Synopses & Reviews
The Political Brain
is a groundbreaking investigation into the role of emotion in determining the political life of the nation. For two decades Drew Westen, professor of psychology and psychiatry at Emory University, has explored a theory of the mind that differs substantially from the more "dispassionate" notions held by most cognitive psychologists, political scientists, and economistsand Democratic campaign strategists. The idea of the mind as a cool calculator that makes decisions by weighing the evidence bears no relation to how the brain actually works. When political candidates assume voters dispassionately make decisions based on "the issues," they lose. That's why only one Democrat has been re-elected to the presidency since Franklin Rooseveltand only one Republican has failed in that quest.
In politics, when reason and emotion collide, emotion invariably wins. Elections are decided in the marketplace of emotions, a marketplace filled with values, images, analogies, moral sentiments, and moving oratory, in which logic plays only a supporting role. Westen shows, through a whistle-stop journey through the evolution of the passionate brain and a bravura tour through fifty years of American presidential and national elections, why campaigns succeed and fail. The evidence is overwhelming that three things determine how people vote, in this order: their feelings toward the parties and their principles, their feelings toward the candidates, and, if they haven't decided by then, their feelings toward the candidates' policy positions.
Westen turns conventional political analyses on their head, suggesting that the question for Democratic politics isn't so much about moving to the right or the left but about moving the electorate. He shows how it can be done through examples of what candidates have saidor could have saidin debates, speeches, and ads. Westen's discoveries could utterly transform electoral arithmetic, showing how a different view of the mind and brain leads to a different way of talking with voters about issues that have tied the tongues of Democrats for much of forty yearssuch as abortion, guns, taxes, and race. You can't change the structure of the brain. But you can change the way you appeal to it. And here's how
“This is a big, bold book on an important subject. Andrew A. G. Ross advances novel arguments about emotion as a social process and illustrates his argument through three fascinating case studies. The big picture he draws is compelling and raises large, important questions about how we currently understand global politics. Potentially pathbreaking, the book opens a new field of inquiry which scholars in the field are just beginning to explore in a systematic way.”
“In this engrossing, utterly persuasive study, Andrew A. G. Ross elucidates a political theory of mixed and fluid emotions. From mirror neurons to collective agency, from microsociology to mass media, he shows how emotions not only suffuse social life in every conceivable setting but also unsettle it in politically significant ways. With Rosss help, students of social construction can finally move beyond language and identity to processes of embodied interaction.”
“Mixed Emotions makes a pathbreaking contribution to an increasingly important scholarly debate: the study of emotions in international politics. Drawing on case studies that range from protest movements to terrorism and from ethnic conflict to transitional justice, Andrew A. G. Ross convincingly reveals how the ‘circulation of affect spreads collective emotions over time and across spatial boundaries.”
“A needed challenge to the rationalist perspective of much of IR theory, one which takes the potential of emotions seriously. [Ross] paints emotions not as the unreliable contaminants of Enlightenment thought, but rather as creative forces with the potential to inspire, heal, and forge movements for change through what he calls collective agency. It is also anti-essentialist: by theorizing ways that interactions and connections can happen across demographics, groups, and spaces, Ross enables us to look at conflicts like those in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia without relying on static understandings of ethnicity and identity. Scholars and practitioners of transitional justice, as well as IR theorists, should find this book very useful and interesting.”
“Rosss examination of what he describes as the ‘neuropolitics of incitement produces some of this books most insightful and interesting passages.”
“Rosss book is an absolute must-read for students, scholars, and foreign policy practitioners. . . . Mixed Emotions thoroughly and clearly recasts the concept of agency for IR theory. . . Ross aims to reconceptualize this fundamental concept to reveal how emotions lie ‘at the heart of political practice in the modern world. Attempting to revolutionize an academic disciplines understanding of a concept as fundamental as agency to IR has the potential to be a momentous and unwieldy task. However, Ross effectively does so in just 162 pages.”
“Mixed Emotions showcases in-depth and wide-ranging thinking about emotions and the work they do. . . . [Rosss book] deserves an important place in the body of scholarship that is increasingly putting emotions on the map of mainstream political science.”
“Drawing from the Rwandan genocide, the conflict on the Balkans, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United State, Ross outlines an original and convincing argument for why emotional politics is an area that deserves further attention.”
“This book, by theorizing emotions in a serious, deep, and multidisciplinary way, not only provides a corrective to the mistaken duality in which emotions and rationality are set apart and never the twain shall meet, but also it sets forth a fresh account of emotions that will likely shape the future of emotions and affect research in international relations. . . . One of the most impressive aspects of Ross’s book is the careful tracing of circulation of affect in particular conflicts. The chapter on “the affective politics of terror” is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the collective response by the United States to the September 11 attacks. . . . This is an important book that may well be viewed as pathbreaking in an important second wave of emotions research in international relations.”
This groundbreaking investigation by a renowned psychologist and neuroscientist proves it: We vote with our hearts, not our minds
In recent years, it’s become increasingly clear that emotion plays a central role in global politics. For example, people readily care about acts of terrorism and humanitarian crises because they appeal to our compassion for human suffering. These struggles also command attention where social interactions have the power to produce or intensify the emotional responses of those who participate in them.
From passionate protests to poignant speeches, Andrew A. G. Ross analyzes high-emotion events with an eye to how they shape public sentiment and finds that there is no single answer. The politically powerful play to the public’s emotions to advance their political aims, and such appeals to emotion also often serve to sustain existing values and institutions. But the affective dimension can produce profound change, particularly when a struggle in the present can be shown to line up with emotionally resonant events from the past. Extending his findings to well-studied conflicts, including the War on Terror and the violence in Rwanda and the Balkans, Ross identifies important sites of emotional impact missed by earlier research focused on identities and interests.
About the Author
Drew Westen received his B.A. at Harvard, an M.A. in Social and Political Thought at the University of Sussex (England), and his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at the University of Michigan, where he subsequently taught for six years. For several years he was Chief Psychologist at Cambridge Hospital and Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School. He is a commentator on NPR's "All Things Considered" and lives in Atlanta.
Table of Contents
Preface and Acknowledgments
One / Circulations of Affect in Global Politics
Two / Contagion and the Creativity of Affect
Three / The Affective Politics of Terror
Four / Emotions and Ethnic Conflict
Five / Justice Beyond Hatred