Our unknown zeal
Or what goes wrong when we seek political relief
in Political enthusiasm
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This chapter illustrates how enthusiasm can become both ideological and apolitical. As enthusiasm developed from a religious to a political phenomenon, the result was a bifurcation of its meanings, where enthusiasm was sometimes experienced as an affect that accompanied zealotry, and at others as a more benign swooning. Focusing on the political thought of Hannah Arendt, this chapter pays particular attention to the affective basis of zealotry. It examines the role of the spectator in democratic politics, and the place of the spectator’s enthusiasm in public discourse. While sympathetic to Arendt’s aims, this chapter also presents a critique, noting that she inherits a binary notion of enthusiasm, one that turns political enthusiasm into a depoliticizing affect. Paying attention to this contrasting logic, this chapter shows how Arendt’s reading of enthusiasm fuels an exclusionary and secularized affect, while vacating the concept of its potency. The aim of the chapter is to highlight and push against the binary logic underlying Arendt’s thinking on enthusiasm, and the culmination of that logic in a kind of depoliticization. By delineating varieties of the binaries of enthusiasm, this chapter works to form a new ground for the rethinking of enthusiasm.

Political enthusiasm

Partisan feeling and democracy’s enchantments


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