In David Hume's science of human nature every self is located by passions that bind it to groups, repel it from other groups, and rank it on a hierarchy: we call this discovery a 'topology of the passions'. These bound and ranked selves and groups form the matter of what he called 'government', a supposedly neutral model of political action designed to avoid the malady of faction and catapult Scotland out of feudalism into a glorious future as a commercial society, assisted by the application of the new discipline of political economy, a discipline blind beyond its functional measures of privileged variables - the growth of trade, interest rates, wage levels - measures that justify the destruction of all obstacles to the wholesale liberation of the commercial passions. To govern - a new kind of action for a new epoch - is to destroy and liberate. But ever since Hume, government has fallen apart because it fails to take into account the complexity of society as a topology of the passions. It is in Hume's History of Britain that we find the germs of another destiny for modernity in his ambivalent account of the revolutionary impact and danger of another model of political action - democratic enthusiasm - wherein to act is to incarnate an idea of commonality.
This is a brilliant and provocative book. Oliver Feltham has again demonstrated the potential of a historicisation of the foundational concepts of political philosophy for rethinking politics beyond neoliberalism. Following on from his analysis of joint action in Anatomy of Failure, in this new book Feltham opposes David Hume's commercial model of action to the democratic enthusiasm of radical collectives in the English Revolution. The critique involves retrieval as well as demystification, however, for rather than rejecting Hume's analysis of the political passions, Feltham advocates a topology of the passions as the key to grasping democratic political commitments. The resulting concepts of faction, envelope and vortex map the topology of the passions developed through a critical reading of Hume onto the social imaginary, breaking thereby the automatic connection between enthusiasm and sectarianism that Hume deplored. Feltham shows that the English Revolution remains a fertile reservoir of political concepts that go beyond possessive individualism and negative liberty, and that the modern era therefore harbours radical potentials that require retrieval and reactivation. -- Geoff Boucher, Associate Professor in Literary Studies, Deakin University, Australia