Dan Dagerman (University of Bristol), 'The fear of fear in political theory'
Fear, like other negative emotions such as anger and grief, has long had a bad reputation in politics. But while the latter anger and grief have recently enjoyed considerable positive attention from political theorists, fear remains abhorred as a politically destructive emotion, helpful only to would-be oppressors. Arguments against fear tends to involve two related claims. The first is that neuroscience shows that fear is inherently dangerous in public life. The second is that particular groups in society or entire populations are politically driven by fear. I will argue that the basis for either claim is weak. I begin by showing that neuroscientific research about what neuroscientists call ‘fear’ does not support the kinds of claims made about what political theorists and many others call fear. I then proceed to argue that political theorists fail to provide convincing evidence that people are afraid and that fear is a central driving force in their lives. Finally, I conclude by pointing out some potential dangers of the careless denigration of fear in political theory.
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