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From one of the world’s most celebrated moral philosophers comes a thorough examination of the current political crisis and recommendations for how to mend our divided country.
For decades Martha C. Nussbaum has been an acclaimed scholar and humanist, earning dozens of honors for her books and essays. In The Monarchy of Fear she turns her attention to the current political crisis that has polarized American since the 2016 election.
Although today’s atmosphere is marked by partisanship, divisive rhetoric, and the inability of two halves of the country to communicate with one another, Nussbaum focuses on what so many pollsters and pundits have overlooked. She sees a simple truth at the heart of the problem: the political is always emotional. Globalization has produced feelings of powerlessness in millions of people in the West. That sense of powerlessness bubbles into resentment and blame. Blame of immigrants. Blame of Muslims. Blame of other races. Blame of cultural elites. While this politics of blame is exemplified by the election of Donald Trump and the vote for Brexit, Nussbaum argues it can be found on all sides of the political spectrum, left or right.
Drawing on a mix of historical and contemporary examples, from classical Athens to the musical Hamilton, The Monarchy of Fear untangles this web of feelings and provides a roadmap of where to go next.
Divisive politics sprout from primal passions, according to this sparkling pop-philosophy treatise. University of Chicago philosophy professor Nussbaum (Upheavals of Thought) attempts to root political impulses in the psychology of babies, who relieve their sense of helpless fear by squalling imperious demands that parents fulfill their needs; this infantile anxiety is so emotionally formative, she contends, that it makes democracies vulnerable to demagogic efforts to gin up fear of scapegoats, from ancient Athens's conflict with its colony Mytilene to latter-day panics over Muslim immigrants. Fear spawns other emotions that animate malignant politics, Nussbaum argues, such as anger that leads to violence and disgust that motivates racism and homophobia. She calls for such programs as three years of mandatory national service to instill feelings of inclusiveness and solidarity, and endorses a varied group of "practices of hope" (such as religion, protest movements, and Socratic education) as antidotes to fear. Nussbaum's erudite but very readable investigation engages figures from Aristotle to Donald Trump in lucid and engaging prose, though some readers may feel she psychologizes politics without grappling sufficiently with positions' substance. Still, Nussbaum offers fresh, worthwhile insights into the animosities that roil contemporary public life.