[T]here is a huge difference between the existence of isolated individuals in love with their expressive anger and living in a culture in which such anger is cultivated as a virtue and justified as a form of righteousness.
That’s what happened among a large number of contemporary Americans, and Ramesh without quite realizing it nabs Chait’s contribution: Chait offers “arguments for anger.” Check that: arguments for anger. Since when did anger need arguments? Anger used to be something we sought to control, something that we tried to expunge, control, or channel, not something we argued for. We argue for the things we value or cherish. We may need anger now and then to rouse the indifferent to defend the things we cherish. Models of that kind of anger include Tom Paine and William Lloyd Garrison. But what happens when “being angry” becomes a pursuit in its own right?
I would love to see someone like Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., author of
Manliness, and some time ago, The Spirit of Liberalism, review Wood’s book. What I learned from Mansfield was the crucial role of spiritedness--expressed in terms of self-assertion and righteous (that is, principled) indignation--in liberal political life. It was, he argued, missing in the late 70s. Anger has made a comeback, according to Wood, but in the person of Chait, who, as I’ve noted in the past, seems to eschew principles in favor of pragmatism, it lacks any obvious connection to the reason with which it should be associated. If Chait and those he inspired were Achillean, they’d pose a real challenge to our republic. But, as it is, they’re not, which means that we can expect our native sobriety ultimately to reassert itself, so long as "decent people" treat them with the mild contempt they seem to deserve.
Update: Stanley Kurtz calls our attention to these two smart posts by Kevin Walker (whose site you should bookmark, if you haven’t already). Walker argues that contemporary anger--unmoored in nature or reason, or, more precisely, moored in natural self-assertion but uncontrolled by reason--is connected with the postmodern abyss. If there is no ground, there is only the (hysterical--the difference between Nietzsche and Machiavelli) assertion of a lonely and anxious self. Now I want commentary from Lawler as well as from Mansfield.