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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." 

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 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. 

   

Notes: 

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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