Compassion and Tragedy in the Aspiring Society
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Martha Nussbaum’s Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice is a rich and engaging work that brings together her theory of emotions (2001) with her own strand of capabilities-inflected political liberalism (1999, 2000, 2006). The result is an empirically-informed, deeply cross-disciplinary, and engaging argument for the centrality of emotional work to the liberal democratic project. In what follows, I offer an account of the book’s theoretical context and its central argument before engaging along more evaluative and critical lines with its treatment of compassion and tragedy.
The overarching theoretical argument of the book is that ensuring the stability of political principles and motivating citizens to make the sacrifices necessary for a common life require emotional work. This is as true in liberal societies as it is in monarchical or totalitarian ones, though the kind of emotional work required will differ in each case. Political liberals who accept this premise are faced...
I am grateful to Burke Hendrix and Martha Nussbaum for comments an earlier draft of this essay.
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