Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

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The Pitfalls of “Love and Kindness”: On the Challenges to Compassion/Pity as a Political Emotion

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Abstract:  Martha Nussbaum’s political theory of compassion offers an extensive and compelling study of the potential of employing compassionate emotions in the political realm to further social justice and societal “love”. In this article, two pitfalls of Nussbaum’s affirming theory of a politics of compassion are highlighted: the problem of a dual-level hierarchisation and the “magic” of feeling compassion that potentially removes the subject of compassion from reality. I will argue that Hannah Arendt’s thoughts on pity provide substantial challenges to a democratic theory of compassion in this respect. Following these theoretical reflections, I will turn to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 US-American presidential election campaign, to her video ads “Love and Kindness” in particular, in order to provide fitting illustrations from current realpolitik for these specific pitfalls of the political employment of compassionate emotions.

Keywords:  compassion; emotions; Hannah Arendt; Hillary Clinton; Martha Nussbaum; pity



© Anne-Kathrin Weber. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.