In this sweeping and provocative work, political economist William Davies draws on a four-hundred-year history of ideas to reframe our understanding of the contemporary world. He argues that global trends decades and even centuries in the making have reduced a world of logic and fact into one driven by emotions--particularly fear and anxiety. This has ushered in an age of "nervous states," both in our individual bodies and our body politic.Eloquently tracing the history of accounting, statistics, science, and human anatomy from the Enlightenment to the present, Davies shows how we invented expertise in the seventeenth century to calm the violent disputes--over God and the nature of reality--that ravaged Europe. By separating truth from emotion, scientific, testable facts paved a way out of constant warfare and established a basis for consensus, which became the bedrock of modern politics, business, and democracy.Informed by research on psychology and economics, Davies reveals how widespread feelings of fear, vulnerability, physical and psychological pain, and growing inequality reshaped our politics, upending these centuries-old ideals of how we understand the world and organize society. Yet Davies suggests that the rise of emotion may open new possibilities for confronting humanity's greatest challenges. Ambitious and compelling, Nervous States is a perceptive and enduring account of our turbulent times.
Publisher's Weekly Review:
"The failures of scientific rationalism have produced a surge of emotional, anti-intellectual, nationalist, and populist ideologies, according to this wide-ranging, sometimes tenuously argued treatise. Davies, a University of London political economist, goes back to 17th-century philosophers Thomas Hobbes and RenAc Descartes to trace the rise of a Western epistemology of governance that champions scientific expertise and objective evidence as a basis for forming political consensus. That rational, deliberative model falters, he contends, under the pressures of modern war (which feeds on nationalist passions and fast, decisive action despite imperfect knowledge) and free-market doctrines that celebrate bold entrepreneurs who eschew expertise in favor of gut-instinct risk-taking. Worse, he argues, persistent economic inequality and rationalist policies' lack of emotional appeal have made voters distrustful of technocratic elites and their statistics, and hungry for emotional engagement with demagogues like Donald Trump. He concludes that advocates of peace will have to work with, rather than try to eradicate, the feelings that are an inevitable part of politics. Intricately but not tightly argued, Davies's book shoehorns everything from the opioid epidemic to transhumanism into his analysis, which will appeal most to those concerned about technology, put off by claims of objectivity, and interested in insights about the role of emotion in politics. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
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