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The Sentimental Citizen

Emotion in Democratic Politics

George E. Marcus

Publication Year: 2002

This book challenges the conventional wisdom that improving democratic politics requires keeping emotion out of it. Marcus advances the provocative claim that the tradition in democratic theory of treating emotion and reason as hostile opposites is misguided and leads contemporary theorists to misdiagnose the current state of American democracy. Instead of viewing the presence of emotion in politics as a failure of rationality and therefore as a failure of citizenship, Marcus argues, democratic theorists need to understand that emotions are in fact a prerequisite for the exercise of reason and thus essential for rational democratic deliberation and political judgment. Attempts to purge emotion from public life not only are destined to fail, but ultimately would rob democracies of a key source of revitalization and change. Drawing on recent research in neuroscience, Marcus shows how emotion functions generally and what role it plays in politics. In contrast to the traditional view of emotion as a form of agitation associated with belief, neuroscience reveals it to be generated by brain systems that operate largely outside of awareness. Two of these systems, "disposition" and "surveillance," are especially important in enabling emotions to produce habits, which often serve a positive function in democratic societies. But anxiety, also a preconscious emotion, is crucial to democratic politics as well because it can inhibit or disable habits and thus clear a space for the conscious use of reason and deliberation. If we acknowledge how emotion facilitates reason and is "cooperatively entangled" with it. Marcus concludes, then we should recognize sentimental citizens as the only citizens really capable of exercising political judgment and of putting their decisions into action.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Front Cover

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Copyright Page

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pp. v

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pp. vii-viii

This book has been over ten years in the making. Although the writing took place only in the last of those years, its beginning can be traced to a decision to abandon the then common route of studying what and how citizens thought and what they claimed to value. Not knowing what I would find, I began a search that has not yet come to an end to understand what and how people feel and with what consequences. A final and full account of how people feel is not yet available, nor is it likely to be in the near future. But enough is known to advance the ideas in this book and to...

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1 Introduction

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pp. 1-8

I begin by juxtaposing Pericles’ celebratory elegy depicting the excellence of Athenian citizens in the fifth century B.C. to a contemporary assessment of American citizenry. The comparison, if accurate, provides little comfort for all who see in the furtherance of democracy the fullest realization of freedom and self-rule. But perhaps this juxtaposition is unfair. After all, few Athenians were eligible for the status of citizen (women and slaves, among others, were excluded). Similarly, at the founding of our republic,...

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2 Emotion Conventionally Understood

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pp. 9-32

As in most cultures, emotions figure prominently in our speech. about emotions to explain what and why we do things, how we any moment, and what we see in other people’s actions, past, present, anticipated. Emotion talk has explanatory power because embedded some central metaphors that do the actual explaining. And, as often happens with good metaphors, their use becomes invisible...

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3 The Requirements of Citizenship

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pp. 33-47

The expectations that define a good citizen and the relevant psychological qualities needed to provide the foundations for citizenship have not remained constant over the centuries of the American regime of republican government. The trajectory of the changing conception of citizenship is revealing. The psychology of the good citizen has gone from one that required deference to elite excellence to one that required autonomous consideration by citizens relying on...

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4 Becoming Reacquainted with Emotion

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pp. 49-78

Hume’s provocative claim suggests a relationship between emotion and reason that challenges all the normative sensitivities that the currently dominant tradition maintains. For reason to be enslaved by passion is, of course, anathema to the hope that autonomous reason will sustain political judgment in the cause of justice and the common good. But if we see reason as a set of conscious skills that are recruited by emotion systems for just those occasions when...

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5 The Uses of Habit and Enthusiasm

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pp. 79-97

As Madison famously noted in Federalist 10, opinions and passions are strongly associated.1 This association becomes less of a mystery once we understand how the disposition system works. For the brain to execute any specific previously learned action, it must coordinate three strands of knowledge. First, it must draw from procedural memory the specific details of how to execute that particular habit, such as writing your signature...

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6 The Uses of Anxiety

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pp. 99-117

As activists of all political persuasions quickly learn, the placid state of mind that philosophers and pundits often recommend to enable sound political judgment ill suits their requirements. Getting attention is not the only purpose of generating a sense of crisis; spectacle has long been a hallmark of politics (Duncan 1962; M. Edelman 1964, 1988; Marcus 1988a). Although spectacles can elicit a variety of emotional reactions, they tend to fall into one of two characteristic patterns...

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7 The Dangers of Loathing

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pp. 119-132

Passion, as has long been recognized, has been implicated in the extraordinary capacity humans have for going to war with one another. The involvement of passion is especially displayed in the religious and ethnic wars that pit one sect or group against another.1 Each side confidently proclaims its special authority and assigns everyone else to purgatory. The millions of humans who have died to create a more perfect world, a world purged of those who affront and confront them, is a sad measure of the power of passion to move us to extraordinary efforts...

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8 The Sentimental Citizen

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pp. 133-148

The first two epigraphs that introduce this chapter challenge a misconception that has pervaded Western thought on the place of reason in guiding human judgment and directing human behavior. The third epigraph, from Aristotle, responds to Plato’s assertion that reason by itself can and should rule (the weakness of reason as a guide to human action has long been an axiom of Western thought).1 Aristotle’s answer provides a central place for emotion in moral action. While Aristotle did not have access to the scientific...


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pp. 149-166


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pp. 167-171

Back Cover

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p. 181-181

E-ISBN-13: 9780271052731
E-ISBN-10: 0271052732
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271022123
Print-ISBN-10: 0271022124

Page Count: 184
Illustrations: 3 charts/graphs, 1 table
Publication Year: 2002