Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice Hardcover – 4 Oct 2013
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"There's no more interesting or persuasive writer on the wider and connected subjects of emotions and social justice than Martha Nussbaum…Here, she draws on aesthetics as well as philosophy to make her point. The fundamental message of the book is that without love political justice is empty of content…It's a great book…and goes straight on the shelf beside John Rawls. Political morality for the new age". --Brian Morton, Glasgow Herald
"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 QC, Times Higher Education, 7 November 2013
Political Emotions is an important contribution to an already impressive body of work. Nussbaum has transformed modern philosophy, helping to re-connect it to the emotions, to psychology, to the arts, and to public policy. --Jules Evans, LSE Review of Books, 11 December 2013
"In Political Emotions, she argues more specifically for the importance of love in politics. She is well aware that many liberal-minded intellectuals are wary about bringing too much emotion into the public square but she argues persuasively that 'ceding the terrain of emotion-shaping to anti-liberal forces gives them a huge advantage in the people's hearts and risks making people think of liberal values as tepid and boring'. [...] Nussbaum makes the general point eloquently and persuasively [...]" --Julian Baggini, Financial Times, 6 January 2014
"Continuing her philosophy 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." --Marina Gerner, Times Literary Supplement, 28 February 2014
About the Author
Martha C. Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, appointed in the Law School and the Philosophy Department. Over the years, Nussbaum has extended and developed the capabilities approach, and she has received numerous awards for her work. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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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.