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Political Emotions

Political Emotions

Why Love Matters for Justice

Martha C. Nussbaum

ISBN 9780674503809

Publication date: 05/04/2015

How can we achieve and sustain a "decent" liberal society, one that aspires to justice and equal opportunity for all and inspires individuals to sacrifice for the common good? In this book, a continuation of her explorations of emotions and the nature of social justice, Martha Nussbaum makes the case for love. Amid the fears, resentments, and competitive concerns that are endemic even to good societies, public emotions rooted in love—in intense attachments to things outside our control—can foster commitment to shared goals and keep at bay the forces of disgust and envy.

Great democratic leaders, including Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr., have understood the importance of cultivating emotions. But people attached to liberalism sometimes assume that a theory of public sentiments would run afoul of commitments to freedom and autonomy. Calling into question this perspective, Nussbaum investigates historical proposals for a public "civil religion" or "religion of humanity" by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Auguste Comte, John Stuart Mill, and Rabindranath Tagore. She offers an account of how a decent society can use resources inherent in human psychology, while limiting the damage done by the darker side of our personalities. And finally she explores the cultivation of emotions that support justice in examples drawn from literature, song, political rhetoric, festivals, memorials, and even the design of public parks.

"Love is what gives respect for humanity its life," Nussbaum writes, "making it more than a shell." Political Emotionsis a challenging and ambitious contribution to political philosophy.

Praise

  • [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

Author

  • Martha C. Nussbaum is the author of The Fragility of Goodness, The Monarchy of Fear, and Citadels of Pride, among other works. She is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, where she is in the Law School and Philosophy Department. She has received three of the world’s most significant awards for humanities and social science: the Kyoto Prize, the Berggruen Prize, and the 2021 Holberg Prize.

Book Details

  • 480 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

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