Fear : The History of a Political Idea (Oxford University Press, 2006)

Saturday, June 7, 2008



Corey Robin's book examines something rarely if ever mentioned in the mass media - how fear is orchestrated to direct society, particularly in the political sphere. Robinson examines the history of fear in politics through the writings of Hobbes, Montesquieu, Tocqueville and Hannah Arendt, and how fear manifests itself today in the workplace, the media and in Washington.

Posted by St. Drogo at 1:26 PM  

6 comments:

P 17-18 - "Or consider how the government and media inflate the danger of dissenting individuals accused of supporting terrorism while minimizing that of corporations accused of similar crimes. On Feb. 20, 2003, the Justice Department filed charges against Sami Al-Arian ... accusing him of financing and supporting Islamic jihad ... The New York Times and the Washington Post ran front-page stories about the indictment, and in the week following, 318 stories appeared in other outlets. By contrast, when the federal government revealed 2 months later that it had fired 57 companies for doing business with rogue states and terrorist groups, hardly anyone in the government or media raised an eyebrow ... even though the companies included Chevron-Texaco, Wal-Mart, Citigroup, the New York Yankees and Amazon.com, and even though their partners ranged from Iraq to Iran to an undisclosed terrorist organization. The government levied minimal fines, totalling a mere $1.35 million, and posted notice of these crimes on a lonely Treasury Dept. website - and that only after a watchdog group filed a lawsuit to force the government to make the records public ... Not a single major U.S. newspaper or television network picked up the story; it only appeared in 12 media outlets, several of them in foreign countries."

St. Drogo said...
June 7, 2008 at 4:10 PM  

P 20-23 " A good place to begin an investigation of intimidating fear in contemporary America is the workplace, for it is there - in the underregulated practices of hiring and firing, promotion and demotion ... that fear has an especially toxic effect ... Wielding threats of firing, demotion, harrasment and other sanctions, employers and managers attempt to stifle speech and action, to ensure that workers don't talk back or act up. Employers do this ... because they believe fear spurs the fevered pace of contemporary industry ... creates an internal social order that can only be described as feudal ... a world ... whose master theorist is neither Karl Marx nor Adam Smith but Joseph de Maistre."

St. Drogo said...
June 7, 2008 at 4:11 PM  

P 25 "If we deprive fear of these surrounding myths, if we deprive the fear aroused by 9/11 of it's political ballast, perhaps we will see more clearly what our assumptions have long obscured: the repressive fear of elites, experienced by American men and women as they go to work, learn in school, haggle with officials, and participate in the organizations that comprise our associated life. Perhaps we will see how our fear of terrorism, orchestrated and manipulated by the powerful, is being used to reorganize the structure of power in American society, giving more to those who already have much and taking away from those who have little. Perhaps we will even attend to - and make a political issue of - the inequalities of American life and the repressive fear those inequalities arouse and sustain. For one day, the war on terrorism will come to an end ... and we will find ourselves still living in fear; not of terrorism or radical Islam, but of the domestic rulers that fear has left behind."

P 42 "Radicals and revolutionaries tilt against the fear of death. Seeking to change a stubborn reality rather than accomodate it, they risk everything, including their lives, for the sake of an improbable transformation. Though the revolutionary is not opposed to the self ... she is contemptuous of the cowardice and submission counterrevolutionaries like to pass off as self-interested realism and prudence."

P 156 "Almost as soon as the hijackers brought down the World Trade Center and gouged a hole in the Pentagon, journalists and writers seized upon the day's events as a comment on the cultural miasma and decadent materialism of the United States ... The United States had just emerged from a decade in which we 'renovated our kitchens, refurbished our home entertainment systems, invested in patio furniture, Jacuzzis and gas grills"

St. Drogo said...
June 7, 2008 at 4:12 PM  

P 164 "American liberalism is a double-edged sword - on the one hand, promising and sometimes delivering a society of free and equal men and women, on the other hand, defending a set of arrangements, like the fragmented state and social pluralism, that routinely betray that promise ... Reckoning with fear, American Style, demands a more honest accounting of liberalism's contradictory inheritance and a greater skepticism toward some of it's dearest faiths. I say this neither to discredit liberalism nor to reccommend that we discard it. The protections it affords are real and not to be dismissed."

P 188-89 "The New Republic" has opened a different domestic front in the war on terrorism, targeting the antiglobalization movement. Condemning a planned protest in Washington, D.C., in late September 2001 against the IMF and World Bank, the magazine's editor declared that if the protest came off, the antiglobalization movement would "in the eyes of the nation, have joined the terrorist in a united front" ... Antiglobalization activists and intellectuals quickly felt the power of such rhetoric : many, including the AFL-CIO, stayed away from the protest, and the movement has since fallen into abeyance ... U.S. trade representative Robert Zellick credits this one with convincing him of the link between terrorism and the movement against globalization ... New York Democratic congressman Charlie Rangel - and even free-traders like New York Times columnist Paul Krugman - denounced such tactics for casting globalization's critics as unpatriotic and dangerous to national security, but to no avail. Where the antiglobalization movement and congressional democrats had managed to deny fast-track authority to President Clinton in his second term, the combination of a silenced opposition and an emboldened Republican Party ensured the granting of such authority to President Bush by the summer of 2002."

St. Drogo said...
June 7, 2008 at 4:13 PM  

P 190 "With the exception of Muslims and Arabs in the United States, the labor movement since 9/11 has felt the greatest brunt of this elite fusion of foreign and domestic fears. In January 2003, Republican leader Tom Delay, or one of his staffers, sent out a fundraising letter on Delay's letterhead to thousands of supporters of the National Right to Work Foundation, an antiunion group seeking to overturn labor legislation in the United States. Claiming that the labor movement since 9/11 "presents a clear-and-present danger to the security of the United States at home and the safety of our Armed Forces overseas," the letter demonstrates "Big Labor Bosses ... willing to harm free-loving workers, the war effort, *and* the economy to acquire more power!" ... within Congress, Delay and his conservative allies have worked closely with President Bush to use the threat of terrorism to deny union and civil service rights - including whistleblower protections - to 170,000 Federal employees in the newly created Department of Homeland Security ... even though it was the lack of basic labor protections within the FBI that helped create a culture of intimidation where individual agents like Coleen Rowley were discouraged from speaking out on vital issues of national security, Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge has insisted that removing union and other employment protections would make his department as "agile and aggressive as the terrorists themselves".

P 197 "Though movies in the 1930s and 40s hardly offered uniformly brilliant social commentary, Hollywood did manage to produce during these years films like The Best Years Of Our Lives, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Gentlemen's Agreement and The Naked City, which tackled racism, anti-Semitism, and inequality, injecting a dose of social realism into a genre in which it rarely appeared. But by 1948, according to Variety, the studios were dropping plans for 'message pictures' like hot coals." ... Warner Brothers forced director John Huston to excise one line from Treasure of the Sierra Madre : "Gold, mister, is worth what it is because of the human labor that goes into the finding and getting of it." Why the deletion? "It was all on account of the word 'labor'" Huston recalled. "That word looked dangerous in print, I guess." In 1940, Numally Johnson authored the screenplay for "The Grapes of Wrath"; after the blacklist, he authored "How To Marry A Millionaire" and "How To Be Very, Very Popular". During these years, Ayn Rand's "Screen Guide For Americans" became required reading for studio heads. Its chapter titles included "Don't Smear The Free Enterprise System", "Don't Smear Success", "Don't Glorify The Collective", and "Don't Smear Industrialists". Above all, Rand warned, "Don't ever use any lines about 'the common man' or 'the little people'. It is not the American idea to be either 'common' or 'little'."

P 221 "During the 1960s, the FBI stoked divisions among civil rights organizations, the student left, and other progressive organizations. It did not create these divisions - they were already there - but it exacerbated them. In a secret 1967 memo sent to 22 field offices throughout the country, the FBI issued the following instructions: "Efforts of the various groups ... to consolidate their forces or to recruit new or youthful adherents must be frustrated. No opportunity should be missed to exploit through counterintelligence techniques the organizational and political conflicts of the leadership" ... The FBI disrupted efforts by the Black Panthers to form multi-cultural coalitions among Puerto Rican organizations, white urban gangs, and the student movement, encouraging the militant separatism for which the Panthers and other practicioners of identity politics would later be criticized."

St. Drogo said...
June 7, 2008 at 4:14 PM  

P 221 "During the 1960s, the FBI stoked divisions among civil rights organizations, the student left, and other progressive organizations. It did not create these divisions - they were already there - but it exacerbated them. In a secret 1967 memo sent to 22 field offices throughout the country, the FBI issued the following instructions: "Efforts of the various groups ... to consolidate their forces or to recruit new or youthful adherents must be frustrated. No opportunity should be missed to exploit through counterintelligence techniques the organizational and political conflicts of the leadership" ... The FBI disrupted efforts by the Black Panthers to form multi-cultural coalitions among Puerto Rican organizations, white urban gangs, and the student movement, encouraging the militant separatism for which the Panthers and other practicioners of identity politics would later be criticized."

P 232-234 "When a worker applies for a job, they sell, in theory, only their labor and their time, which is all, in theory, their employer buys. In practice, workers sell and employers buy much more. Even before they are employed, workers are forced to submit to an intimate inspection and supervision ... Why do employees put up with these regimes? Because the law grants to employers considerable power to hire, fire and punish employees as they see fit, and employees possess few legally enforceable rights to constrain them. In the private, nonunionized sector of the American economy, the combined effect of these legal stipulations is to render employees vulnerable to the demands of their employers, no matter how bizarre."

P 235 "In 2003, the public and unionized sectors of the workforce comprised only 23.7 percent of all jobs in the American economy. Every other worker - 76.3% - is governed by the doctrine of "employment at will" ... only Montana has passed legislation abridging this doctrine"

P 235-236 "When we look at the additional protective legislation individual states have passed, we get an even sharper view of how little the government restricts employers power. Only in ten states, for example, is it illegal to hire, punish and fire on the basis of sexual orientation; and only in 20 states, on the basis of marital status ... 12 states have forbidden discrimination on the basis of political affiliations or activities outside the workplace. In 38 states, then, it is legal for private, nonunion employers to hire, fire and discipline on the basis of political belief ... The courts have upheld each of these decisions."

P 238 "All of these invasions of privacy, however, pale in comparison with the personality tests employers regularly administer ... In a landmark 1991 case in California, for example, it was revealed that a discount department store chain had subjected 2500 applicants for the position of security guard to what it called a "psychscreen" test. Each applicant was required to answer 701 questions, including "Do you often think about sex?", "Are you attracted to members of the same sex?" and "Do you believe in the Second Coming?" ... In no other state would these questions, by statute, be considered illegal"

P 240 "For many Americans, particularly elite well-paid professionals, unions are organizations of burly, white, sometimes thuggish men. The labor movement, in this view, is the home of the coal miner and the Mafia, black lung and brickbats, fat cigars and bad coffee. Its goals are money and benefits, not justice or rights. Critics of the labor movement concede that at some point in history unions may have been necessary, but in today's global, wired economy they are relics of the past. This view is mistaken. The contemporary labor movement is increasingly made up of women, immigrants, Latinos and African Americans, and some of its most important organizing drives are among doctors and nurses, college professors, computer programmers, and other wired workers. Unionizing workers certainly seek money and benefits, but, more important, they wish to break the back of the workplace autocracy I have just described. Union grievance procedures and contracts, stipulations of "just cause" discipline and firing, and those proverbial workplace rules - all are designed to turn the workplace into something like a liberal democracy, with employees enjoying the rights of modern citizens. In pushing the Federal government to regulate the workplace, union members seek to put limits on their employers' arbitrary power and personal rule, which can seem so reminiscent of the feudal relationship between lord and serf."

St. Drogo said...
June 7, 2008 at 4:16 PM  

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