Fear as Politics
Fear is fast becoming – if it has not already become – a central object of analysis for understanding today’s politics. As fear is, supposedly, increasingly saturating our everyday lives, politicians and political strategists of all ideological stripes are rediscovering that fear is a handy tool in influencing voters. Our argument, however, is that rather than simply seeing the most recent exercise of a “politics of fear,” our contemporary moment is distinguished by the emergence of “fear as politics.”
Our paper argues that rather than fear acting as a political tool, it has become the essence of politics. Fear now provides the impetus and reason for politics, substituting other sources of legitimation of power such as democracy, justice, and the common good. If we accept Zygmunt Bauman’s proposition that “politics is the ability to decide which things are to be done and given priority” then three conclusions follow. First, that fear provides key input to the “ability to decide” as politicians use fear as pre-condition necessary to make decisions (“we have to do that because of immigrants, Muslims etc.”). Fear also provides selection criteria “for things to be done.” For instance, instead of environment or education policy priorities would include fear sensitive area such as security, race relations or employment. Finally – fear contributes the content of “things to be done” (for instance, if we fear immigrants then content of the immigration policy will be quite restrictive to the newcomers).
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