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Anger fast and slow: mediations of justice and violence in the age of populism

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The rise of populist political rhetoric and mobilisation, together with a conflict-riven digital public sphere, has generated growing interest in anger as a central emotion in politics. Anger has long been recognised as a powerful driver of political action and resistance, by feminist scholars among others, while political philosophers have reflected on the relationship of anger to ethical judgement since Aristotle. This article seeks to differentiate between two different ideal types of anger, in order to illuminate the status of anger in contemporary populist politics and rhetoric. First, there is anger that arises in an automatic, pre-conscious fashion, as a somatic, reactive and performative way, to an extent that potentially spirals into violence. Second, there is anger that builds up over time in response to perceived injustice, potentially generating melancholia and ressentiment. Borrowing Kahneman’s dualism, the article refers to these as ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ anger, and deploys the distinction to understand how the two interact. In the hands of the demagogue or troll, ‘fast anger’ can be deployed to focus all energies on the present, so as to briefly annihilate the past and the ‘slow anger’ that has been deposited there. And yet only by combining the conscious reflection of memory with the embodied response of action can anger ever be meaningfully sated in politics.
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Keywords: affect; anger; democracy; emotion; populism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Goldsmiths, University of London, UK

Publication date: May 2020

This article was made available online on February 12, 2020 as a Fast Track article with title: "Anger fast and slow: mediations of justice and violence in the age of populism".

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  • Global Discourse is an interdisciplinary, problem-oriented journal of applied contemporary thought operating at the intersection of politics, international relations, sociology and social policy. The Journal's scope is broad, encouraging interrogation of current affairs with regard to core questions of distributive justice, wellbeing, cultural diversity, autonomy, sovereignty, security and recognition. All issues are themed and aimed at addressing pressing issues as they emerge. Rejecting the notion that publication is the final stage in the research process, Global Discourse seeks to foster discussion and debate between often artificially isolated disciplines and paradigms, with responses to articles encouraged and conversations continued across issues.

    The Journal features a mix of full-length articles, each accompanied by one or more replies, policy papers commissioned by organizations and institutions and book review symposia, typically consisting of three reviews and a reply by the author(s). With an international advisory editorial board consisting of experienced, highly-cited academics, Global Discourse publishes themed issues on topics as they emerge. Authors are encouraged to explore the international dimensions and implications of their work.

    All research articles in this journal have undergone rigorous peer review, based on initial editor screening and double-blind peer review. All submissions must be in response to a specific call for papers.

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