Anger is an affective protection against apathetic submission to established order. But how can proper anger be distinguished from reactive exasperation? The criterion does not rest in its object, but in its capacity to make its reasons explicit and to aspire to a politics of friendship.
When we talk of anger, we say that it “wells up,” “rises,” and finally “bursts forth.” The fluvial metaphors suggest that this emotion is located at the crossroads of impotence and power. Similar to an unstoppable flood, anger seizes us and we cannot control it. But it is also a force able to transform a landscape from top to bottom. A person “becomes” [“se met”] angry: even when someone else is the recipient of this anger, this feeling leads to a type of activity that breaks with the apathy of daily life. As an active passion, anger was the focus of special treatment by the Moralists. Seneca condemned its excesses but also viewed it as something belonging to the “kings” who would not accept any calling into question of their sovereignty. Monotheistic religions, for their part, systematically eliminated the passions that the pagans associated with the divine. Yet they retained anger as the emotion felt by a God disappointed by man’s infidelity.
These are all indications that it is more difficult to condemn anger than hate, which is sometimes mixed in with it. Even those who dream of a peaceful society view a world fully liberated from anger with suspicion. It is as if anger were an affective protection against submission to order, in spite of it being disagreeable for the person who feels it and for those subjected to it.
This paradox needs to be pointed out before forming any conclusions concerning the anger currently running through French society (like the majority of Western democracies)…
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