Politics and Emotions

pp 29-70

The Political Mind and Its Other

Rethinking the Non-Place of Passions in Modern Political Theory
  • Ramón Maiz

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There is a hidden tension underlying current debates on issues such as liberalism, communitarianism, multiculturalism or nationalism in the field of political theory.1. This hidden tension is at least as problematic as the tensions expressed by other, more explicit binary codes, such as community/individual, monism/ pluralism or universalism/particularism. In this chapter, I will argue that the Reason/Emotion dichotomy, a foundational dichotomy or more precisely a dualism, originating in a partial and radical interpretation of Enlightenment thought, lies as an undisputed assumption behind those other binary codes, hindering the very possibility of arriving at new developments in the theory of democracy and of politics itself. The Reason/Emotion dichotomy induces with the “blissful clarity” of myth – using Barthes' expression – an undisputed and omnipresent hyper-rationality. In turn, this has very negative de-politicizing effects on a large part of the arguments advanced by political theorists. In this respect it is revealing that egalitarian liberalism is built on the notions of rational/ reasonable and public reason/non-public reason. Furthermore, the creation of community networks is usually presented as a kind of escape from moral subjectivism by appealing to a presumptive objective rationality of tradition. Moreover, it is striking that demands for representation of individuals or social groups are normally defended by resorting to an individual or group interest. Also, deliberation is based on the ideas of ‘rational consensus’ and ‘force of the better argument’. Nationalism is regarded as morally justifiable only if it adopts the reasonable form of ‘civic patriotism’ within the alleged cultural neutrality of the State. Last but not least, it is also revealing that some feminist theories are controversially constructed in opposition to the aforementioned aspects by appealing to the notion of ‘Eros’, with an aim to freeing the repressed political dimension of affect. In my view, all these aspects show clearly the foundational marginalization, if not the theoretical exclusion, of emotion, passion, and feeling. Moreover, one crucial aspect of the problem in this chapter is the modern conceptual displacement of the classical notion of ‘passion’, which includes both affective and cognitive elements, by that of ‘emotion’ conceived as the other of Reason (Dixon 2003; Oatley 2004). In the following pages, however, I will be using these terms, i.e. emotion, passion and feeling, as synonyms, to refer to the structurally-banned affective dimension of politics.