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Fear: The History of a Political Idea

6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195189124
ISBN-10: 0195189124
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Given daily terror alerts and news reports of violence, Robin, professor of political science and contributor to the New York Times Magazine, offers a sober analysis of fear's Janus-faced potential as catalyst for economic progress and the raison d'être of repressive regimes. A brilliant synthesis of historical perspective and the critically revealing story of "Fear, American Style," the account explores the classics of political thought by Hobbes, Montesquieu and Tocqueville and the portrayal of evil by Arendt in order to locate fear as the decisive underpinning of contemporary liberal theory. In doing so, Robin argues for the groundlessness of, on one hand, a "liberalism of anxiety" that perceives society as a debate over communities of identity and difference with low emphasis on social cohesion, while on the other hand a "liberalism of terror" that turns to abject evil as the summum malum grounding for morality. For Robin, both of these descriptions of political realities ignore the subtle threats fear wages in our everyday lives, most notably in the workplace. The closing chapters document how the Constitution and federalism's factionalist orientation aid that everyday fear. Conceived of before 9/11, but inclusive of its results, Robin's analysis predicts that when the war on terror does end, "we will find ourselves still living in fear."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Robin's account of the place of fear in American life is refreshingly clear--and timely."--Tony Judt, New York Review of Books


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (January 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195189124
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195189124
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 0.9 x 5.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #244,780 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 51 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on February 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Throughout history, leaders have made use of fear to consolidate their power. Repressive dictators of the Stalin variety inflict fear directly on their populations, while those of the Hitler variety enforce obedience by claiming threats from "others" either inside or outside the territory. In fact, this is taking place in America right this minute, though not in such a dictatorial fashion. Here Corey Robin constructs an initially fascinating intellectual history of the use of fear by heads of state, through the works of philosophers who have explored the concept. This includes informative and occasionally revisionist analyses of the long misinterpreted or forgotten writings of Thomas Hobbes, Baron de Montesquieu, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Hannah Arendt. The first two-thirds of the book take us on an educational journey through the political fear, terror, anxiety, and totalitarianism observed upon by these philosophers.

Unfortunately this book derails in the final third, in which Robin attempts to tie these concepts into current events, but misses the boat badly. The supposedly authoritative closing chapter is an anemic summary of the lack of privacy in the workplace and corporate actions against unions. Robin postulates that this phenomenon indicates political fear amongst the workforce, but fails to adequately explain how this is so, missing the structural phenomena engendered by the ideological and economic connections between many corporate leaders and politicians. More fundamentally, Robin leans primarily toward blaming political "liberalism" for modern political fear of any stripe.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Dennis R. Jugan on November 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Corey Robin began this book prior to the events of 9/11 and the politics of fear that have gripped this nation, culminating in the recent presidential election. Unfortunately, this scholarly work on the history of fear as both a political idea and a reprehensible social instrument was rather late to arrive in the recent avalanche of mostly mindless books. It has yet to be recognized for its thoughtful and lucid analysis.

Well-researched and documented by nearly 50 pages of references, it's a watershed book on this subject like no other. Seldom will you find a more thought provoking book so in tune with the times.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Ed Abe on October 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Thought provoking and most applicable to todays times--Weapons of Mass Destruction, Terrorism,etc. Historically many political motivations are based on fear as Robin explains. A good voyage through history on Fear and how it has been used by Political figures, leaders and statesman to move the public to accept their strategies, plans and actions. Perhaps we see Robin's theory most clearly in action in this November election race.
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