthy subtitle, Bradshaw is paraphrasing a famous statement in Aristotle's NICOMACHEAN ETHICS.)
Nussbaum's perceptive account of the origins and psychodynamics of shame leads her to use the term "anthropodenial," which she defines as "the refusal to accept one's limited animal condition" (page 173). She then characterizes anthropodenial as based on the expectations of the infant: "To expect to be complete (or continually completed) is to expect to be above the human lot. Infants cannot imagine a human sort of interdependency, since they are not aware that human life is a life of need and reciprocity and that, through reciprocity, needs will be regularly met. Their helplessness produces intense anxiety that is not mitigated by trust in the world or its people" (page 173).
But Nussbaum sees trust in the world and its people as the basic erotic thrust upon which she establishes her argument for love as necessary for social and political cohesiveness. She sees the infant's "love of light, and, more generally, that generous outward-seeing movement of the mind, finding the world fascinating and curious, that is both intelligent and emotional" as providing the basis for wonder and love (page 174).
For understandable reasons, Nussbaum did not have the foresight to anticipate the shutdown of the federal government. Nevertheless, she does recommend the comic perspective as the antidote for countering pomposity (esp. pages 272-275).
Her overall discussion of the tragic spectatorship and the comic spectatorship (pages 257-275) is brilliant. She sounds as though she herself had lived in ancient Athens during the Athenian experiment with participatory democracy (of male citizens, not of women or slaves or visitors). For that discussion alone, give Nussbaum an "A" for empathy. Empathy is one of her many strengths. She is also extremely learned.
She also deserves an "A" for her use of the Scylla and Charybdis imagery (pages 211-225), which she borrows from the Homeric epic the ODYSSEY.
In the famous episode in the ODYSSEY known as the slaughter of the suitors, Odysseus strings his powerful bow and fires arrow after arrow to kill the suitors and restore justice to his homeland.
In her own non-violent way, Nussbaum fires one figurative arrow after another in POLITICAL EMOTION: WHY LOVE MATTERS FOR JUSTICE. This book is a tour de force. In addition, the flow of her thought makes the book easy to read.
However, it is not necessarily easy to understand. After all, it is a work in normative political philosophy. So we should allow time for people to weigh her points and debate them before we venture to make a final assessment of the merits of her thought.
In the meantime, though, it does not strike me as premature to thank her abundantly for carefully working out her position. For she has ably initiated a discussion of why love matters for justice that we Americans today need to have.