Although COVID-19 gave “social distancing” an omnipresent urgency, the concept of distance—in its spatial meaning and in its metaphorical use for emotional detachment, interpersonal boundaries, and socially constructed difference—has been central to theories, practices, and ethics of modern sociability. This article argues that the sociological critique of modern therapeutic culture deploys a specific ethos of distance, which is shown through the work of Richard Sennett and Frank Furedi. Sennett and Furedi reactualize intellectual debates around the regulation of emotional exposure and vulnerability reminiscent of the “codes of cool conduct” in the culture of Weimar Germany, which Helmut Lethen has famously conceptualized based on the philosophical anthropology of Helmuth Plessner. Drawing on Sara Ahmed’s work, the article argues that this Plessnerian ethos of distance, while ostensibly designed to guarantee just and pluralistic societies, reproduces social hierarchies of political emotions and in this way prioritizes the stability of the current system and social cohesion over justice.

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