Beyond the Po-Faced Public Sphere
Willie Whitelaw, who served as deputy prime minister under Margaret Thatcher, once accused his political opponents of ‘stirring up apathy’. This was, to be sure, an infelicitous construction: apathy — from the Greek a-pathos; without feeling — implies that something is absent — and to stir up an absence of feeling would seem to be an absurd enterprise. But there is a second sense in which Whitelaw’s accusation should interest us, for it belongs to that tradition of thought which regards emotions as smouldering liabilities, constantly in danger of being kindled, inflamed, stirred up. Just as you ‘stir up apathy’, you ignite pathos — which then disrupts and disables its Aristotelian antithesis, logos. Politics, according to this discourse, entails quiet appeals to reason. The political becomes a project to protect logos from contamination by pathos.
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