Liberalism, Affect Control, and Emotionally Intelligent Democracy

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Journal of Human Rights





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If ancient Greece is the birthplace of democracy and Athens its earliest incarnation, which deity in the illustrious pantheon of Greek Gods and Goddesses qualifies as its benefactor? No major figure inhabiting Olympus comes to mind, but once you consider the second-tier deities, you find a plausible candidate in Peitho, the Goddess embodying ‘the spirit of agreement, bargain, contract, consensus, exchange, and negotiation in a free polis,’ which, according to Alexander Mourelatos, makes her ‘the patron of civilized life and of democratic institutions.’ What makes Peitho such an intriguing candidate for the part is that she is also the attendant and companion of Aphrodite, whose capacity to attract and persuade, it would seem, has something to do with the art of living in a democratic polis.

The discursive strategy linking democracy, civility, and affect is central to the thesis I wish to develop in this essay, namely, that democracy is an embodied process that binds affectively as well as rhetorically and that flourishes in places where civic discourse is not an expedient means to be discarded when it fails to achieve a proximate goal but an end in itself, a source of vitality and social creativity sustaining an emotionally intelligent democratic community. I begin my discussion with a blueprint for democratic polity formulated in ancient Greece and its critical reception at the time. Then I consider the difficulties that fledgling democracies encounter on the way to civil society as they struggle to put behind their historical legacy. Next I make the case that civic discourse is inseparable from the civic body which has been misshapen by past abuses and which takes a long time to heal. Finally, drawing on Norbert Elias’s work on the civilizing process, I speculate about the emotion, demeanor, and the body language of democracy, and explore from this angle the prospects for democratic transformation in countries that are struggling to shake their totalitarian past.


Civil society; Democracy; Emotions--Political aspects


Law and Politics | Political Theory | Politics and Social Change | Sociology | Sociology of Culture




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Dmitri Shalin (2004): Liberalism, affect control, and emotionally intelligent democracy, Journal of Human Rights, 3:4, 407-428

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