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Contempt and shame go hand in hand. Actions that should shame us, styles of self-presentation that should humiliate us if we are socially competent enough to have such a purchase on ourselves, are those actions and styles that generate and justify the contempt of others for us. Or, changing the causal order: one's contempt of us will generate shame or humiliation in us if we concur with the judgment of our contemptibility, that is, if the contempt is justified, or indignation and even vengeful fury if it is unjustified. Contempt is thus a mechanism of ranking people or of contesting relative rankings and as such has an intensely political significance. Contempt raises a myriad of issues involving the relation of emotions to various social orders, to the justice of those social orders, and to the micro- politics of face-to-face interaction in those social orders. I want to narrow my range here. What I wish to speculate about is the nature of something I will call upward contempt, that is, the contempt that the low have for the high; I will then make some suggestions about how this might play out in different social and political regimes: heroic society, the ancien regime, and in democracy.


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