Corey Robin’s newish book Fear: The History of a Political Idea has generated a great deal of interest and debate, deservedly so, because despite having been conceived before September 11 it finds a deep resonance in our real and imagined terrors. In his New Statesman review, Frank Furedi said:
‘While Robin blames Montesquieu, Tocqueville and Arendt for providing theories that make it possible to separate fear from politics, it is possible to argue that the Hobbesian theory of fear exercises a more significant influence over contemporary debate. Our risk-averse society has turned being fearful into a form of responsible behaviour. And perversely, once fear becomes a custom, it also becomes depoliticised. For fear to be used as a tool of state power, it has to become a common-sense response to reality.’
Actually, Robin has a more complex view of Arendt, arguing that she changed her mind fundamentally about the basics of totalitarianism. Here’s two other short reviews, from Foreign Affairs and The Canadian Journal of Sociology. If there’s one thing Robin gets wrong, it’s probably the extent to which our leaders themselves are in thrall to the fears they propagate – Robin tends to view them more as cynical manipulators, bringing up an old problem in politics and a sense of good ole fashioned false consciousness in the terrified and gullible populace. On the other hand, just look at the news and you see a world of fear unfolding by the minute. Meanwhile, Social Research has come out in its current number with an entire issue dedicated to fear, with introductory remarks on the politics of fear from Albert Gore, Jr.