I was surfing around at relative random yesterday, waiting for TG to get ready for the New Years Eve festivities when I visited Jacob Levy’s blog (referencing l’affaire Althouse). I’m only mildly interested in the squabble, because it’s become about personalities much more than ideas – and if I wanted to deal with that c**p I’d work in Hollywood and make a lot more money than I do – but I clicked on Levy’s CV and then read the first chapter of his book ‘The Multiculturalism of Fear’.
I studied political theory as an undergraduate (with Sheldon Wolin and John Schaar)…that was a long time ago and pretty much ran from Homer up to Rawls (who had just published ‘A Theory of Justice’) and then stopped.
So it was with a lot of interest that in Levy’s work I read about and noted Judith Shklar (who I’d heard of but not read) et al who essentially write about a political theory of feelings and emotion, and appear to elevate hurt feelings – literally – to a parity with core human rights. Levy discusses Shklar –
Shklar subordinates the evil of ‘moral cruelty’ or humiliation to the evil of physical cruelty, but acknowledges the reality and harm of such moral cruelty. ‘It is not just a matter of hurting someone’s feelings. It is deliberate and persistent humiliation, so that the victim can eventually trust neither himself nor anyone else.’
This is interesting, and on first account worrisome. It legitimizes the views of such folk as Ahmed Sheikh (Editor-In-Chief of Al-Jazeera) who I cite as saying:
In the end, is it a matter of feelings of self-esteem?
Exactly. It’s because we always lose to Israel. It gnaws at the people in the Middle East that such a small country as Israel, with only about 7 million inhabitants, can defeat the Arab nation with its 350 million. That hurts our collective ego. The Palestinian problem is in the genes of every Arab. The West’s problem is that it does not understand this.
The problem with this, I note is
It’s impossible – or very damn close to it – to negotiate with someone who is interested more in his self-image than in any objective thing that may be achieved in the negotiation. Because no matter how the matter is settled, each party to a good settlement feels somewhat wronged.
And if that feeling of wronged-ness is the driver…well, getting to a negotiated settlement is going to be damn difficult.
On first blush, I’m frightened of a political theory of feelings. I need to do some reading because this is something definitely worth digging into a bit. Shklar sounds like a good first stop…(and I’d love some other suggestions).