Citizenship and the emotions: The glue that keeps democratic societies together

The question I want to ask is if emotions can and do have any role in forming and regulating democratic citizenship. We can ask if emotions and feelings might have any positive role in politics in general. This is a good and reasonable question, but I want to narrow it down and approach it from the point of view of citizenship in a democratic society. This means I must give an account of citizenship in a democratic context and of feelings and emotions and how they might possibly contribute to citizenship in democracy, establish and strengthen the glue that is necessary to prevent faction and strife getting out of hand.

I guess the traditional view is that feelings and emotions are causes of strife rather than contributors to a well-functioning democracy. This view may be justified by the distinction between reason and feelings, reason being the calm voice of unity and feelings being the uncontrolled and irrational force causing disruption and chaos. But when emotions and feelings are properly analysed and understood they are not uncontrollable and irrational even though they may be resistant to the voice of reason. When everything is normal, they work in unison with reason, they are part of a well-ordered human rationality forming a whole human being. This does not mean that reason is the overarching, supreme psychological faculty that must reign and be respected but it means that emotions and feelings are part of the make-up of every human being, and they serve an important purpose in a good life just like reason.

Citizen and citizenship

A citizen is an individual located in and a member of a political entity, usually a state, the relation to the political entity is called citizenship. This must be an authoritative political entity controlling a territory because being a member of a social group like a football club does not entitle us to claim citizenship. This sort of social group is not of the right type. Being a citizen is complex and it varies from state to state, what conditions must be fulfilled for a person to become a citizen. Usually, we think of citizenship as a binary concept, either one is a citizen or not a citizen. But the world of citizenship is more complex than that. States confer citizenship on the individuals living within their territories. Two conditions for citizenship are common, if a child is born on the state´s territory it is entitled to become a citizen, if the parents are citizens of the state where a child is born it is entitled to citizenship in this state. Sometimes a state gives persons a right to stay in its territory if that person has lived for a certain number of years within its boundaries or her right to stay may be dependent on relations with a citizen or somebody who has a right to stay. Those who have a right to stay and those who have dependent rights do not usually have a right to vote, for example, and are therefore not full citizens in modern democratic states.

Being a citizen is usually limited to fully mature human beings and it varies between states when individuals become fully mature, 16 years, 18 years or even 20 years. In modern democracies being able to vote is aligned with ideas about moral maturity. So, children do not have the right to vote, and the idea is that they have not achieved the understanding necessary to know what electing a representative involves. Animals do not have a right in democratic politics and no standing as citizens and the same applies to nature. But children have interests just like animals and nature and decisions by democratic politicians can have serious consequences for them. Hence, it has been argued that these groups should be able to influence the political process however we try to bring that about. If the arguments for including these groups in the political process are successful, then the number of citizens increases and the interests that need to be considered in the political process will multiply. This is mentioned here just to point out that in modern philosophy and politics the notion of who is a citizen seems to be changing.

This leads naturally to a question about what kind of concept the concept of citizen is. It seems to me that there is a clear central example that demonstrates the accepted meaning of citizenship which is the example of the citizen of a state. Admittedly, citizenship is complex and there are examples where it is not quite clear if they are instances of citizenship or not, but this does not justify claiming that the concept of citizenship is essentially contested (Cohen & Ghosh, 2019). It is certainly contested and the scope of the meaning of the concept seems to be widening but the notion of essentially contested concepts is suspect (Kristjánsson, 2022, 1-2). I take it that citizenship is a contested concept but not essentially so and we can rationally analyse its core and discuss its boundaries, its evolution, and changes.

I think it is also important to distinguish between the concepts we use and the social arrangements and structures that develop around the referents of these concepts. It is not obvious that social structures and social arrangements affect the meaning of social terms or categories. It seems to me that the meaning of social terms like rights or citizenship is independent of social structures and arrangements even though we adopt the conferral view of social properties (Ásta, 2018, 7-9). The basic idea in the conferral view is that others confer on us social properties, being popular is a social property constituted by the attitudes of others to us. The feelings of many others towards us confer on us the property of being popular. This view of social properties does not necessarily lead to the view that social terms or social concepts change their meaning when the constitution of social properties changes, e.g. if we come to the view that social properties are response-dependent rather than conferred by others.

It is sometimes argued that the meaning of citizenship has changed when social arrangements changed, for example, when women were accepted as citizens with the same rights as men. It hardly needs saying that this acknowledgement was only the first step on a longer road to full equality with men dealing with all the structures and social arrangements that prevented women from being citizens in the same way as men. The first thing to notice is that saying the meaning of citizenship has changed because of this development is ambivalent. The meaning in the sense of the role citizenship plays in the lives of men and women who are citizens has changed, women nowadays have the same responsibilities and the same political status as men and the social arrangements preventing women from living their lives as full citizens are slowly changing. In the Nordic countries this is true and in other European countries but in other parts of the world there is a different story to be told. The second thing to notice is that this development has not changed the meaning of the concept of citizenship. The extension of the concept has widened because of this change in law and the development of the social standing of women has gradually enabled them to enjoy the benefits of citizenship. But the meaning of the concept of citizenship has not changed.

In an anarchical state with open borders it makes sense to talk about citizenship. In such a state the social arrangements for the citizens as a group would certainly be different from what we see in the nation states of the present world. In a tyranny citizenship is very different from a democracy. Despite this it seems to me in all these cases it would make sense to talk about citizens and citizenship.

My suggestion for a core meaning of the concept of citizenship is that being a citizen is a status or standing in a political entity. Being a citizen means that your residence in a territory, your being born in that territory or your having parents that live in that territory, to name some prominent examples, fulfil the conditions required by that political entity, most often a state, and your citizenship consists in a relation to that political entity. The conditions for being a citizen can vary enormously from one political entity to another, but it seems to me that in practically all the cases considered we are talking about a relation between an individual and a political entity like a state.

What does this relation involve? As should be clear by now that the content of citizenship can vary radically between one constitutional order and another. In an anarchy the content would be minimal, you only owe it to the population at large not to attempt to coerce others to perform actions they would otherwise not have performed, the freedom of each and all of us and our right to non-intervention by others must be respected by others. In a tyranny you would have obligations to follow the decisions of the state but no rights against the state, the most prominent obligation would be to obey the orders of the state and not to resist them, however evil they might be. But in the typical case the relation to the state would involve a mixture of rights and obligations, a right to protection and security, to justice, and obligations to pay taxes, follow the law and in many cases bear arms. In most constitutional orders we would expect to find a mixture of rights and obligation.

In modern democracies the mixture of rights and obligations does typically include the right to free expression of one´s views, to freedom of association and the right to participate in governing the society where you live and the obligations to pay taxes, reject violence, use evidence and truth to convince others of your views, and in some modern democracies there is an obligation to participate by voting. One thing to notice about the rights mentioned here is that they are typical human rights and most of them are included in many modern human rights contracts. It is a fundamental feature of the modern conception of human rights that they are rights of individuals, and these rights are considered to be independent of the constitutional order where the individuals live. Citizenship, as described here, is different from human rights, it is a relation between an individual and a political entity and it depends on the constitutional order of that entity how citizenship is understood, in some constitutional orders it only includes obligations, in others it includes both rights and obligations. The conditions each political entity lays down as necessary for citizenship determine who can count as a citizen and who cannot count as a citizen in that political demos or polity. Many of the concepts we use have a clear meaning and the speakers know the referents of the concept. Others do not have clear boundaries but do not cause any problems for speakers in understanding what is being talked about. The boundaries of the concept of citizenship are in many respects not clear even though the legal processes for establishing citizenship clear up the issue who is a citizen and who is not. The legal processes are social arrangements the polity in question has decided to use for clarifying who is a citizen and who is not. These legal processes can be used when non-citizens want to enter the territory being controlled by the polity. A polity with clear legal practices on who counts as a citizen can adopt an open border policy. The experience of those who are citizens and those who are not can be shaped by the social arrangements for good or ill but the distinction between the concepts citizens and non-citizens is not an automatic foundation for these arrangements.


Democracy has been the dominant social order in many parts of the world for over a century and spread all over the globe in the last decades of the twentieth century and the first two decades of the twenty first. Yet its prospects are not good, oligarchy and tyranny are on the rise in the world and violence and destructive tendencies like populism are gaining ground in established democracies. Economic growth is no longer a pacifier for democratic orders because it has serious negative consequences for the natural world and democratic governments are more reluctant to redistribute increased personal and social wealth. These developments in modern democracies raise many questions and one of the more important ones is about citizenship: What is the role of the citizen in a democracy? When confronting this question, we must address the fact that democracy is in some ways a special case in the varieties of the constitutional orders. Usually, the major threat to the established order is the possibility of faction, dissension or even revolt. In an oligarchy or tyranny this problem is dealt with by imprisoning those disagreeing with the authorities or even killing them. But it is a basic fact about democracy that it encourages differences of opinions, we expect that every citizen can form her own opinion and voice it if she pleases. This can easily lead to heated discussions, deep differences of opinion and social unrest, in extreme cases to revolts or revolutions. This is a consequence of the rights of democratic citizens, they have the right to form their own opinions and express them, they have the right to establish any associations they want, even revolutionary ones, if they operate within the rules of the democratic order. This raises the question what holds democracies together, how can they survive if it is part of their structure to encourage divisions of these sorts? One way of investigating this is to ask: How should we understand democratic citizenship? Do feelings and emotions contribute to democratic citizenship? Answers to these questions might throw light on how democracies survive turbulent times and can be more resilient than tyrannies and oligarchies.

There are various ways of understanding democratic citizenship. First, it needs pointing out that the basic idea in democracy is that the political power is rooted in the will of the citizens. The obvious question about this statement is: How do the citizens express their will? There are different ways of doing that, talking publicly at meetings, writing articles in newspapers, creating podcasts, or expressing your opinions on social media. In normal times those expressing their views should not have to worry about their lives, jobs, or careers if their views are within reasonable bounds. But the expression of views in media of whichever type does not create a general will of the citizens. We need a more formal procedure for enabling the general will to form. We might create a forum for rational discussion of all interested citizens and aim for unanimity about an issue being discussed at the end. We might conduct an election about a particular issue or a general election in which political parties took part. These two types of elections are the most common methods to try to figure out the general will of the citizens. All the possibilities mentioned here are imperfect ways of figuring out the general will. Rational discussion about one proposal is a lengthy way of forming the general will and there is no guarantee it will lead to a definite conclusion. Elections about issues simplify complex matters, usually we are asked to say yes or no to a specific issue, and political parties offer a mix of views and attitudes to citizens and citizens may find it difficult to figure out where they stand and what to choose.

How should a citizen make up her mind when deciding how to vote? I think it is fair to say that no modern democracy is possible without voting, any polity that says it is democratic but never votes on anything may not be contradicting itself, but it is saying something that in practice does not seem to be possible. So, it is reasonable to ask how a citizen in a democracy should make up her mind when deciding to vote.

One way of trying to understand how a citizen should conduct herself as part of the power base of democracy is to use her reason and think of herself as guided by self-interest. The basic idea is then that when all citizens have made up their minds about an issue or how to vote in an election then we get a rational collective decision based on the rational evaluation of the self-interest of every citizen. There is no denying that this model of citizens and their behaviour can be a powerful explanatory tool. But it has its problems. First, it is only a model, citizens make up their minds on various grounds, some on self-interested ones, others on other-interested ones. Second, one of the logical consequences of this model is that the citizen cannot have a rational reason to vote, the costs of trying to understand issues and going to vote always outweigh the possible benefits to the self-interested citizen. This means that the citizen never or hardly ever has a motive to vote and a strong motive to be ignorant of the public issues in her polity. Third, if it is only self-interest that is in play in public decisions there is no way to discern the importance of public issues except by counting votes. This is highly counterintuitive. I suggest that we put this model of the citizen aside.

I think we should start by some assumptions that can be reasonably made about most citizens in modern democracies. The first assumption is that people who live in a democracy share a way of living together. The reason is that democracy is a way of living together, not only in the sense of living close to each other as we do in cities, but in the sense that we are asked to take part in common practices to take common decisions, a central feature of democracy. In the common liberal order of modern democracies, we might want to say that we are offered to take part even though there are actual liberal states requiring citizens to vote, for example. But it is much more common to consider the citizens free to vote rather than obliged to vote. But I think it is reasonable to say that they are asked to take part in democratic practices like voting because democracies die if the citizens are unwilling to take part in important democratic practices like voting. The second assumption is that the citizens come to the democratic practices endowed with different skills, viewpoints, and knowledge. The democratic order has some obligations to its citizens such as securing education for them enabling them to take part in the democratic practices and to have something to offer on the economic market of modern democracies. But just as importantly these various points of view and different knowledge are valuable for democracy and need to be reflected in the democratic processes. The third assumption is that it is reasonable to expect a modern democracy to support a welfare system for the citizens, this can be realised in very different ways in the context of modern nation states. The fourth assumption is that citizens can be sked to take part in public discussions that are conducted for the citizens to inform and enlighten them. They need to approach these democratic practices with an open mind, not in the sense that they must be willing to change their opinions when discussing with others but willing to take the views and interests of others into account.

These four assumptions are intended to flesh out certain conditions necessary for modern democracy. They are not meant to be a fully-fledged theory of democracy. My reason for introducing these assumptions is to throw some light on what can be expected of citizens in modern democracies and what it is that can make democracy a stable order, what keeps democracies together, even though it encourages citizens to express their views and act on them if the occasion arises. This starting point of democracy seems more likely to lead to faction and strife than a stable social order.

In modern social theories social capital is believed to contribute to the stability of democracy. The idea of social capital was first formulated by Bourdieu and Robert Putnam (1993; Siisiäinen, 2000). Putnam´s idea includes trust between citizens, social support, membership of free associations, common language and common culture. If these things are in place, we can expect an integrative network of relations to form between citizens enabling democratic society to function well. Putnam´s concept of social capital is helpful to understand the background of a well-functioning democracy. The important parts for us here are trust and social support. Trust is something that you earn by your words and your actions showing that you take others´ points of view into account and you are careful not to harm them or their interests. Social support is either something the citizens do or contribute to or the polity supplies. It creates conditions for friendly interactions between citizens and friendly communication. We might say that these two things along with others create solidarity in a polity.

But solidarity, what is that? Solidarity is a fellow feeling based on common attitudes or interests of citizens. In any modern democracy the citizens have different and varied interests, sometimes they are opposed to the interests of others, sometimes not. Sometimes opposed interests develop into class struggles that can be dangerous for democracy. It is not the case that democracy cannot tolerate conflicts and friction; they are natural parts of modern democracy, but there are certain limits to how democratic conflicts can be conducted. A certain amount of coercion can be tolerated if it is based on legitimate interests but as soon as it leads to physical injuries or death it has crossed reasonable limits. But hard struggles among groups in democracies do not normally damage democratic solidarity.

I hope these explanations have illuminated what it means to say that democracy is a way of living together.

Emotions and democracy

Solidarity is certainly a feeling and an attitude, and they are on display in certain democratic practices. It was pointed out earlier that democracy is a way of living together in the sense that we must take part in collective actions if democracy is to work. This means that any citizen must interact with other citizens, communicate, and discuss with them the points at issue, agree and disagree, and attempt to conclude what is fair and just and the majority supports. We must ask how do we do this? We do this by obtaining information about the issue, evaluating the possible resolutions of the issue by taking part in the discussion or at least by forming an opinion for ourselves about the issue. In doing that we use as best we can our abilities to think critically and our feelings and emotions. It is a general truth about human beings that they are endowed with feelings and emotions and with intellectual abilities and reason. It is sometimes assumed that feelings and emotions are independent of reason and are regularly contrary to reason, the view that they are necessarily irrational has a long history. But the theoretical view of feelings and emotions has been changing and it is generally accepted that reason and emotions are connected, and emotions are rational in the sense, for example, when we are afraid, we are afraid of something that might be dangerous to us. Emotions can be rational in the sense of representing the world correctly and in the sense of motivating our response to the danger at hand (Scarantino, & de Sousa, 2021). It is not relevant in the context of this essay to discuss emotions and their rationality in depth but because they are an inevitable part of our cognitive make-up they must be considered when discussing political issues and how we conduct our lives in democracy. Living with others in democracy is living with the emotions of others.

The question then becomes what role do emotions play in democratic practices and deliberations? The emotions play the cognitive role of representing the world and they are especially sensitive to the moral qualities of situations and issues. This perceptual function is in turn a key to the motivating role of emotions. There is an historical model available to us of reason and emotions including how they play out in politics. This is Aristotle´s virtue theory. In the last part of this essay, I will concentrate on Aristotle´s views.

Aristotle´s key idea is that all emotions are infused with reason, all emotions represent reality, and they motivate actions. They are closely involved with the intellectual virtue practical wisdom or phronesis which does not control emotions by suppressing them but by making them parts of our virtues. This means that emotions tend to guide us towards actions that are good or are fitting in any situation. If our moral education has been successful emotions are sufficient to hit upon the right or appropriate action. But in difficult situations where emotions point us in different directions and virtues clash phronesis decides on the right or appropriate action.

There are two ideas about citizens in Aristotle´s work that are important in this context. The first is his idea that friendship is the glue of societies (Aristotle, 2014), the second is his idea that when the citizens come together, they are wiser than all citizens are alone (Aristotle, 1996). I shall discuss them in turn.

As I mentioned before there are certain social practices and social structures that contribute to the good functioning of modern democracy. Aristotle had a similar idea. He says in his Nichomachean ethics (2014, 1155a23-29):

“Friendship seems also to hold cities together, and lawgivers to care more about it than about justice; for concord seems to be something like friendship, and this is what they aim at most of all, while taking special pains to eliminate civil conflict as something hostile. And when people are friends, they have no need of justice, while when they are just, they need friendship as well; and the highest form of justice seems to be a matter of friendship.”

The idea that friendship holds societies together may strike us moderns as fanciful, inappropriate, not helpful. It seems to me that the reason for this is that we think of friendship as a relation between people we know, family and those we are well acquainted with. Modern societies are so large that it is impossible for an individual to know every citizen personally, this applies even in a small society like Iceland. Hence, friendship has no place in explaining how modern democratic societies arrange their democratic ways of living together, how they are more than a collection of individuals, a community.

This would be a too hasty rejection of Aristotle´s view of friendship. The meaning of his Greek word for friendship, philia, is much broader than our modern notion of friendship. Its scope is not limited to our close family and acquaintances but can include a much larger group of people, even all the citizens of a Greek polis, including thousands of people. This is the term Aristotle uses and adds that concord which lawgivers aim at most of all is something like friendship and civil conflict is something hostile to the polis and concord helps to eliminate that. If we interpret Aristotle´s philia as fellow feeling, civic friendship, when discussing the political context of the polity, then there does seem to be a truth in what he says. When democratic authorities treat their citizens well and protect their security and welfare this helps to establish a stable society and causes general satisfaction among the polity. Yet, in democracy dissident voices are always to be expected but they do not cause any problems or strife unless there is an issue addressed that is controversial. But the controversy, if it arises, is not among strangers but among citizens who are friends, a group that has social capital that should ensure that any controversy will not develop into destructive strife. There seems to be a caring attitude among citizens of the same polity. In some modern democracies this caring attitude seems to be lacking and causing all sorts of problems for them, sometimes so deep that democratic practices become difficult, even impossible (Dworkin, 2006).

There is more to Aristotle´s concept of friendship than it being a relation among citizens. Friendship is also a moral virtue. Aristotle´s notion of virtue brings with it most of the key elements in his moral theory. Each moral virtue has its typical middle and extremes and friendship is no different (Aristotle, 2014, 1126b11-1127a13). One extreme is obsequiousness or flattery, the tendency to praise everything and never to obstruct or object to what the other says to avoid causing discomfort or pain. The opposite extreme is the one who objects to and obstructs everything her interlocutor says and thinks nothing of the pain she might be causing. This extreme is called belligerence or bad temper. The mean has no name, but it involves the agent accepting the right things in the right way and reject them likewise, this seems to be praiseworthy and “most like friendship” and the person exhibiting these characteristics seems to be a good friend. The good friend aims for what is noble in her interactions with her friends, so whenever it is noble to add to the pleasure of her friend she does so and whenever her friend says ignoble things or wants to perform ignoble actions she objects and obstructs. She acts in this way because that is how her character is.

This is the virtue of friendship but like all the other moral virtues it brings with it feelings, emotions, and reason. Emotions and feelings in friendship revolve around our friends, the relationship with our friends is the typical object of the virtue of friendship and the feelings of love and care are the attitudes central to friendship. Good upbringing is necessary to make the emotions aim at what is good and noble and reason or phronesis is a part of all the moral virtues deciding when a doubt arises which emotion is appropriate in the context in question.

What this means in general for emotions and feelings in politics is that the feelings must be based on something we know, and they need to be appropriate to the object. Uncontrolled outbursts of strong feelings are to be discouraged, not because they are never appropriate, but because they can easily have consequences that are worse than the original cause of the emotional outbursts. In our modern lives lived in the social media it has become nearly impossible in many instances to find out if the original cause of anger, for instance, is a fact or a fake. The Aristotelian virtue of moderation is one of the most important virtues in modern politics and he thinks that the notion of the good man and the good citizen coincide in some respect (Johnson, 1984). But how does Aristotle think about friendship in our roles as citizens?

Friendship and modern democracy

Aristotle distinguishes between three types of friendship (Aristotle, 2014, 1156a6-9), friendship for utility, friendship for pleasure and true friendship or character friendship. Friendship for utility is based on how useful people can be to each other either in supplying goods for each other or services. Friendship for pleasure involves friends being pleasant to each other. Both these types of friendship change when the circumstances of the friends change, they do not outlast the pleasure or utility the friendship is based on, if they stop the friendship stops. But character friendship is long lasting because the friends aim to do whatever is good for their friend rather then what is useful or pleasant for her. Aristotle thinks that friendship of this last kind is rare “because people of this kind are few” (Aristotle, 2014, 1156b25-26). People who are fully morally mature are not many according to Aristotle and hence character friendship does not occur often, friendship for utility and pleasure are more frequent.

Aristotle thinks that civic friendship holds cities together and that concord seems like friendship as it says in the quotation cited earlier. I suggest that if friendship is to serve this function in a state it must be long lasting, like character friendship, but it will also be like friendship for utility because the state offers its citizens important goods like peace, security and welfare that are necessary for a good life, these goods are useful for every citizen. Civic friendship is long lasting, useful and requires strong loyalty, the state is worthy of love, and it reciprocates the love of the citizens by aiming to make them good (Aristotle, 2014, 1155b28-33). Civic friendship does not seem to fit into any of the three types Aristotle discerns. Character friendship is long lasting, but its maintenance costs are high, its devotion and intimacy require much time (Kristjánsson, 2022, 40). Civic friendship is long lasting if it is to serve the role Aristotle wants it to serve and it is time consuming, citizens in a democracy must spend considerable time on the affairs of state in peace time and this completes the good life, and it requires a strong sense of obligation and devotion if the polis goes to war. Civic friendship can require the ultimate sacrifice of your life in times of war. The Greek city states in ancient times relied on their male population to defend its territory and to conquer and destroy other states. War was a regular feature of both male and female lives in ancient times as it still is in many parts of the modern world. Even though many modern armies are professional institutions the citizens are often obliged to enter the army if the political authorities judge it necessary. So, if civic friendship is keeping societies together as Aristotle believed then it can require the ultimate sacrifice of the citizens now as it did in ancient times. This makes it different from the other types that Aristotle identifies.

It is not my intention to write an essay on how to explain Aristotle´s notion of friendship, especially civic friendship, and how it is related to virtue, but I wanted to show how Aristotle´s civic friendship opens up the possibility of a role for emotions and feelings in responding to political events and actions and how emotions and feeling can contribute to the cohesiveness of society. This way of approaching the role of feelings in modern democratic life goes against the current because most of the time feelings are believed to be a destructive force in politics. The reason for this is that strong feelings easily lead to strife and deep disagreements in politics. It is also the case that unscrupulous politicians use emotive issues to stir up strong feelings that lead people to go into the streets and cause serious unrest that the police must settle. There is another reason for this repugnance of emotions in politics, it is the belief that emotions are somehow necessarily irrational. So strong emotions are taken to indicate the absence of reason. This tendency in modern public life should be resisted.

Aristotle demonstrates how feelings and emotions shape our perception of the moral qualities of the context of our actions and through this perception influence what we think and how we respond and act. The key insight is that emotions and feelings are not free floating, irrational entities that can be stirred when someone thinks it appropriate. There must be a story about something bad or unjust to cause anger among the citizens. Poverty or bad treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers often evokes strong feelings in European countries, police violence and killing of innocent citizens causes strong reaction in other countries like USA and Iran. If this is what really happened, it is entirely rational and reasonable to express strong feelings publicly. The problem for demonstrators is to take care that people are not hurt, and only limited damage caused. This can be difficult, if not impossible, to control in a large group. Often there are persons taking part in the demonstration that are not interested in the issue being objected to but just want to cause trouble. Often it is the sheer number of people taking part that make it impossible to control. All this is a fact of life for anyone taking part in protests in modern democracies. If we look at this from the point of view of Aristotle´s theory of civic friendship, then these responses are rational in so far as they are a response to an injustice because it is the role of civic friends to tell the authorities if they are either planning or performing ignoble acts and causing injustice to innocent people.

Problems for reason and emotions in modern democracy

I do not want to minimize the role of reason in modern democracies. Rational deliberations among experts, politicians and citizens are necessary for any democracy if it is to govern itself well and establish a good context for the lives of its citizens. The experts share their specialist knowledge with the politicians and the citizens and suggest some of the logical inferences to be drawn from the established knowledge. They must also point out weaknesses in the established knowledge and how they must be avoided or taken care of. The citizens with the politicians must decide what to do based on the best knowledge but most often in modern democracies the representatives decide what to do. They are not experts but as a group, citizens and the representatives or just the representatives, are well placed to decide on the general aims, and also on what to do because “the many are better judges than a single man of music and poetry; for some understand one part, and some another, and among them they understand the whole” (Aristotle, 1996, 76, 1281b7-9). This seems to imply that the citizens can be in the position of judging an issue and coming to a conclusion about it based on the best argument, i.e., rational deliberation among citizens is possible and it could serve this epistemic function in ancient Athens. Many modern political theorists believe that rational deliberation is possible among citizens, and it can possibly serve the same function in modern democracies as in Athens. If it is the representatives who are deliberating in preparation for taking a good decision, they must represent the whole of citizens (Anderson, 2006).

But there are two facts that seem to tell against this. The first is that in modern democratic politics you cannot trust either the citizens or the representatives to respect the truth and conduct their deliberations on what the truth is, not even on what they think the truth is, because deliberate lying has become a commonplace in political discussions. Political cultures vary in this respect, some are more corrupt than others. The second point is that intellectual division of labour in politics is an inevitable fact of modern societies, so knowledge and skill is distributed unequally but citizens are considered equal in democracies and the aim must be that their influence on some decisions should be equal. But if rational deliberation and judgement ought to track the best argument and approach the truth then it seems that those in the know, the experts, should carry more weight in coming to a rational conclusion than the ordinary citizen. She is likely to misunderstand the key issues and not appreciate the most important facts and come to a view that does not track the best argument. Experts do not always agree and when two groups of experts argue their case for the citizens it is probable that they do not understand the issue fully and hence their judgements do not track the best argument. The same applies to representatives who must decide on a lot of issues on which they have no specialist knowledge. If their judgements track the best argument, it may be fortunate coincidence rather than a clear understanding of the concepts, inferences, and facts of the case (Christiano, 1996, 123-127). It is more likely that their judgements do not track the best argument and the best view of what is true and therefore the decision will not be the right one producing the best consequences. These two facts of modern democracies conspire against the possible epistemic benefits of rational deliberations of the many and the wise.

Taking part in rational deliberations engages the emotions and feelings of the citizens. Rationality is not the only thing that matters because the motivation for taking part is stronger if the feelings are engaged. If your point of view does not carry the day in the deliberation and you end up in the minority you must always evaluate your arguments, your inferences, your presentation, and the truth of your point of view. The question must be: Did I lose because I was wrong or did I lose because of something else? Your losing does not necessarily mean you were wrong even though Rousseau thought so. If you believe you were wrong about some major matter your opinions change, but this does not necessarily mean that your emotions and feelings change as well. It seems that Aristotle did not realise that emotions and feelings might behave differently from opinions and judgements and the Stoics opposed his ideas on the ground that feelings and emotions were uncontrollable and had a life of their own and Aristotle was wrong about their moderation (Sherman, 1997, pp. 101-102). Emotions and feelings are more recalcitrant to change than opinions and this can cause problems for citizens in their lives, but it seems to me wrong to say that they are uncontrollable. Aristotle was right in saying that emotions and feeling are parts of our rational mental make-up and respond to events and facts in the world and are an important part of a well-rounded happy life.

It is well to remember that Aristotle argued that education should be public and the same for all (Curren, 2000). Public, rational deliberation on the common good requires that the citizens are equipped to take part in and profit from such deliberation. In his time, as in ours, education is a key condition for any citizen enabling her to execute her duties as a citizen. Enabling pupils to read and write were foundational parts of education in ancient Greece just as it is in our modern time. Illiteracy has now become a much more serious liability than in Aristotle´s time because the volume of information is much bigger and most of it is put in writing. It is practically impossible for anyone who is illiterate to participate in public life in the modern world. Education shapes our mental life including our emotions and feelings and enables them to relate to the world in ways closed to the uneducated. Education moderates the emotions by illuminating the complexity of the world and the differences of viewpoints. Reason grows with education just like emotions and feelings do. Citizenship is subject to the influence of emotions and feelings and if the constitution is democratic, education is necessary to strengthen and preserve the democracy.


I wanted to answer the question: What is or should be the role of feelings and emotions in modern democracy? I have argued that the concept of citizenship has a meaning and is contested. It is essentially a relation between an individual and a political authority and in a democracy all political power is derived from the citizens. Citizenship can be considered a relation like friendship as Aristotle argued especially in the light of the necessity of social capital in modern democracies. Citizens are human beings governed by feeling and reason shaped by social trust and fellow feeling towards other citizens. Feelings are a natural fact of human life; in a good life they should be infused with reason and can and should be controlled in the common life of democracy. But feelings, like reason, must deal with corruptions in modern democracies like the lack of commitment to truth



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