Fear as Politics

Fear as Politics

Dutkiewicz P.,

Dr. Sci. (Pol. Sci.), Professor, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, PiotrDutkiewicz@cunet.carleton.ca

elibrary_id: 496294 |

Kazarinova D.B.,

Cand. Sci. (Pol. Sci.), associated professor, RUDN-University, kazarinova_db@rudn.university

elibrary_id: 613327 |

DOI: 10.17976/jpps/2017.04.02

For citation:

Dutkiewicz P., Kazarinova D.B. Fear as Politics. – Polis. Political Studies. 2017. No. 4. P. 8-21. (In Russ.). https://doi.org/10.17976/jpps/2017.04.02


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).

Our argument is being developed in a three-step process.

Firstly – we argue – fear has become a projection of the political will aiming at changing existing order – that is to say that fear becomes the main reason and main motive for institutional/social change domestically and internationally. We live no longer in Bauman’s interregnum where “the inherited means of getting things done no longer works, yet the new and more adequate ways have not been invented, let alone deployed.” We live in the world where “things are done” based on fear as key questions about politics are being already answered – as for what to do – the answer is “react to what people fear” and as for “who is going to do that” – the answer is: those who will best manage the fear. Secondly, fear cements power relations by creating a new “political dogma,” a supra-ideology of sorts that being trans-ideological in spectrum (that is to say, “fear” becomes enclosed in every current ideology from populism to neo-conservatism), and shapes and restricts social imagination and political action.

Thirdly – we continue – fear provides alternative legitimization of state authority and action (that is to say that fear provides justification and sense of purpose for those in power). In the second section of the paper, we further developed our thesis, first by constructing a map of what fear is, politically speaking, and how it is politicized. Secondly, we explained why and how fear has become a constitutive component of politics.

For this paper’s key argument – that fear as politics has a transformational capacity to change politics, norms and institutions – we find Bauman’s concept of “liquid fear” well suited in explaining fear’s new political capacities acquired with the rise and fall of globalization. “Liquid fear,” Bauman explains, “means fear flowing on our own court, not staying in one place but diffuse. And the trouble with liquid fear, unlike the concrete specific danger which you know and are familiar with, is that you don’t know where from it will strike.”

Furthermore, we discuss which ways fear has different stimuli (and is based on different images of threat) for different social strata but we come to the conclusion that results (measured in fear intensity) are basically similar. We explained this phenomena by discussing: 1) loss of trust in both state and market, 2) divorce of power from politics and 3) deepening (followed by radicalization) of the social divide along a whole spectrum of cleavages (mostly based on inequalities, ideology, identity and power). Thus – we say – fear is becoming systemic (omnipresent) as it is present in every facet of our life and – simultaneously – institutions to cope with its roots (such as – for instance – socially supportive state agencies, trade unions, service providers NGOs as well as trust in them) are either no longer available or their capacity diminished.

Our first answer is based on the argument that a historic evolution of state–society and market–society relations led to a societal distrust in both, sealed by the financial crises of 2007-2009. Seem to us that we have entered a period of strategic instability in which we lost most of the defensive mechanisms against frivolousness of the market and repressiveness of the state. Citizens are, step by step, in recent twenty years, stripped from the protective layers of the social (or welfare) state. Waves of privatisations stripped the state of most prerogatives that made them attractive to their citizens. It is a mistake, however, to think that fear is the lower and middle class phenomenon of being uncertain, confused and defenseless. Same is the case of the upper classes with the capitalist class being also uncertain about the fundamentals of the system.

The second argument why fear changes its quality is the process of continuing and deepening divorce of power from politics that adds to the systemic instability and unpredictability. The state of interregnum (see Z. Bauman) has been caused by the progressing separation and divorce of power (an ability to have things done) and politics (ability to decide which things are to be done), and the resulting disparity between the task in hand and tools available to the state. On one hand, power is increasingly free political control but also politics is increasingly suffering from a deficit of power. The result is that we (a people) fear that the gap between the scope of tasks to make our life more secure/stable and the ability of institutions (and our won) to deal with them is at abysmal level and yet day by day this gap is widening. While Bauman’s approach is useful to explain causal link between power, politics and fear we are making one step forward by saying that interregnum is transformed already into the new order (a new regnum) where “things are done” based on fear. The beginning of that process can be traced by current adjustments to the immigration, refugees, security, defense, health and other policies.

Our last point in advancing the argument that fear obtained a systemic status as it touches every aspect of our lives is to look briefly at key cleavages that, by deeply dividing societies, making fear as politics plausible by appealing to a specific social groups and their concerns . First, we look at the rise of populism and identity cleavages, and secondly we discussed growing social / economic inequalities. We conclude this section by saying that – so far – we have provided a set of interlocked ideas to show that fear can be rationalized, operationalized, that it is imbedded into diversified social strata, included into mainstream politics, politically utilized and form a bedrock of the new regnum (with a political rationality based on fear) by whoever play politics.

In conclusions, we state that a multiple and growing real and perceived threats politics of fear became a standard feature of modern politics. Then – in course of the paper – we flipped the causality as we argued (in sections “A journey from the ‘Politics of fear’ and ‘Fear as politics’”) that rather than fear acting as an expedient but ad hoc political tool, it has become the de facto essence of politics and that fear being a twin-brother of politics become part of politics’ ontological core.

politics of fear; fear as politics; liquid modernity; fear-ization; interregnum; long XX century; new regnum.


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Content No. 4, 2017

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