Book Review: Politics and the Passions
A review of Politics and the Passions, 1500-1850
This volume contains twelve essays on early modern philosophers from Machiavelli to Mill, addressing their views on the passions from the perspective of intellectual and literary history. Its appearance is timely. Interest in 17th and 18th century theories of the emotions and their implications for social cohesion have been stimulated by recent historiographical studies such as Susan James's Passion and Action (Oxford 2001), as well as by contemporary psychological and philosophical theorizing about the personal and social emotions in Damasio, De Sousa, Griffiths, Prinz, and others. The reader of this collection quickly comes to realize how central to political life the emotions seemed to our predecessors; one of the rewarding aspects of the books is its revelation of this largely forgotten aspect of culture and civilization.
Judith Butler discusses the drive to live and preserve one's being in Spinoza, noting how Spinoza's apparently egoistic premises are converted into the ethical perspective of the Ethics through generalization about the Other's equivalent ends. (As well as, one might add, the prospective evaporation of the individual into the substance of which it is a mere mode.) She courageously criticizes the conceptions of self-defense and self-determination that appear to underlie contemporary nationalistic policy in Israel at the expense of humanitarian values.