Politics and the Passions, 1500-1850

Politics and the Passions, 1500-1850

Politics and the Passions, 1500-1850

Politics and the Passions, 1500-1850

Excerpt

In recent years there has been a renaissance of interest in the passions in interdisciplinary work in the humanities and social sciences. Scholars have directed their attention to the passions as vehicles of knowledge, as attributes of aesthetic experience, as labile affects or shifting currents that contribute to political upheaval or religious self-sacrifice. The reasons for this affective reorientation are multiple. We might think of it as a reaction to the linguistic turn or the deconstruction of the subject. We might instead think of it as the logical consequence of the focus on tropes and figures: themselves, as ancient rhetoricians tells us, the best means of representing the swerve of affect away from pure cognition, as well as the best means of stirring up the passions of the audience. We might think of the recourse to the passions as a consequence of the interest in the body and the body politic across a variety of disciplines. But there are also less academic reasons for the renewed interest in the passions. At a time when a rhetoric of “terror” is a central feature of our common political life, when political ideologies on the right and left vie to characterize themselves as “compassionate,” and when religious passions lead to shocking acts of violence, it is worth reexamining the history of Western reflection on politics and the passions.

This volume begins with the early modern period and concludes with Bentham. It focuses in particular on the new theories of human motivation, the new calculus of passion and interest, that emerged as a result of the social, political, and religious changes that facilitated the transition from feudalism to capitalism. It is arguable, of course, that the passions have always played an important role in Western reflection on politics. Beginning with Plato and Aristotle, philosophers, political theorists, and literary critics have devoted considerable attention to the role of the passions in shaping human knowledge and experience, both individual and collective. At the same time, however, scholars as diverse as Norbert Elias, Albert Hirschman, and Max Horkheimer have argued that the early modern period signals a shift in the conceptualization of the passions, specifically in relation to the political sphere. This volume proceeds from this argument. In the following pages, we briefly set out a framework for . . .

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