...one of the virtues of this slender volume is how gradually and scrupulously it moves, as Nussbaum pushes you to slow down, think harder and revisit your knee-jerk assumptions ... The book starts out strong, as she breaks fear down into first principles in order to show how feelings of insecurity and powerlessness can render an otherwise useful emotion like anger, or a desire for fairness, into something more vengeful and poisonous. She’s a skillful rhetorician, gracefully navigating her way around partisan land mines by talking about babies and ancient Greece ... Her cool approach to incendiary topics is part of what makes her work so brilliant and so frustrating. To counter the 'toxic brew' of fearful anger, envy and misogyny, she proposes...'strategies.' She’s not necessarily wrong, but does she have to sound so bloodless and Apollonian about it? ... When it comes to seeing the small, scared child in everyone, though, Nussbaum can be illuminating.
Readers will notice that the path Nussbaum charts from destructive to generous emotions unfolds along the political principles of the secular left. To be sure, Nussbaum calls for open public dialogue that includes a diverse range of voices. But then she dismisses religionists’ theological convictions as a distraction from political activism and waves away conservatives’ worries about family life. But even readers skeptical about Nussbaum’s political orientation will welcome this call for an emotionally healthier public life.
Most of what Nussbaum writes in The Monarchy of Fear has the ring not just of truth but sometimes also of truism. Do we really need a philosopher to point out that the current president’s base fears the many changes convulsing our world, changes that make them feel powerless and sidelined? ... it hardly requires a philosopher of Nussbaum’s stature to point these things out, and at times her classical background causes her to gloss over significant observations. Anger may, in almost every human society, carry with it a desire for revenge, but not every society encourages retribution the way America’s does ... Realistically, the only citizens paying her the attention and respect of reading her thoughts on this will be those who share her own liberal orientation, and in that respect The Monarchy of Fear seems like a missed opportunity. Understanding what motivates Trump supporters is a lot less difficult than figuring out how to live with them. A nation, unlike a social media feed, can’t be curated to erase all the people whose beliefs we find risible. The Monarchy of Fear doesn’t help much in this respect. It does assert something important: Anyone campaigning for an alternative to the current regime must talk about the America they want to create more than they focus on the people they’re trying to thwart.