By political fear, I mean a people’s felt apprehension of some harm to their collective well-being

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But it is freedom and equality that inspire us to oppose political fear, and it is freedom and equality that underwrite our struggle against it. Fear, in other words, does not come first. Fear is an obstacle and a stumbling block, but it is not, and cannot be, a foundation for politics.


It is seldom noted, but fear is the first emotion experienced by a character in the Bible. Not desire, not shame, but fear.
Does anyone feel? Not until they eat the forbidden fruit do we hear of felt experience. And when we do, it is fear. Why fear? Perhaps it is because, for the authors of the Bible, fear is the most electric of emotions. Prior to being afraid, Adam and Eve exist and act in the world, but without any palpable experience of it. Afraid, they are awash in experience, with God promising even more—for Eve the pain of childbirth, for Adam the duress of work, for both the dread knowledge of death. Unafraid, Adam and Eve have only the laziest appreciation of the good and haziest apprehension of the bad. Their dim cognizance of evil makes them spectators to their own lives, semiconscious actors at best. Adam names, Eve succumbs, but neither really knows what it is that they do. Afraid, they know. Shallow temptation gives way to dramatic choice, inertial motion to elected action. Their story—our story—is ready to begin.1

Fear restored to us the clarifying knowledge that evil exists, making moral, deliberate action possible once again.

By political fear, I mean a people’s felt apprehension of some harm to their collective well-being—the fear of terrorism, panic over crime, anxiety about moral decay—or the intimidation wielded over men and women by governments or groups. What makes both types of fears political rather than personal is that they emanate from society or have consequences for society.

Political fear is often associated with government acts, but it need not be, at least not overtly. Take the fear a woman has of her abusive husband, or the worker of her unkind employer. To the casual observer, these fears are personal, the product of an unfortunate but entirely private derangement of power. In actual fact, they are political. They spring from pervasive social inequities, and help sustain long traditions of rule over women and workers.
Political fear is supposed to teach us the worth of specific political values. The fear of civil war, for instance, is supposed to breed a respect for the rule of law, the fear of totalitarianism an appreciation for liberal democracy, the fear of fundamentalism support for toleration and pluralism.

Though fear has a politics, we often ignore or misconstrue it, making it difficult to understand how and why fear is used. Convinced that we lack moral or political principles to bind us together, we savor the experience of being afraid, as many writers did after 9/11, for only fear, we believe, can turn us from isolated men and women into a united people.

If we seek to counter political fear in the United States, if we hope to make freedom and equality practices rather than promises, we must confront this assemblage of institutions and practices that fragment the state and civil society and promote fear. We must cease our worship of these icons, cultivating a more skeptical appreciation of their deficits and limitations, and seek more robust protections against fear elsewhere. We must be less nervous about popular movements, which seek to make freedom and equality a reality, and more sympathetic to the aggressive, national state policies that support them. For in the United States, it is these movements, even when inspired by seemingly utopian ideologies, and a centralized, unified, national state, that have been the most important and driving forces behind freedom and equality.

WE&P by: EZorrilla.

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