Fear : The History of a Political Idea

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For many commentators, September 11 inaugurated a new era of fear. But as Corey Robin shows in his unsettling tour of the Western imagination-the first intellectual history of its kind-fear has shaped our politics and culture since time immemorial. From the Garden of Eden to the Gulag Archipelago to today's headlines, Robin traces our growing fascination with political danger and disaster. As our faith in positive political principles recedes, he argues, we turn to fear as the justifying language of public life. We may not know the good, but we do know the bad. So we cling to fear, abandoning the quest for justice, equality, and freedom. But as fear becomes our intimate, we understand it less. In a startling reexamination of fear's greatest modern interpreters-Hobbes, Montesquieu, Tocqueville, and Arendt-Robin finds that writers since the eighteenth century have systematically obscured fear's political dimensions, diverting attention from the public and private authorities who sponsor and benefit from it. For fear, Robin insists, is an exemplary instrument of repression-in the public and private sector.
Nowhere is this politically repressive fear-and its evasion-more evident than in contemporary America. In his final chapters, Robin accuses our leading scholars and critics of ignoring "Fear, American Style," which, as he shows, is the fruit of our most prized inheritances-the Constitution and the free market. With danger playing an increasing role in our daily lives and justifying a growing number of government policies, Robin's Fear offers a bracing, and necessary, antidote to our contemporary culture of fear.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 336 pages
  • 154.9 x 228.6 x 27.9mm | 453.6g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 0195189124
  • 9780195189124
  • 385,196

Review Text

"A worthy, if gloomy, contribution to the political-philosophical literature."-Kirkus Reviews
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Review quote

"A truly significant and highly original contribution to the understanding of the politics of fear, its consequences and ramifications, intended and unintended. What emerges is a complex picture of collaboration between various levels of government, civil society groups, manipulators and victims, governing elites and ordinary citizens, popular culture, management and workers. It provides, as no other work I know, a context for grappling with the post-9/11 world."
-Sheldon S. Wolin, Professor of Politics Emeritus, Princeton University "In this timely and provocative work, Corey Robin provides an acute and sustained analysis of the very idea of fear, of the role of fear as an instrument of political rule and of its unacknowledged prevalence within our liberal democratic institutions. He makes a powerful case against those who defend a 'liberalism of fear' and contend that fear can be a source of moral and political regeneration." -Steven Lukes, Professor of Sociology, New York
University "I have several disagreements with Robin's learned book, but it is so brilliantly provocative it should be widely read and debated."-John Patrick Diggins, Distinguished Professor of History, The Graduate Center, City University of New York "In the wake of 9/11, no emotion is more central to our politics and none is more misunderstood than fear. Corey Robin manages to strip bare the role fear plays in our political lives. His historical analysis is fresh, provocative and absolutely gripping. For all struggling to live as thinking people in the Age of Terror, he has written an essential text." -Mark Danner, author of The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War "Fear is a central, but little investigated, concept in modern political thought. In a deft and well-written analysis of this crucial concept and its political implications, Corey Robin not only gives us a masterful survey of its history but also, of its current abuse by the Bush administration. Passionate, erudite, and partisan, this book is an original contribution to our political vocabulary."-Seyla Benhabib, Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and
Philosophy, Yale University "Liberalism, he insists, sends working men and women unprotected into battle against the forces of privilege, a battle they are bound to lose. Defeating fear, US-style, requires a new politics that actively confronts power rather than the current apologetic, ameliorative American liberalism. He may not be right that only a strong state can protect its citizens from fear (which is what, with Hobbes, he ends up arguing), but he makes a strong case that the job is too
important to be left to the market."-Financial Times "His book is an appeal for social democracy which American intellectuals and the political elite have abandoned since the New Deal.... With great lucidity, Robin identifies many disturbing excesses in thought and travesties in deed, all of which are bound up in some way with fear." -Michael Kimmage, New York Times Book Review "Learned and original, Robin argues that whereas Hobbes and Arendt appreciated the political dimensions of fear, Montesquieu and Tocqueville relegated the idea to the realm of the psychological-a view of fear that has endured, blinding us to the self-serving ways elites deploy fear for political ends. Along the way, Robin delivers trenchant and original critiques of writers who deal with fear. The journalists Michael Ignatieff, Philip Gourevitch and their ilk, who
have made a cottage industry of condemning genocide, come under withering criticism for implicitly romanticizing the mass killings they deplore.... When...Robin takes on a congealed conventional wisdom, he is at his best."-Newsday "By means of an innovative rereading of four influential political theorists-Thomas Hobbes, Montesquieu, Alexis de Tocqueville and Hannah Arendt-Corey Robin offers a fascinating analysis of how we have formed many of our ideas about the role of fear in society."-New Statesman "A thoughtful, often brilliant, radical polemic against the insufficiencies and pitfalls of liberalism.... Let us hope that in his next work he will try to construct a defense against political fear as spirited as this provocative and discouraging dissection of its multiple forms."-Stanley Hoffman, Foreign Affairs "Brilliant.... What he does in Fear is show us, by carefully plotting the progress of modern fear politics from the Enlightenment to present day, that we are as dependent on fear as a political vehicle, if not more so, as we are the charades of left/right/middle factionalism."-National Post "Robin's account of the place of fear in American life is refreshingly clear-and timely."-Tony Judt, New York Review of Books "Given daily terror alerts and news reports of violence, Robin, professor of political science and contributor to New York Times Magazine, offers a sober analysis of fear's Janus-faced potential as a catalyst for economic progress and the raison d'etre of repressive regimes. A brilliant synthesis of historical perspective and the critically revealing story of 'Fear, American Style,' the account explores the classics of political thought by Hobbes,
Montesquieu and Tocqueville and the portrayal of evil by Arendt."-Publishers Weekly "A worthy, if gloomy, contribution to the political-philosophical literature."-Kirkus Reviews
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About Corey Robin

Corey Robin teaches political science at Brooklyn College, City University of New York. His writings have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Raritan, Dissent, The Times Literary Supplement and American Political Science Review.
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Rating details

114 ratings
3.92 out of 5 stars
5 25% (29)
4 45% (51)
3 27% (31)
2 2% (2)
1 1% (1)
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