Aristotle's Political Psychology: Rhetoric, Affect, and International Relations

45 Pages Posted: 2 Sep 2013

Date Written: 2013


Given the recent fascination with affect and the political emotions, this paper addresses the relationship between affect and theories of sovereignty. Taking its bearings from the Practice or Phronetic turn in International Relations theory — and this literature’s explicit use of Aristotle’s concepts of habit, practice, and persuasion — this paper addresses the relationship between emotional or affective reactions to the political, and the response the institution of sovereignty represents to these reactions as manifested in the idea of the security state. The science and theory of sovereignty (first articulated in Hobbes's Leviathan) is built upon a specific political understanding of emotion, of one's affective reaction to what is “foreign” or “outside” of one's immediate experience. This link between sovereignty and affect has already made its way into security studies via the integration of political psychology into International Relations; however, this initial link between affect, psychology, and sovereignty is premised on the idea that affective responses represent a problem for which sovereignty is the solution, or that emotions are a problematic disturbance to the rational order of politics, and are a security threat as such. Consequently, the capacity for affect and the political emotions to be the site of a critique of sovereignty rather than a threat to sovereignty has yet to be fully developed. This paper treats affect as a site of critique by returning to the first systematic presentation of political psychology in Aristotle's Rhetoric — the source for Hobbes's theory of sovereignty as guarantor of security — arguing that sovereign power is itself better understood as an “affect of the political” rather than as a attempt to moderate, control, and manage political emotions.

Suggested Citation

Di Gregorio, Michael, Aristotle's Political Psychology: Rhetoric, Affect, and International Relations (2013). APSA 2013 Annual Meeting Paper, American Political Science Association 2013 Annual Meeting, Available at SSRN:

Michael Di Gregorio (Contact Author)

McMaster University ( email )

No Address Available

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