Fear: The History of a Political Idea

By Corey Robin | Go to book overview

Introduction

HE HAS LOST ALL HOPE OF PARADISE, BUT HE CLINGS TO THE WIDER HOPE OF ETERNAL DAMNATION.

—VIRGINIA WOOLF

It is seldom noted, but fear is the first emotion experienced by a character in the Bible. Not desire, not shame, but fear. Adam eats from the tree, discovers he is naked, and hides from God, confessing, “I was afraid, because I was naked.” Before this admission, God creates and sees that his creations are good. He sees that Adam is without a mate, which is not good. Eve sees that the tree of knowledge is “pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise.” But these are reports of antiseptic perception, with no warming murmur of appreciation or aversion. Everyone looks, everyone sees. 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

After September 11, 2001, writers tell us, an altogether different kind of fear drove a similar passage from passivity to feeling and action. Before 9/11, Americans were supposed to be in Eden, idling in a warm bath of social

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Fear: The History of a Political Idea
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Fear - The History of a Political Idea *
  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Fear xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part 1 - History of an Idea 27
  • 1 - Fear 31
  • 2 - Terror 51
  • 3 - Anxiety 73
  • 4 - Total Terror 95
  • 5 - Remains of the Day 131
  • Part 2 - Fear, American Style 161
  • 6 - Sentimental Educations 167
  • 7 - Divisions of Labor 199
  • 8 - Upstairs, Downstairs 227
  • Conclusion: Liberalism Agonistes 249
  • Notes 253
  • Index 303
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