Fearpoliticology And Democracy's Fragility

The recent dialogue (on the FMning) on initial ideas surrounding Fearcriminalysis brought forward thinking about the relationship of law and crime and safety and security enforcement, etc., with politics, and especially with thinking about democracy and the future, as things are getting tense around the world and liberal republics (and democracy) are showing signs of breakdown and being over-taken, more or less, by forces of fundamentalism of one kind or another, often with their own forms of terror(ism) and fear(ism)-t (i.e., toxic variety). 

Barbara sent me an interesting article recently in the N.Y. Times (01/2718) which I want to quote some excerpts for educational purposes here [1] on thinking about governance, politics, law and I think they very much run along parallel to concerns that ought to be taken up in a new subdomain I am labeling Fearpoliticology [2], with concurrent parallel themes in fearcriminalysis. This article is by two Harvard University professors of government. 

Levitsky & Ziblatt (2018) wrote, 

"The problems we face [in America] run deeper than Trump [and his particular autocratic leadership style].... We should not take democracy for granted. There is nothing intrinsic in American culture that immunizes us against its breakdown. Even our brilliantly designed Constitution cannot by itself, guarantee democracy's survival. If it could, then the Republic would not have collapsed into civil war 74 years after its birth. 

To function well, democratic constitutions must be reinforced by two basic norms, or unwritten rules. The first is mutual tolerance [i.e., basic social trust], according to which politicians accept their opponents as legitimate. When mutual tolerance exists, we recognize that our partisan rivals are loyal citizens who love our country just as we do. 

The second norm is forebearance, self-restraint in the exercise of power [and concomitantly, fear]. Forebearance is the act of not exercising a legal right [to win and dominate]. In politics, it means not deplying one's institutional perogatives to the hilt [maximum], even if it is legal to do so. [i.e., what has been called "constitutional hardball" by some legal scholars]

History suggests... that democratic norms are vulnerable to polaraization [via legalism in extremis--i.e., constitutional hardball]. Some polariation is healthy, even necessary, for democracy. But extreme polarization [i.e., enemy-making] can kill it. When societies divide into partisan camps with profound different worldviews, and when those differences are viewed as existential [if not religious] and irreconcilable, political rivalry can devolve into partisan hatred [i.e., extreme fear]. Parties come to view each other not as legitimate rivals but as dangerous enemies. Losing ceases to be an accepted part of the political process and instead becomes [seen as] catastrophe [if not as terrorism or anti-democracy and thus forebearance is abandonded].

If we believe our opponents are dangerous [e.g., fearsome], should we not use any means necessary to stop them? This is how democracy died in Chile [S. cone in 1970s-80s in Latin America] [where, social political life turned into a "death spiral" [3].... [today] our parties are more polarized than at any time during the last century. [according to a Pew Survey]49% of Republicans and 55% of Democrats 'say the other party makes them afraid!' 

This is not a traditional liberal-conservative divide [i.e., it is a Fear Wars, and a type of ideological cleansing campaign]. People don't fear and loathe one another over taxes or health care. As political scientists have shown, the roots of today's polaraization [and growing fear-based governance and rancid conflict, violence] are racial and cultural.

... the norms [informal sociality] that once protected our institutions are coming unmoored....Democracy remains at risk--president Trump or not president Trump." 


 I have long thought about this, and when Trump got elected, it was a clear sign to me of where a burgeoning (e.g., post-9/11) culture of fear will end up, if it keeps control and manipulates the fears of the people. There is an important role for fearpoliticology and fearcriminalysis in helping to better analyze this reality so more people are aware of the dynamics and how to contradict them, transform them to more creative and transformative growth. We have our work cut out for us. 



1. From Levitsky, S., and Ziblatt, D. (2018). How wobbly is our democracy. New York Times, 01/2718. 

2. Although, I have not fixed a definition or meaning on this term, it obviously has a lot to do with political life and governance overall, and it has to do with what many have called the "politics of affect" (and/or "politics of fear"), and it has a lot to do with fearmongering and enemy-making, and conflict and its managementin its many forms in political life. As I will shape a definition or meaning down the road, fearpoliticology is definitely going to involve my own DCFV theory (i.e., Domination-Conflict-Fear-Violence) which I unraveled and somewhat developed in grad school in the late 1990s.

3. It is not insignificant that the very first coining of the term "culture of fear" came from this time and from interdisciplinary researchers working in the aftermath of these horrors, as they came to configure a new understanding of the major role of fear in these political dynamics and dictatorships. 

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  • Michael, Of recent there is a most interesting conversation going on in Washington and among some academics regarding Fear.  It is this: The new concern is of what is being termed "The Weaponizing of Fear."  That is to say, matters of important political and social concern are no longer being discussed as policy, or even rational difference of opinion; now, if someone differs from you in attitude, belief, or behavior, "they are dangerous and to be feared." 

    Thought you would find this info both interesting--and to be gravely concerning.  If such positions become completely inflexible in social discourse, we are headed for big trouble...



    May 7/18

  • Maria, good points there, and I think Plato's notion of a Republic was getting at that too a few thousand years ago. I think "education" is the key to this new informed society, but it has to be an education of the citizenry that is not dominantly controlled by the State (this is especially critical, when the State becomes more and more infected by corruption forces like predatory capitalism, elitism, and fearism-t (toxic form). It behooves the health and wise society to protect the ways we educate and to make sure there are plenty of alternatives to the State-controlled systems. Of course, then we also have to be vigilant to assess as societies the privatized and corporatized elite-controlled education systems. Big problems. I myself have founded three alternative educational processes and with the Internet we have ways of doing this. 

    Re: "lack of competency" and sustainability of democracies, it is a "lack of fearlessness" fundamentally that drives ignore-ance (includes denial), and arrogance (itself fear-based ignore-ance of another kind). In my metaphysical theorizing many years back I linked ignore-ance to Thanatos forces and arrogance to Phobos forces, using the kosmology of Ken Wilber and he was modifying Plotinus's notions of these great forces ('Fear' forces, 'Fear' projections, etc.). Again, that's my fearanalysis reading of the meta-motivational forces that are so powerful and can undermine the benign forces or 'Love' forces of Agape and Eros, respectively. As a designer of curriculum, it behooves me to try to see the root forces behind the designs of Natural, Cultural and the Spiritual realms and learn to work with them, manage them, and bring better informed outcomes in how we as societies institute (formally and informally) socialization, enculturation processes that can both serve good, but also we've seen bring great harm to the citizens. When it comes to "fear" (great power itself), leaders (even parents) and enforcers can abuse this power. Just like judges and police officers are to operate by the ethical code "without fear or prejudice" ruling them, and so should all our leaders in government, corporations, in the miliatry and medical and educational institutions. That would be a good start.

    We all need a better fear education--then, democracy has a chance to counter the anti-democratic forces. I also believe there may be totally other ways to govern and do politics that don't always have to be "democratic" and I think Maria is saying something similar. We shouldn't be afraid of options and creative solutions that may or may not include how we do democracies.  

    Oh, I was at a birthday party last night, and a Canadian new friend there asked me what my nine years was like living in the USA. She was disgusted with American gun culture and the violence, and couldn't believe, she said, how no one seems to really want to change that. I found myself surprisingly saying, "America is in a civil war. It has never been resolved, it just goes underground, changes, and appears in another form. It's still a civil war, and primarily the South against the North but it's more complicated than that. But it all revolves around powerful rich elites controlling." This comment by me is relevant to the one made by Levitsky & Ziblatts:  "Even our brilliantly designed Constitution cannot by itself, guarantee democracy's survival. If it could, then the Republic would not have collapsed into civil war 74 years after its birth." The reality is you won't understand American culture and politics unless you understand its history--a history of criminality, exploitation, racism, militarism, violence--that is, a culture of fear. 

    • I concur in principle with you Michael! Yes, there are many other ways to govern and do politics that don’t always have to be democratic. As you rightly said, we should be open to options and creative solutions that may or may not include how we do democracies. Then comes the ‘how’ of doing things that way. The best possible alternative, as you said, is the institutionalization of socialization and acculturation without fear or prejudice. It is feasible as far as the administrators of institutionalization are independent of other forces (agencies) like judges. Assuming that is in place, we again come to the question, as you already suggested, of root forces of natural, cultural and spiritual realms governing both the administrators and the administered. 

      I view natural realm as the one that is instinctual in nature- like life and death instincts eg., food and sex for survival of self and species. Cultural realm may be regarded as socioeconomic-political continuum embedded in it with the objective of realizing Maslow’s ultimate goal of self-actualisation. The third one ie., spiritual realm has to seek mainly inner peace. In all these three realms, dual nature of root forces emerges that matters most in a critical sense. For example, live(selfishness) and let live (goodness) principle is of dual nature which is crucial. Other examples being- eat for yourself and let him also eat, earn money for yourself and let him also earn for himself etc. Whenever its dual nature breaks into one-sided affair, threat looms large from the affected side, triggering fear. As you have rightly observed, educating oneself on such issues results in true knowledge and understanding that eventually help one manage fear.

  • Levitsky & Ziblatt’s inference that ‘democracies cannot be taken for granted’ is in congruence with Dunning-Kruger effect which theorizes about the inability of democracies to offer best governments since the electors, most often, lack competence, knowledge, wisdom etc while selecting their representatives. Incompetence, lack of knowledge, lack of wisdom etc constitute what we call as ignorance, which by nature breeds fear, awe, superstition etc. Ignorance about what is happening and what is going to happen makes today and tomorrow anxious and fearsome. Added to inherent ignorance is post-truth as a result of the deadly mix of which, fear of the unknown looms large. This is the normal genetic sequence that is intrinsically embedded in the tenets of democracy to a large extent. Ideal democracy ought to have ideal citizens, at least in majority if not in toto, for its survival.

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