Philosophy of Fearism or FEARISM philosophy, whatever way one constructs these, is a historical (potentially grand and radical) turn in philosophy, and like many other turns before it, there needs to be serious investigation into this turn and its reasons for wanting to make a turn in the way philosophy itself is perceived, constructed, and operates. Any top-notch political movements would do well to be informed by fearism philosophy. -rmf
I often encourage folks to study fear(lessness) with expanded imaginaries rather than old school only ideas and imagination. I ask the learners be open and curious. Lurking amongst the history of ideas about fear are limitations as well as the benefits of careful study. However, in the late 20th century, a new turn had occurred with the emergence of two concepts "fearism" (Fisher) and "philosophy of fearism" (Subba). This blog will not cover that history of new thinking on the topic as there are lots of resources now published to do so . But if you were around in the 1990s, for e.g., there was no way to study fear that truly provided a new philosophy of fear at the same time.
Okay, enough on the history of ideas and their politics. Let me now turn to the subject of this blogpost, which spun from my watching last night the fascinating historical/drama film by Raoul Peck (2017) The Young Karl Marx. Without resorting to a marxophobic reaction as so many do in the West (especially N. A.) and around the world with fears of socialism and communism, let's back off that fear-based move and keep open and curious, and let the criticism fly later. My colleagues and I are promoting fearism not Marxism per se.
Peck's film relates to my wanting to talk to Feurbach's philosophical turn in the mid-19th century that Marx and Engels fed from as young revolutionaries in Europe and Britain. It relates indirectly to my desire to elaborate a simple summary purpose of philosophy of fearism and clarify for readers why is this an important history of ideas to name fear(ism) as a philosophical base and movement itself. But before I dive into Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach(1804-72) and his great influence on W. thinkers like Darwin, Marx, Freud, Engels, Wagner and Nietzsche, for examples, let me say a bit more about the Peck film and my attraction.
I am attracted to any teachings that helps one understand the status quo and its oppositions, the latter being ideas, discourses, and/or movements that challenge and critique the mainstream (sometimes called the Old World view). We see a young 20's something Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels meeting and building a manifesto to challenge the Old World (largely unjust) ways of doing economics and labor relations. A good movie review (Arnoff, 2018) says this is the film the younger generations have been waiting for, those who are tired of the only two alternatives battling under Capitalism vs. Communism. No, there is a third way, called Socialism.
The young Marx was a leading ground philosopher and Engels a sound boots-on-the-ground scientific-empirical thinker of socialism, who saw what was needed to reform labor relations (i.e., classism). That's a great thing in the history of ideas and movements for positive change--in fighting oppression. And the film shows how brash the young philosophers were and the risks they took for what they believed in. The Young Karl Marx is entertaining too but it is "a theory laden movie" an "ideological coming-of-age story" . It depicts some of the real strengths and flaws of revolutionaries and philosophers. It shows that all philosophers also have their politics and there is plenty of clashing. The young brash Marx is obnoxious and angry and determined. His flaws showed and it was clear he needed mediated help from allies like his Jenny and Engels and many others. It takes a community to change the world --to bring about revolution. Clearly, Marx and Engels failed overall, as have many other philosophers to bring about the change they wanted--that is, their ideals. Although, for sure, arguably, much good did change because of these thinkers and those around them that they drew upon, like the ideas of Feuerback and Proudhorn, for examples.
What was Marx's main complaint? There are many things he critiqued of the status quo, but I'll stay in this blogpost with the philosophical ones, and relate those to Feuerbach's critique and then finally to the philosophy of fearism critique today.
Understanding Feuerbach's Radical Descent and Philosophical Turn
First, I admit I have not read Marx and Engels and Feuerbach, other than those mostly who have written about them. I have drawn often on philosopher Ken Wilber to understand these thinkers and their movements they produced in the history of philosophy and in the evolution of consciousness itself--the latter is my most interest. Ultimately, as a fearist thinker myself, I want to know the intimate link between consciousness and fear. I'll return to that later.
Secondly, I am not for or against Marxism, or Communism or Socialism. I am curious what each of these ideological movements, sets of ideas and their leaders have to offer for a better (less oppressed) humanity--and, that ultimately would be a way to lead the world be be more sane, ecologically sustainable and a healthy place to raise children.
Thirdly, I am not an ideologue per se, in that I am pushing any "ism" and think all other forms of thought (and isms) are crap. Such exclusionist and reductive (and highly political) thinking doesn't make for good philosophy. Now, I am not a professional philosopher either, and I am want to critique philosophy and even poke fun at it, as we see in the young brash Karl Marx.
Fourthly, let me say in summary in my own words, without a lot of research on Feuerbach, what I think was happening in these 19th century revolutionary storms of ideas, ideologies, critiques and new offerings of how to live more justly and fair. I simply, woke up this morning, after watching the movie last night, and in my hypnopompic state and darkness of the bed, I am starting to link things. I know Desh Subba has written a lot in the past few years on his fearism critique of Marxism, etc. This is all lingering in the back of my mind. I want to explain what Subba is doing with his version of fearist thinking and some of my own thoughts. So, begin, I say, and write something to start it off here, and the FM ning is as good a place as any to jot down these notes. The largest power in philosophy of the early to mid-19th century seemed to be Hegelian thought. It was Idealistic. It was stunning in depth and scope, but it lacked a practical empirical substantiation. Feuerbach, then Marx (amongst others) were looking for the strengths and fault-lines in Idealism  as a way to bring about any real revolution in society, and their criticism was aimed at Hegel and philosophical academicians and at the pompous "young Hegelians" in politics as well. So, Marx and Engels led a socialist attack on "abstraction" (and Hegelian thought and political spin from it). Marx was looking for ideas to turn around Hegelian philosophy in politics and economics. He later would call this class-critique and critique of oppression in general. But before that, I want to focus on the historical evolution of the ideas of criticism that the young Marx was propagating so passionately. So, let me turn to some expertise knowledge beyond my own, from scholars like Wilber and Collins , as starters.
Collins (1998) a sociologist, and a conflict theorist of my own persuasion, is also a great historian of sociology. He has put his scholarship into studying global philosophies and their players and movements as a dynamic network of patterns of power, well worth understanding. Ideas-people-places-power flows are all important in this socioecology of philosophy. So, what does Collins offer us in understanding the core of mid-19th century Europe and the philosophical (political) turn going on and Feuerbach's location in it? In very brief, Collins noted in Germany history of thought and philosophical circles, several networks were going on, and by 1837-42 the "left-Hegelians" were following Feuerbach's philosophical critique mainly . These were more "coffeehouse" like circles and less academicians centered in universities, while basically, they would not last long and German philosophy would move into the academy thereafter. The young Marx and Engels were part of the Feuerbach leftist socialist wing but eventually left it in developming their own critique. A big part of that critique, still following Feuerbach's critique of Hegelianism overall, was to move to a more materialism and secularism in their foundational philosophy--turning spiritual Hegel on his head, as it is often said by historians. They claimed Hegel has it all wrong, and that material was ultimately real, in opposition to Hegel's metaphyics of spiritual is ultimately real. Hegel's philosophy and its new spins could never, for Feuerbach and Marx be a foundation for a just society of labor relations and basic humanist values in the economic sphere of survival. Hegel was philosophy for the bourgeois (elites).
Feuerbach criticized religion (Christianity) and broke with tradition and Hegelian sympathy for Christianity. "After Hegel's death came Feuerbach and Marx" (and others)  to dominate the intellectual waves of thought in philosophy and politics. The Battle of Sense and Soul (Material and Spiritual) (Descenders and Ascenders) continued at this time in history (and it still does). Feuerbach (then Marx) were fighting back to ground philosophy in the sense-world, anti-metaphysical, anti-abstract, anti-elitist. Wilber (1996), wrote, "There is a famous phrase, that after Hegel everybody was saying 'back to Kant!' [i.e., rationality and its grounding in the senses, and empiricism]" . Wilber summarizes: "The collapse of Idealism left the Descenders [materialists] virtually unchallenged as the holders and molders of modernity....the Idealist current was snapped up by the industrial grid and converted, via Feuerbach and Marx, into a strongly materialistic and 'naturalistic' conception. It's almost impossible to escape the modern Descended grid, and after absolutely heroic attempts by the Idealists, they were hounded out of town by the troglodytes. And so Feuerbach, a student of Hegel, would soon announce that any sort of Ascent, was simply a projection of men and women's human potentials onto an 'other world' of wholly imaginative [false] origin. And, according to Feuerbach, it is exactly this ['fear'] projection of human potential onto a 'divine' sphere that cripples men and women and is the true cause of self-alienation" --and, concomitantly, such 'fear' projection as I call it and existentialists like Becker would call it immortality projection, there is a weakening and vulnerability created to exploit that alienated and wish-filled man by the world of the senses-material and economic exploitation. "Get real!" is the Descender-call, the Feuerbach-Marxist charge here. Then, they argue, we can resist and avoid exploitation of workers and the poor, by those who would seduce us into being 'slaves' (labor) for this so-called higher divine spiritual end, of which the elites propogate as ideology in the name of the bourgeois church, state, and corporations. Real empowerment was grassroots, secularist, modernist, and a Descender movement in consciousness itself.
Wilber (1995), a 'neo-Hegelian' of sorts (but an integralist philosopher), today argues, we humans of the West especially, have not recovered yet from this massive philosophical turn and 'blow' (collapse) of the Kosmos into the materialist explanation for everything--a worldview of only the seeable and matter-based substance is real . Engels would pen, "nothing exists" apart from nature and human beings....The enthusiasm was general; we were all for the moment followers of Feuerbach." Wilber laments, "And the entire modern and postmodern world is, in effect, the followers of Feuerbach" . The larger philosophical question for our time is: What impact on consciousness itself is such a Descender victory?" It has big problems, so Wilber and I argue.
'Fear' Projection and It's Mighty Problems
Feuerbach then was a philosopher of mighty insight and leadership capability obviously. Marx took it further, and others have taken it further too. This is nothing to dismiss too easily as nonsense. What intrigues me as Wilber analyzes the Feuerbachian (r)evolution of thought, he points out the critique of the materialists toward the spiriitualists (or at least the idealists), is that the latter are projecting ideals for human beings (i.e., their higher human potential and empowerment) onto the divine fantasies and constructions and dogmas around them (e.g., religion). "Projection" is a powerful psychological term, and it is argued by many (including myself) as a fear-projection (or 'fear' projection, as I prefer)--by which a certain inferiority complex in the human is projecting onto the immortal and trying to find a "fearless" representation of identity to attach to to make them feel better (be less fearful of mortality), etc. This complex projection phenomenon, driven by fear-based thought is pathological. Wilber sees this too, as do I. But the materialist philosophies were also trying to point this out and correct it with their own cura philosophy of the time (e.g., secular materialist, and humanist, modernist). Fine. But they could not see their own fatal flaw in the materialist (Feuerbachian factor) turn. That's the point of an integralist critique (a la Wilber), which I prefer, and going beyond that it is my contention that the very ones critiquing the spiritualist philosophies had their own fear-based agenda and ideology as in their form of rejection and criticism. They would not turn that projection critique on their own positionality, and philosophies and politics--that is, on their own self-alienation and diminishment of consciousness itself. Wilber (1995, 1996), for example, tells this story of the unfortunate binary of Ascenders-Descenders, in what is a compelling philosophical story and critique. I recommend you read his lengthy analysis. But yes, Wilber agrees, fear-based projections are on both sides of this battle for reality, and Ascenders only are just as bad as Descenders only. That's the point. It creates massive pathologies at all levels of society and the world and a lot of toxic destruction has shown itself because of the failures of modernity and postmodernity (post-Feuerbachian factor).
So, along comes this late 20th century, early 21st century new fearism philosophy (a la Fisher-Subba) as another corrective to the Feuerbachian corrective--and, a new battle for philosophy and politics, and how to best live generally, is underway. History of philosophy is like that. History of ideas is not static. And, fearism presents new ideas (and old) and offers up a new menu of choices. At least, that's the argument I wish to remind readers of. Check it out yourself.
What fearism offers is a re-visioning of what is the basis of existence, and it concludes "fear" is the basis, and it precedes essence and all else that is real. With that, there is no need to be depressed about it. For "fear" in the fearism lens, from the fearist perspective, is not merely negative, not merely an emotion or feeling or defense. And, from there a new story of human potential and corrective to the pathologies of history and philosophy are ready to take shape. But, will it ever get off the ground? Will it every be applied in important places of society? We don't know that yet. The Fearism movement (like Fearlessness Movement) are very nascent, at least, in their current forms. I have always argued, however, that fear(lessness) is foundational to life and evolution. They are ancient forces and intelligences waiting to be tapped by us. We still have to wake up to this potential, and I believe (like Subba, and some others) "fear" is a great channel for this awakening, for this paradigm shift and new philosophy.
1. E.g., see Fisher, R. M., and Subba, D. (2016). Philosophy of fearism: A first East-West dialogue. Xlibris; and Fisher, R. M. (2022). Philosophy of fearism: A primer. Xlibris.
2. See Arnoff, K. (2018). The Young Karl Marx: A film whose time has come. The Intercept. https://theintercept.com/2018/03/13/the-young-karl-marx-a-film-whose-time-has-come/
3. Keep in mind that intellectuals, E. and W. at this time, says Collins, "were cosmopolitans" and globalist and more universalist in outlook and philosophies and "Idealism is cosmopolitanism in religion; it is religious thought argued out independently of dogma and tradition. That is why Idealism everywhere is the favored philosophy in the transitional generation of secularizing reformers" (p. 686).
4. Wilber, K. (1995). Sex, ecology and spirituality: The spirit of evolution (Vol. 1). Shambhala; Collins, R. (1998). The sociology of philosophies: A global theory of intellectual change. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
5. Collins (1998), pp. 530-1.
6. Ibid., p. 686.
7. Wilber, K. (1996). A brief history of everything. Shambhala, p. 282.
8. Ibid., p. 283.
9. Wilber (1995).