Tag: fear

Everything is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven

In shul this morning, I came upon this passage from the Talmud: “Everything is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven.” It’s an arresting thought, on two grounds. First, we tend to think of omnipotent power as causing fear, even terror. Yet the one thing, the Talmud says, that omnipotent power cannot determine is whether we are afraid of it. Second, we tend to think of our fear as something we don’t control, as an automatic and instinctual response to some power or threat. Yet here is the Talmud suggesting that everything within us is out of our control—except for our fear. As it happens, these two claims are similar to the arguments I’ve often tried to […]

Upcoming Talks and Other Things

I’ll be speaking at the following venues this semester. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and say hello. Friday, February 24, 5 pm “The Death of American Conservatism.” University of Hawaii, Saunders Hall 624 Friday, March 3, noon “Public Intellectuals: Bringing a Public Into Being.” In conversation with Jedediah Purdy. Duke University, Old Chemistry Building 011 Tuesday, March 28, 5:30 pm “The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump.” Manhattan College, room TBA Wednesday, March 29, 7 pm Harper’s Forum on Trump. With Masha Gessen, Lawrence Jackson, and Sarah Schulman. McNally Jackson Books, 52 Prince Street, New York Friday, April 14/Saturday, April 15 Keynote Address, Princeton Graduate Political Theory Conference Princeton University, room and time TBA In addition to […]

Against the Politics of Fear

This is a confession. In the last few days, I’ve gotten a lot of emails and comments asking me why I seem, in my Facebook posts and tweets, to downplay the threat of Trump. Why I resist the comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis, why I emphasize the continuities between Trump and previous Republicans, why I insist on attending to the fractures and cleavages within his coalition. Now, of course, nothing I say is meant to downplay the threat at all; it’s all designed to get us to see it more clearly (clearly, of course, by my lights), and while I don’t see my posts or tweets primarily or even secondarily as organizing tools, I’d like to think they give […]

Liberalism and Fear: What Montesquieu has to teach us about Clinton’s Use of Trump

Many people on social media tonight were puzzled why the Democrats at the convention in Philadelphia spent so little time laying out a positive agenda, focusing instead on the dangers of Trump. The Democrats, after all, are the party in control of the White House. Usually, that party’s candidate runs on the record of the incumbent or lays out a vision, if the incumbent is popular, of how she’ll continue that record into the future. I was less troubled or puzzled by this. Donald Trump is Clinton’s strongest argument for her election. Simply by running against him—as, let’s face it, LBJ did in 1964 against Goldwater—she shores up support not only within her base but among moderates who are legitimately […]

We Need to Pay More Attention to Politics When We Talk about the Politics of Fear

I’ve been arguing forever that to understand the politics of fear, you have to put the emphasis on the politics, not the fear, that history and ideology matter more than individual psychology or neuroscience. Against those who would reduce the politics of fear to what happens in our amygdalas, I’ve insisted that in between the things people fear and the things that the state does lies a vast chasm of elite interests, institutional imperatives, influential ideologies, organizational mobilization, and more. So the next time someone says that an unmediated fear on the part of the population, even a fear of a despised other, leads automatically and seamlessly to coercive measures of state, remind them of this moment: The Senate rejected…an amendment from Sen. […]

On “The Takeaway,” I Talk about the Politics of Fear, Post-Paris

I hauled myself at an ungodly hour into Manhattan this morning, to be interviewed by John Hockenberry, the host of NPR’s The Takeaway. We talked about the politics of fear, post-Paris. Fear was the topic of my first book, Fear: The History of a Political Idea, which was written very much in the shadow of 9/11. In recent years, I’ve gotten away from that theme. Can’t say I’ve been too happy about having to revisit them. Anyway, I talked with Hockenberry about why it makes sense for Donald Trump to trade in the hysteria that he does, why we attend to certain fears but not others, and what I’m most nervous about in the days ahead. Have a listen.  

Why Do We Fear the Things We Do: Maybe the Wrong Question (Updated)

The New York Times reports this morning: In the 14 years since Al Qaeda carried out attacks on New York and the Pentagon, extremists have regularly executed smaller lethal assaults in the United States, explaining their motives in online manifestoes or social media rants. But the breakdown of extremist ideologies behind those attacks may come as a surprise. Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims… … If such numbers are new to the public, they are familiar to police officers. A survey to be published this week asked 382 police and sheriff’s departments nationwide to rank the three biggest threats from violent […]

Violence Against Women and the Politics of Fear

Last week, Gloria Steinem had this to say: If you added up all the women who have been murdered by their husbands or boyfriends since 9/11, and then you add up all the Americans who were killed by 9/11 or in Afghanistan and Iraq, more women were killed by their husbands or boyfriends. PolitiFact then confirmed the truth of her claim. How can this be, you ask? How can something that is so dangerous to the population (at least a majority) not galvanize political attention and public policy in the same way that something less dangerous does? That was a question that inspired my first book Fear: The History of a Political Idea. Here’s what I wrote there: Political fear […]