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Too often, it seems, we treat anger as an inherently irrational and inchoate expression of political engagement, typically representing it in the roar of an inarticulate mob. But as Aristotle made clear, anger is not madness. Indeed, it is and can be a legitimate and rational political emotion, quite necessary as a motivational resistance to the forces of injustice, and made effective in the careful and deliberate performance of the cultural norms of appropriate social and political recognition. The problem is that in contemporary times we lack useful models for the effective expression and enactment of productive political anger. Either we get the silly rants of groups like the “tea-baggers,” which function as little more than a parody of anger, or we get the truly irrational futility of individuals flying planes into buildings or going on shooting rampages. Neither serves the purposes of a robust democratic public culture.
What we need are exemplars of the performance of political anger that animate the demands for justice and restitution in pointed but measured ways. Where we will find them, it is hard to say, but in the meantime it is important to keep in mind that the political scenarios in which we frame enactments of anger carry a powerful normative force that should never go unmarked as transparent expressions of affect.