Politics is inescapably emotional. Political ideas – such as freedom or equality – are often talked about as if they’re dry concepts, sandpapered down in a seminar room or a theoretical conversation. But political ideas involve feeling. The singer Nina Simone once said that freedom is ‘just a feeling’: a feeling of ‘no fear’. Justice is a state of affairs as well as a state of relief, elation, jubilation. And political advocacy, at its best, involves the passionate expression of strongly felt sentiments and experiences. But not all emotions should necessarily be welcome in politics. Hate and fear, for example, drive exclusionary behaviour. They often result in rash and unfair decision-making.
Perhaps love should be a part of politics. Might it not have a better role to play than hate and fear? In the 2016 presidential election in the United States, opponents of Donald Trump repeated ‘love trumps hate’ at protests and on placards. But Trump also used the language of love before and after his election: he said, for example, that the crowd at his inauguration was a ‘sea of love’. For some, this shows that love is an empty value in politics: an emotion so malleable as to be meaningless. Can we believe that love has the potential to be a transformative force in politics?