Fear: The History of a Political Idea

By Corey Robin | Go to book overview

PART 1
HISTORY OF AN IDEA

While I will have much to say in this book about how political fear works, part one is devoted to its first two themes—to how we think of political fear, and why we think of it as we do. It might seem strange that a book about political fear should assign so much space to our ideas about fear rather than to its practice. But recall what Burke said: It is not so much the actuality of a threat, but the imagined idea of that threat, that renews and restores. “If the pain and terror are so modified as not to be actually noxious; if the pain is not carried to violence, and the terror is not conversant about the present destruction of the person, ” then, and only then, do we experience a “delightful horror.” 1 The condition of our being renewed by fear is not that we directly experience the object that threatens us, but that the object be kept at some remove from ourselves. By examining how we imagine the objects of our fear, I hope to bring those objects more closely into focus, to disentangle the skeins of misperception that have enabled us to believe, mistakenly, that we can be renewed by our fear of them.

Readers will note that I have subtitled this book “the history of a political idea.” That is because I am concerned with fear as an idea that has changed over time. An intellectual history of fear may strike readers as a counterintuitive proposal. After all, few elements of the human experience seem less amenable to strictures of the intellect or of history. Fear is supposed to lurk beyond the reach of our rational faculties, a preternatural invader waiting to breach the borders of civilization. It has no history. It is, to quote Aron again, “a primal, and so to speak, subpolitical emotion.” 2 Yet fear seldom intrudes

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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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