This chapter explores the origins of enthusiasm and its different varieties. The frame for this investigation is C. M. Wieland’s question on how to distinguish between enthusiasm and fanaticism. The chapter begins with a summary of Wieland’s own articulation of the problem and his working definitions, as well as the place he saw for enthusiasm in an increasingly rationalized world. Wieland himself considered his essay an initiation of debate on enthusiasm’s meaning. This chapter follows Wieland’s lead, contextualizing the previous articulations of enthusiasm on which his definitions and arguments rely. Further, in order to help place Wieland’s essay into the existing literature on this topic, this chapter divides Wieland’s concise history of enthusiasm into three categories: religious enthusiasm, enthusiasm as a bodily disease, and moral enthusiasm. The chapter discusses how these conceptualizations differ and why such differences are important for elucidating the concept of enthusiasm itself. The chapter concludes by noting how this context clarifies how enthusiasm can be reconceived as a political concept.
The chapter introduces the concept of enthusiasm and its place in the history of political theory. It describes how enthusiasm has, over time, become a misunderstood concept in contemporary politics, and the very real consequences that this has for democracy and for how political actors understand themselves and their own political agency. Going beyond the usual debate regarding the dangers of enthusiasm to collective identity and democratic politics, this chapter also describes the way enthusiasm has emancipatory potential for resistance movements. Building on Foucault’s schematic reflections, this chapter also discusses the necessity of reconsidering the concept of enthusiasm beyond its previous historical manifestations. The chapter provides an overview of the subsequent chapters of the book, showing how each help illuminate the meanings of political enthusiasm.
This chapter explores the development of enthusiasm as a political concept. It offers a close reading of Kant’s thinking on enthusiasm and the politics that comes from it. This reading pays close attention to the political anxieties associated with enthusiasm. Kant is usually read as defending a detached, impartial spectator as the ground for a more sober politics. This chapter offers a distinct counter-reading of Kantian enthusiasm that moves past the purified spectator, immune to political engagement. This reading of enthusiasm makes sense of Kant’s own anxiety regarding enthusiasm as the “most dangerous” political idea, showing where Kant gives us the terms to think through how to cross the boundary between actor and spectator, and the place of enthusiasm in constructing that pathway. While Kant struggled to come to terms with the significance of enthusiasm, this chapter argues that we see the grounds for a radical reading of enthusiasm within his thinking; a performance that motivates revolutionary action.
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.
Enthusiasm has long been perceived as a fundamental danger to democratic politics. Many have regarded it as a source of threatening instabilities manifest through political irrationalism. Such a view can make enthusiasm appear as a direct threat to the reason and order on which democracy is thought to rely. But such a desire for a sober and moderate democratic politics is perilously misleading, ignoring the emotional basis on which democracy thrives. Enthusiasm in democracy works to help political actors identify and foster progressive changes. We feel enthusiasm at precisely those moments of new beginnings, when politics takes on new shapes and novel structures. Being clear about how we experience enthusiasm, and how we recognize it, is thus crucial for democracy, which depends on progression and the alteration of ruler and the ruled. This book traces the changing ways enthusiasm has been understood politically in modern Western political thought. It explores how political actors use enthusiasm to motivate allegiances, how we have come to think on the dangers of enthusiasm in democratic politics, and how else we might think about enthusiasm today. From its inception, democracy has relied on a constant affective energy of renewal. By tracing the way this crucial emotional energy is made manifest in political actions – from ancient times to the present – this book sheds light on the way enthusiasm has been understood by political scientists, philosophers, and political activists, as well as its implications for contemporary democratic politics.
Chapter 5 offers a refocusing on enthusiasm in democracy and especially the contemporary affective strategies and conditions faced in democratic life. As an entry into the contemporary view of democracy, this chapter explores Rancière’s essay “Hatred for Democracy” as a site to begin to consider these affective dimensions. At the heart of this affective life, according to Rancière, is the condition of hatred. This chapter shows how Rancière deploys a “democratic” rhetoric that does not seek to destroy this logic of hatred, but rather finds a means of existing in a world where hatred(s), including hierarchies and xenophobia, are a profound reality to be resisted – springs to take energy from. This move, from the hatreds that plague democratic life (hatred of democracy), to a political engagement with hatred that acknowledges its reality (hatred for democracy), depends on developing a grammar that begins to reflect these democratic forces between subjectivities. This chapter shows that, at the heart of this grammar of hatred, there lurks a persistent enthusiasm, one that helps make sense of such hatreds and the specific ways they damage democracy.
This chapter explores how to distinguish enthusiasm in political action. Considering Walter Benjamin’s essay Critique of Violence (1921), this chapter explores acts of enthusiasm, and especially the general strike. Benjamin’s discussion of the general strike draws the political imagination to what he named a “pure” politics, beyond mediation. This chapter reads the strike as a principle of political intrusion – one that is a lurking, though sublimated, enthusiasm. This reading productively problematizes the force of the strike. It extends Benjamin’s thesis, beyond any historical imagination of the general strike as the mere force of labor, instead reading the strike as an act of enthusiasm that extends and complicates Kant’s thinking, and in different ways from the Arendtian inheritance. This chapter also moves to more contemporary examples of enthusiastic acts, considering immolations, hunger strikes, and other “suicides” as similarly “general” politics, rupturing the violence of the state according to its own pathways of power.
This chapter begins with a vignette of ‘super Saturday’ in autumn 2019 when the House of Commons held a ‘meaningful vote’ on Brexit but hardly anyone – including MPs – understood what actually happened in the House of Commons. It makes the case that parliamentary procedure is excessively complex and arcane and argues that it is detrimental to democracy if the public does not understand what is going on in parliament. The chapter explains what parliamentary procedure is and how its uncodified nature makes it difficult for MPs, let alone the public, to understand. It considers why procedure is so complicated and argues that complexity should not be an inherent feature of parliamentary rules. It explores what has been done to try to simplify parliamentary procedure and make it easier to understand, and the barriers to democratising the workings of parliament in this way. The public’s perception is that the House of Commons is a private club, run according to incomprehensible rules which set MPs apart from their constituents. This is damaging and should be addressed by a continuous process of reviewing and simplifying the rules. But this will only happen with government support.
The conclusion opens by arguing that MPs ought to be more concerned than they are about the spiral of declining public trust and government contempt into which the House of Commons has fallen. It observes that there have been significant efforts in recent years to communicate the work of MPs but argues that the public is more likely to judge parliament by the behaviour of MPs than by the outputs of parliamentary processes. MPs should make the House of Commons an exemplar of best practice rather than an exception to the rules. The long history of the House of Commons is no guarantor of modern value and the preferences of current MPs should not be allowed to prejudice the future of the institution by preventing reform. MPs should address the inappropriate degree of control over the procedures and processes of the House of Commons which is exercised by whichever party is in government. The chapter concludes that at present there is neither the will among MPs nor the incentive for the government to undertake the reforms that are needed to reverse the vicious cycle of decline. Ironically, perhaps it is only if the unmodernised palace finally goes up in flames and parliamentarians find themselves forced out of Westminster without notice that they will be forced to reflect on many previously unthinkable questions about the way our politics operates.
This chapter opens with a description of the decrepit nature of the Palace of Westminster. The chapter discusses the problems that have dogged the project to restore the palace and the consequences – actual and potential – of parliamentarians’ refusal to allow it to proceed. It argues that the disinclination of today’s politicians to renovate the palace means that historical choices will continue to condition future behaviours and thinking in intended and unintended ways. The chapter argues that the problems which have dogged the restoration are symptomatic of wider issues which are undermining public trust in the House of Commons, and that these need to be addressed in order to reverse the spiral of decline in public confidence in parliament. MPs’ failure to make the House of Commons more diverse, comprehensible and modern has created a risk parliament’s credibility and relevance as an institution.