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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

Affiliations: Goldsmiths, University of London, uk

Appeared or available online: February 12, 2020

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