The Geopolitics of Emotion by Dominique Moisi (thoughts)
The Geopolitics of Emotion by Dominique Moisi had the potential to go horribly wrong. Moisi is a French intellectual, and this slim book is his exploration of seeing international politics through the lens of nationwide emotions: specifically hope, fear, and shame. As he associates different emotions with different regions of the world, you can imagine how quickly such an analysis could fall into racist, colonialist, etc. stereotypes of epic proportions. So it was with a mixture of curiousity and concern that I began reading, not to mention a firm intention to abandon the book at the slightest hint of cultural superiority.
Instead, I found a thoughtful, if broad, approach that included enough self awareness that I finished with a great deal of respect for Moisi and what he attempted to do. This is a slim book, with about one hundred fifty pages of text and another twenty or so in notes, bibliography, and index. Clearly, it’s more of a thought experiment than exhaustive scholarly analysis, a fact Moisi freely acknowledges. But I feel like that is one of its strengths: written in a straight forward style, it’s an excellent general public anecdote to the civilisation clash nonsense that seems to pervade international perceptions these days. And while it does use a broad lens to explore current global situations, it never degenerates into oversimplifications. Thus, it’s the kind of book I could happily recommend to people without my intense interest in international affairs, and that they might actually pick up and read. I also think it’d make an excellent group read, either for a book group or just friends who enjoy intellectual conversation.
I suppose part of the appeal for me as well is Moisi’s explicit rejection of a social science tendency to discount emotions and the softer side of human character. Witness neoliberal economics and their “rational man” nonsense. The Geopolitics of Emotion would not be terribly convincing as some kind of international relations Grand Unifying Theory, and it necessarily flattens out all of the complexities of the historical interactions between countries. But as a suggestion to see world politics in a different light, to explore the humanity that has to be part and parcel of what are, at the end of the day, interactions between and decisions made by individuals and the groups they represent, it is valuable. Moisi walks a fine line, but he does it with style.