cover image The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis

The Monarchy of Fear: A Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis

Martha C. Nussbaum. Simon & Schuster, $25.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-5011-7249-6

Divisive politics sprout from primal passions, according to this sparkling pop-philosophy treatise. University of Chicago philosophy professor Nussbaum (Upheavals of Thought) attempts to root political impulses in the psychology of babies, who relieve their sense of helpless fear by squalling imperious demands that parents fulfill their needs; this infantile anxiety is so emotionally formative, she contends, that it makes democracies vulnerable to demagogic efforts to gin up fear of scapegoats, from ancient Athens’s conflict with its colony Mytilene to latter-day panics over Muslim immigrants. Fear spawns other emotions that animate malignant politics, Nussbaum argues, such as anger that leads to violence and disgust that motivates racism and homophobia. She calls for such programs as three years of mandatory national service to instill feelings of inclusiveness and solidarity, and endorses a varied group of “practices of hope” (such as religion, protest movements, and Socratic education) as antidotes to fear. Nussbaum’s erudite but very readable investigation engages figures from Aristotle to Donald Trump in lucid and engaging prose, though some readers may feel she psychologizes politics without grappling sufficiently with positions’ substance. Still, Nussbaum offers fresh, worthwhile insights into the animosities that roil contemporary public life. [em]Agent: Sydelle Kramer, Susan Rabiner Literary Agency. (July) [/em]