Book Review: Love’s Enlightenment: Rethinking Charity in Modernity, by Ryan Patrick Hanley

Date01 June 2019
Published date01 June 2019
Subject MatterBook Reviews
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Political Theory 47(3)
more generalized orientations toward events. I hope those using Stow’s
tremendous insights in future research will attend to this nexus more
Stow’s work is timely, necessary, and at times hard to read in the context
of a 2016 Inaugural Address wherein the president uttered the words
“American carnage.” Stow’s work demonstrates how easy it is to slide into
simplifying the world into us and them—exemplified by President Bush’s
“either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” in the days after
September 11—and how this thoughtlessness harms us internationally (when
it obscures our responsibility in creating the political, not existential, condi-
tions that led to the rise of groups like al Qaeda and ISIS) as well as domesti-
cally (when it generates responses to policy differences read as existential
rather than political). The book offers a serious warning about the toll enacted
on democracy when we use grief for simplified or unjust political ends and,
with brave hope, calls us to respond tragically and resiliently to the endless
challenge of democracy.
Love’s Enlightenment: Rethinking Charity in Modernity, by Ryan Patrick Hanley.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017, 192 pp.
Reviewed by: Whitney Mannies, Cal Poly Pomona, Pomona, CA, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0090591718758944
How might we strengthen a political community riven by the egoism and
atomism so common in commercial society? Can our pluralistic society over-
come its deep divisions without recourse to the transcendent, using nothing
more than the cognitive capacities available to all humans?
Ryan Patrick Hanley’s Love’s Enlightenment: Rethinking Charity in
Modernity has some reservations on this score, but also offers hope. Hanley
is sympathetic to Martha Nussbaum, Richard Rorty, Alain Badiou, and other
philosophers who share his concern with a political community deficient in
fellow-feeling. These thinkers have called for remedies such as a “politics of
humanity” and a “politics of love.” Badiou, for example, argues that “the re-
invention of love” can be a “possible point of resistance against the obscenity
of the market” (1). Relying on merely human cognitive and affective capaci-
ties, these philosophers attempt to weave an other-regarding stance that is
universal, deep, and immanent.

Book Reviews
Though these authors draw on the modern canon to elaborate contempo-
rary iterations of love, Hanley’s examination of three Enlightenment thinkers
and their respective versions of other-directedness—Hume’s humanity,
Rousseau’s pity, and Smith’s sentiment—argues that their concepts are far
too weak to be the basis for something like Nussbaum’s “emotional participa-
tion in the lives of others” (57). While these Enlightenment concepts have
done a decent job of asserting secular bases for restraining our most misan-
thropic impulses, none is robust enough to promote benevolent, other-regard-
ing action. Worse, such sentimental theories leave us vulnerable to
self-satisfied moral fantasies and smug quietism at the cost of genuine moral
exertion. Hanley thus chastens recent enthusiasm for modern love even as he
sympathizes with the project.
Perhaps more ancient notions of love might help us to recover the concep-

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