Fears and Symbols: An Introduction to the Study of Western Civilization

By Elemér Hankiss | Go to book overview
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INTRODUCTION

I shall argue that fear and anxiety have played a major role in the generation of human civilizations. This is a futile exercise, one might say. The role is obvious, few people would question it. Why spend time discussing something that is self-evident?

I see two reasons for doing so. First, despite the obvious importance of fear and anxiety in the generation of human civilizations, their role has been, if not ignored, at least much neglected in the social sciences, even in current theories of civilization and culture (the two terms are used interchangeably in this book).1 Second, as I proceeded to work on this hypothesis, I became more and more amazed by its explanatory force and by the way it put our civilization in a new light. Finally, I decided to check whether this hypothesis about the role of fear and anxiety could be developed into a systematic theory of civilization. The present book is the product of this exercise.

According to my working hypothesis our existential insecurity has played a leading role in the generation of human civilization. It may have been a more important factor than the Kantian or Herderian forces of human betterment, the Durkheimian necessities of social coexistence, the Freudian mechanisms of sublimation, the Foucauldian strategies of domination, or any of the other motive forces so often alluded to in mainstream theories of culture.

In order to mitigate this fear, human beings and communities have surrounded themselves—not only with the walls of their houses and cities,

-1-

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