Milan Podunavac
Serbia, Belgrade

Fear and Politics

Then dread discharged all wisdom from my mind 

Section 1

While fear is inherent in every human society, it is not fear itself that frightens us so much as the overpowering fright that fear may arouse within. "It is fear I stand most in fear of; in sharpness it exceeds every other feeling" (Montaigne). Fear underlines the precarious edifice of the human condition: we fear death, gods, power, loss, strangers and the unknown. Both nations and individuals are often seized by fear and hysteria. There are many powerful reasons why a society in which fear does not exist is unknown and has never existed. There are also other equally powerful reasons why such a society, even if remotely possible, would be undesirable. Although the essential battles with fear cannot be won, it is possible to avoid, under specific conditions, the institutionalized (especially political) exploitation of destructive and irrational fears (1). This is the subject of this paper. My task is to discuss the problem of fear in politics, or more precisely how fear stands in the way of the natural progression of the nature of political order. It is a problem of extreme relevance for political scientists; but, let me add, it is a subject matter that is often neglected in political science and confronted with many obstacles. Although, it is, or ought to be, as Franz Neumann pointed out in his famous lecture almost fifty years ago, a central part of sciences, strange as it may seem, we do not possess any systematic study of fear in politics; few attempts are highly relevant and of great importance, but there is no analysis that seeks to generalize not only from experience of the twentieth century, but from political systems of the more distant past. When considering the problem of fear in politics, political theory runs the great problem of being uncompleted; the danger which can be avoid by being conscious of its limitations, and by giving a hearing to authorities from other disciplines, especially those involved in the field of political psychology. That means to accept the idea of an "architectonic nature of political science", in other words political science revolves solely around a problem and uses all kinds of methods to attack that specific problem. The notion of fear depends on such a locus; discussion of fear should be open to all disciplines that are sensitive to the very basic concept of human freedom. Systematic fear is a condition that makes freedom impossible; only human beings living in the absence of fear are truly free to decide (2).
Working within the aforementioned framework, I will follow those streams of thought in social and political thought that use fear as a departure point in political theory. At this junction, I will have to take stance regarding a few questions which have almost been clarified (the notes that follow are highly incomplete). I am not a political psychologist and I have had neither the time nor the necessary detachment to read huge amounts of literature in that particular field. Thus, what follows then, is a series of suggestions for further research. Hopefully, I will make some relevant insights into a problem which is denoted as a central part of "cruel order" in term of Tacitus, or as central part of "barbarous civil polity" and "negative politics" in the vocabulary of Franz Neumann and Judith Shklar.

Before we can begin to analyze any specific form of relation between fear and politics, it would be useful to state as clear as possible what the word "fear" means. I prefer a definition raised in the realm of political theory. Accordingly, of fear it can be said that it is universal and it is psychological. It is a mental and physical reaction common to animals as well human beings. To be alive is to be afraid, and much to our advantage in many cases , since alarm often preserve us from danger. The fear we fear is of pain inflicted by others to kill and maim us, not the natural and healthy fear that warns us of avoidable pain. And when we think politically, we are afraid not only for ourselves but for our fellow citizens as well. We fear a society of fearful people (3). As I already noted, fear is largely negative in character; it is negative emotions, manifested in a movement away, a backing off from dangers, a defensive reaction to the threatening object or person.

This paper is separated into six different sections, which explore different accounts of the problem of fear. After introducing the focal point of this essay by providing a brief explanation of relevant reasons for exploration of the subject matter (section one), I will now concentrate on an elaboration of Thucydides,' the forefather of protective-obedience axiom, political theory (section two); this axiom will be analyzed in more detail in section three. In this section of the essay, I want to pay close attention to the challenges of that basic axiom (imperative of order), and to propose a possible principled theoretical response. Section four will deal with the principles of legitimacy as means of approaching reciprocal fear between human beings and political order. Political order becomes humanized and civilized with the passing of time insofar as it sheds its active and passive fears; and it sheds these fears as principles of legitimacy are defined and accepted. The real nature of principles of legitimacy is to exorcise mysterious and reciprocal fear that always exists between the government and its subjects. Section five will concentrate on different forms of illegitimate and quasi-legitimate regimes which ultimate spring from fear. My contention is that concepts of illegitimacy and quasi-legitimacy are as important, theoretically and in the actual practice of politics, as concepts of legitimacy and liberty to which they are related, but cannot be derived. Our understanding of legitimacy and liberty can thus be enriched by the study of concepts dealing with their opposites, namely, illegitimate and quasi-legitimate authority and the absence of political liberty. I consider this to be a practical application of the indirect method implied in the political theory of Montesquieu, Tocqueville and Judith Shklar. Section six will concentrate on the political theory of Judith Shklar and will address the problem of fear in contemporary political society ("liberalism of fear"). I share with Judith Shklar her deep skepticism about our capacities for public rationality, skepticism reinforced by the extraordinary violence and irrationality of politics in the twentieth century Europe, including different forms of "barbarity" developed in the midst of war in the region of the former Yugoslavia 
(C. Offe). Thus, liberal politics is also liberal politics of fear.

Section 2

back to top

I began my research with a writer who could hardly be considered a political scientist- Thucydides. Although Thucydides is the author of a single book, The Peloponnesian War, he presents his argument "as quest for the truth" and believed that his work was a "possession for all time." He addressed many universal questions and it is my belief that instead of attempting to classify his thought as did W. Jaeger v. L. Strauss, we should take a closer at the book's most distinctive features. The notion of fear is central in his political analysis and the pages of History studied make reference to that force. 
The universal question of truth in which Thucydides was concerned is the process of politics as they relate to the development and destruction of political power. He was fascinated by the phenomenon of power which is usually called an empire. He defined politics as a process whereby men as individuals and groups achieve and excursive control over lives and property of other men and process whereby such control is generated and dissipated. It was the character of this process that he wanted to reveal. The first step, however, was to discover the ultimate springs of political behavior. According to Thucydides, they were primarily found in the irrational and impulsive, non-reflective part of human psyche, those part which some modern psychologists call "drive," "need," "desire"etc. Three such drives in particular, Thucydides believed move all men to engage in political activity. These are: a) desire for security and safety (asphaleia);b)drive for honor, prestige or glory (doxa, time); c) the desire for wealth-being which it brings (ophelia, kerdos). Interestingly enough, Thucydides often uses the term "fear" interchangeably with the expression "security" and safety," since the desire of safety manifests itself as the fear of the loss of this desire. These impulses, the three strongest motives, are the prime movers in the word of politics and appear over and over again, in the speeches of characters and the words of the narrator. Thus, in the Funeral Oration Thucydides makes Pericles say that in the maintenance of law and order "fear is our chief safeguard." In his account of the sack of Myclanus, Thucydides brought about dark images of "negative politics." "The Tracian race, like the bloodiest of the barbarians, being ever most so when it has nothing to fear, killed every living thing in the town, children, old people, even animals…There was nothing to fear. Courage did not clothe this brutality" (4). On the other side, in speaking about the cause of the war, Thucidydes himself says that Spartanian fear was the chief agent. "The real cause I consider to be the one which was formally most kept out of sight. The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Lacedaemon, made war inevitable" (5). All three motives are mentioned together by the Athenian envoys at Sparta before the war. Among the three powerful impulses, fear is the strongest: "The nature of the cause first compelled us to advance our empire to its present heights; fear being our principal motive, though honor and interest afterwards came in"(6). Thucydides' theory does not go beyond an assertion of the importance of those drives. He simply takes them as they are given because they are irreducible. He merely states that these impulses, of which everyone is aware, are the basic determinants of political behavior. In addition, it seems to me that it would be worthwhile to consider the hierarchy amongst "fear, honor and interest." Is one more powerful than another? In the event of conflict which one wins? In answering these questions, Thucydides gives us two hierarchies - an irrational ordering and a rational ordering. According to Thucydides, rational order and rational policy is moderate order of limited aims and one based on careful calculation of the balance of forces; it dictates reasoning that power and commitment should be kept in balance. But, only in rational hierarchy is there promise of satisfaction. The reason is, according to the calculating and reflecting faculty, that self-preservation and safety are necessary prior to the enjoyment of wealth and honor. Unless safety is not secured, to seek greater wealth and glory is to rush enterprise which leads to the frustration of all the basic drives. For the state, advises Thucydides, it is never rational to sacrifice safety to achieve possible glory. In times of distress and of violent conflict, in particularly in times of war, reason is destroyed and permits the natural hierarchy to assert itself. Accordingly, a war of conquest is the most obvious way of using force to build political power and instill fear as the means of political submission. Thus, Agamanenons ability to put together the Troyan expedition and to captain the power of all Greece, Thucydides attributed to the fear instilled by his navy: "Fear was quite as strong... as love in the formation of confederate expedition" (7).

Section 3

back to top

Many writers since Thucydides time have recognized the political importance of his analysis. The most powerful reformulation of his theory is the "protective-obedience axiom" developed in the mainstream of political theories of Machiavelli, Hobbes and Schmitt. All of them referred to fear as a "representative and powerful force" 
(H. Lasswell). Niccolo Machiavelli, put the notion of power and passions at the center of his political thought. It seems to be of importance to note at this time that he was much more inspired by the historians rather than by the philosophers. Only historian, he felt, had explored the reality of politics. He found this to be true in the works of Tacitus, Polibius, Thucydides and indeed Titus Livius, upon whom Machiavelli built his most comprehensive work Discourses. Following the tradition of ancients, he was convinced that political order was a quintessential setting for display genuine virtue. Machiavellis conception of virtue was similar to that of the Romans and Greeks. Virtues implied the qualities of fighters and warriors, great leaders, and founders of state, is unique person endowed with virtue: building or remolding a political order such a great man is capable of infusing his virtue and power into the entire citizenry. Machiavellis' view about the ordinary citizen, however, is very pessimistic. These measurable creatures lack virtue. Machiavelli stated that in general, human beings, if not checked, have an irresistible inclination to slide from the passions to evil. Animality, drives, passions-and above love and fear- are kernel of human nature. As Carl Schmitt pointed out, following W. Diltey, this principal feature of human nature is derived from the fundamental law of all political life. Montaigne, who "put cruelty first" as the "moral disease of Europe," not surprisingly, aimed the first of three essays at Machiavelli . The Prince is read as a "guidebook of princely cruelty." Accordingly, in The Prince, Machiavelli had asked whether it was more efficient for a self-made ruler to govern cruelty or clemently, and had decided that, on the whole, cruelty worked best. On the other side in Discourses, Machiavelli questions how to pacify those devilish drives. He suggested three pacifying forces: first a good religion; second, good institutions; and, third, peace. He found all three forces in the rule of the second Roman King, Numa Pompilius. He believed that Numa Pompilius introduced good institutions and good manners (mores). A political culture, in terms of modern political theory, is the basic prerequisite for good and stable order. Two quotes seem of great importance. The first one concerns religion and good institutions: Numa, finding the people ferocious and desiring to reduce them to civic obedience by means of arts of peace, turned to religion as an instrument necessary above all others for maintenance of civilized state. I conclude that religion introduced by Numa was among the primary cause of Rome's success, for his entailed good institutions; good institutions led to good fortune and from good fortune arose the happy results of undertakings."
The second is derived from Plutarch's Lives regarding the role of peace: "There is a temple to Janus in Rome, which has two doors, called the gates of war. In the time of war they keep the temple open but close it when peace comes....In Number's reign it was not seen open for one day, but remained continuously shut for forty- three years" (8).
Thomas Hobbes is a central figure in this tradition. The relation between protection and obedience is the cardinal point in his theory of state. Meaning, that security exists only in the state (Extra civitatem nulla securitas) (Schmitt). The starting point of Hobbes' construction is fear of the nature of state. The goal is security of a civil state, meaning that all conditions are suitable. In the civil state, conditions are such that all citizens are secure in their physical existence; their reign of peace, security, and order. Hobbes himself, designated this axiom, at the end of Leviathan as being the true purpose of his philosophy of state.

As it is well known that Hobbes spent most of his life in the service of the Cavendishes. However, before becoming a tutor in the Cavendish family, he studied classics at Oxford, and as a result of his studies, Hobbes produced his first fruit of literary labors: a translation of Thucydides. It is worthwhile to speculation on the effect that this had on Hobbes. He was submersed in Greek thought, in the marvelous exposition of the power of politics. Another important "moment" was the systemic context of civil war. Hobbes wrote in the times of many great English Revolutionist. Thus, he published his Leviathan in 1651, expressly stating that his Discourses of Civil and Ecclesiastical Government, was "occasioned by disorder of the present time." Hobbes tried to express the danger that public order passed in the state of civil war; the time when public order cannot secure the existence of society. In the absence of theologia civilis, as E. Voegelin pointed out, Hobbes is faced with the problem of constructing an order of society out of individuals who are not oriented toward common purpose, but are only motivated by their individual passions. Hobbes reveals no great illusions about human nature. According to his theory, human beings are all measurable; the occurrences of the civil war caused Hobbes to fear mans anarchical and evil nature. As it is well known, Hobbes had a poor view of man in their natural state. He assumed that there would be a "war of every men against every men;" each destructing the other and all desiring power; that there would be no industry or culture in such conditions; and according to famous words "life of men would be solitary, poor, nasty , brutish, and short." Hobbes, however, did not pretend that such conditions of affair ever actually existed. He did comment, however, that this was the state of affairs during the civil war. "It may peradventure, there was never such time, nor conditions of war as this; and I believe it was never generally so, over all the world. However, it may perceived what manner of life there would be, where there no common power to fear, by the manner of life, which men that have formerly lived under peaceful government, use to degenerate into civil war" (9). What Hobbes really did, in constructing Leviathan, was to dissolve the bonds of civil society into a natural state, that is, into its constituent atomistic parts, in order to achieve a new form of synthesis. He was able to do this because he conceived of state as being an artificial body or animal. Leviathan was created by the art of man. However, the basic problem remains: if the main reason for Hobbes' calculating, adding and subtracting as he puts it: what are such unhappy and measurable men reckoning about? What are they calculating? Hobbies' answers that mans basic motivation is fear of violent death. "The Passion to be reckoned upon, is Fear." Accordingly, there is no summum bonum, no highest good, but there is summum malum, highest evil. The highest evil is to live before ones time as result of violent death. It is important to stress here that Hobbes speaks of violent death or as C. Friedrich states in his famous lecture, Hobbes speaks merely of death. This statement is not entirely accurate. Indeed, the fear of death produce quite different kind of political theory. After all, we all have to die. The general fear of death puts one into metaphysical mood, leads one to speculation about his afterlife and immortality. It is a source of much religious thought. Hobbes stresses, as I pointed out, the fear of violent death. His fear is secular and worldly. His concern is not religious, for this violence results mostly from hostile human beings who attack and deprive one another of life, the most important of all values. There are, according to Hobbes, other rival motivation. For example, greed and the desire for glory, however, but these are merely incidental to the basic motivation, the fear of violent death. It is something that men can reckon, that men can calculate. The fear of violent death is the most characteristic feature of the state of nature, and this sentiment alone made it a law of nature for all prudent men to seek peace; the peace defined in the organization of political society. On this foundation, Hobbes offers his striking argument on how the state comes into being. Frightened men, who stand to lose their lives by violent death, gather together, and make a contract with each other to escape their miserable conditions. They must write into the contract a clause specifying that obedience is exchanged for protection: " I agree with you and you agree with me that we shall submit ourselves to someone else, whom we shall both allow to be holder of absolute power" (10).

Carl Schmitt accepts the Hobessian "protective-obedience formula." Hobbes had a profound effect on Schmidt's thought. The heart of this neo-Hobbesian project derives from their similar sociopolitical situations. Schmitt observes that Hobbes formulated his political theory in "terrible times of civil war" where "all legitimate and normative illusion with which men like to deceive themselves regarding political realities in periods of untroubled security vanish." But Schmitt shares with Hobbes not only a similar sociopolitical context but similar an outlook on the essence of politics and the "nature" of humanity as well. Schmitt's task then is to elaborate on Hobbes' view of humanity and revive of the fear that is characteristic of mans natural condition in three ways:(1) by demonstrating the substantive affinity between his concept of political and Hobbes' state of nature, (2) by making clear the ever-present possibility of a return to that situation in the form of civil war and (3) by convincing individuals that only a state with monopoly on decision regarding what is "political" can guarantee peace and security. In his highly provocative essay titled The Concept of Political, he focused on Hobbes' central concern, mainly, his protective-obedience axiom, which with modification, he made his own: "On this principle rest the feudal order and the relation of lord and vassal, leader and led, patron and clients. No form of order, no reasonable legitimacy or legality can exist without protection and obedience. The protego ergo obligo is the cogito ergo sum of the state. A political theory which does not systematically become aware of these sentences remains an inadequate fragment (11). Hobbes designated this as the true purpose of his Leviathan, to instill once again "the mutual relation between Protection and Obedience" (11). In the study titled Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes: Meaning and Failure of a Political Symbo, Schmitt approached Hobbes' theory from numerous perspectives. Schmitt especially notes the tension in Hobbes between his "vitalistic" conception of human appetites and "mechanistic" ones. Schmitt seemed Hobbies' theory of state to be of great importance. Hobbes is denoted as "incomparable political teacher." According to Schmidt, that state, outlined as an "armature of modern state organization, requires uniformity of will and uniformity of spirit" (12). The relation between protection and obedience is the basic core of every modern state: " The state machine either functions or does not function. In the first instance, it guarantees me security of physical existence, in return it demands unconditional obedience to the law by which it functions. All further discussion lead to a "pre-political" condition of insecurity, where ultimately one can no longer be certain of ones physical security because the appeal to justice and truth does not produce any kind of peace but instead leads to war, very wicked and vicious" (13).

Many believe that Schmitt picks up when Hobbes leaves off (G. Schwab). Focusing on the natural conditions between organized groups or states. According to Schmitt, the political word is pluriverse, a dangerous jungle of self-interested partnerships, shifting tactical alliances, open disagreement and outbreaks of violent conflict. These specific political phenomenas are reflection in the fact that human beings are dangerous and dynamic figures who are often drove, by force of circumstances, to commit devilish acts. Thus, this rule of human nature applies to commissarial and sovereign dictatorship. "The wonderful armature of a modern state organization requires uniformity of will and uniformity of spirit. When a variety of different spirits quarrel with one another and shake up the armature, the machine and its system of legality will soon break down. The institutions and concept of liberalism, on which the positivist law rested, became weapons and power positions in the hands of illiberal forces." The leviathan, personified the state as being a "huge machine," collapsed when a distinction was drawn between the state and individual freedom. That happened when the organizations of individual freedom were used like knives, by anti-individualistic forces to cut up the leviathan and to divide his flesh among themselves. Thus did the mortal god for second time" (14).

The Hobbesian protection-obedience axiom correctly grasped that the conditio sine qua non of social peace was the existence of a sovereign power able to guarantee respect for law, and , therefore capable of assuaging constant fear of uncivil actions. But what Hobbes did not realize was that power based solely on coercion could never free individuals from fear; it would be, rather, force them to live in permanent terror, limited freedom and fear. This is a key point in the instructive interpretation of fear and political power by early twentieth century political writer and historian, Gugliemo Ferrero.

Section 4

 back to top

Ferrero acknowledges that the function of power, the institutionalization of the command-obedience relationship within a given society, is to free men and women from the fear they have of each other, but he insists that this relationship contains a paradox fraught with terrible consequences. In order to eliminate the fear which individuals have of their fellows, political power creates another type of fear, the fear of power itself.
Ferrero begins with the idea that an individual's innermost essence of personality can be found in the "tactics and strategy" that they employ in their "fight against death." The civilization, institutions, and symbolic universe that human beings create in order to have conditions of relative stability and security all steam from their fear of nature of others, and of future. According to this interpretation, religion, politics, war, laws, morals, etc, are all attempts to eliminate fear by removing, or at least reducing it to a minimum, instability and uncertainty in the human condition. This causes Ferrero to define civilization as the "school of courage." He adds that "power is the supreme expression of the fear that men has of himself, in spite of his efforts to rid himself of it. This is perhaps the deepest and most obscure secret of history. Even in the poorest and most ignorant societies the rudiments of authority can be found" (15).

Power generated by the fear in which individuals have of each other is utilized to induce fear in order to be obeyed. This means that power is dominated by a fear of a revolt by those who are governed, a fear that Elias Canetti subsequently called the "anguish of command." This state of affairs highlights the symbiotic relationship between those that rule and those being ruled, or the dual nature of power. One the one hand, power is an institution that protects and keeps society united. one the other hand, however, it is a machine that oppresses its subjects. Gramsci's famous theory of hegemony and Pareto's notion of "political formula" underlines the same fact (16). So does Norbert Elias' Ueber den Prozess der Zivilization, which develops the notion of an "apparatus of self-restrain" functioning as a form of "internal pacification." According to Elias, the crucial point is to balance the two functions for the members of the state regulated society and thus to, ensure a degree of natural pacification. Elias' work contains an implicitly progressive view of the growth pattern of modern civility, symptomatic of which is his general neglect of the ways in which behavioral codes of a civilizing process may check the process of the liberation of power and redeploys, sanitize and camouflage disciplinary and other violence without necessarily diminishing it (17).

Ferrero's main concern is to address to fulfil its historical mission, which is to quell fear by exercising command according to principles of legitimacy shared by both governors and governed. He writes that "the principles of legitimacy are justification of power, that is, the right to command. Such justification is an essential requisite of social order, since of many inequalities between men, none have far-reaching consequences, and hence such need for justification, as inequality deriving from power." If these principles of legitimacy are accepted without serious reservation, they provide a moral sanction for the dialectic of command and obedience which is the basis of social peace. The commander is not seen as an usurper, but, rather, as someone exercising a right. To obey his orders is a duty. he is thus freed from the "anguish of command." "At the very heart of the principles of legitimacy, writes Ferrero, "is capacity to exorcise fear, the mutual fear that always arises between power and its subjects. The most important part of society , government, can attain its perfect state, legitimacy, only by means of unspoken contract. The principles of legitimacy are simply the different formulas of that unspoken contract" (18). From the time this is accepted, either actively or passively, every principle of legitimacy implies, therefore, the duty to obey on the condition that certain rules observed; it is a contract . If either party fails to respect the contract , the principle of legitimacy is no longer valid, and guarantees security neither to power nor to its subjects. Fear is then reborn. The unspoken contract is violated, the Hobessian state of nature re-emerges, and widespread fear grips everyone.

For Ferrero, then, the destruction of legality is the most traumatic experience for any society. Great social upheavals and civil wars are examples of such dramatic state of affairs. "When legality of social body is destroyed, even though the destruction may be justified by the vices or weakness of legality, fear invades everyone; the first to feel fear destroys themselves, after which it spread to others" (19). In such a situation, the whole society is thrown into chaos: people suddenly discover that they can no longer trust one another; the unspoken contract is of no value; and fear dominates society, altering all behavior. According to Ferrero, nothing better displays such a condition of "great fear" than the French Revolution. One of the oldest and most sophisticated societies disintegrated before the eyes of the world. It simply woke up one morning to find itself without an army , without justice, police, administration, and laws. It was caught in the grip of diabolic cycle of fear: terror, coups d' etat, revolutionary dictatorship, invasions and war without rules. Accordingly, Ferrero interpreted 1789 as an "abscess of fear" that terrified first France and then all Europe. At this point, Ferrero begins his analysis of revolutionary dictatorship, which, in his opinion had its first expression in the political power of Napoleon Bonaparte. The great political crisis (the "great schism" in use Ferrero's term) and the war that followed consolidated an entirely new form of political domination that endangered civility and political liberty. Ferrero follows the pattern of liberal thought stretching from Constant to Talmon, but his interpretation of the totalitarian nature of revolutionary dictatorship is particularly original because it highlights the generally neglected problem of fear in political theory. Napoleons power is seen as an example of power that violated democratic legitimacy, suppressed the right of opposition and the freedom to vote. Such forms of government are an inversion of the democratic formula, for the will of the nation is silenced and directed by the government itself. The nation is said to enjoy sovereignty. But, it is actually deprived of the essential components of such power, even in its moment of maximum glory. A revolutionary government is an illegitimate government, since, instead of freeing its subjects from fear, it turn them, in unprecedented way, into its victims. Fear is an "energetic principle" of a form of government.

Section 5

back to top

Ferrero's concept of "revolutionary dictatorship" is of great importance and it related to the family of concepts used in political theory, ancient and modern, which play significant part in the theories of illegitimate rule. As it is well known, tyranny and despotism were classical concepts. In France despotism replaced tyranny as a term for corrupted monarchy. Although, no comprehensive reconstruction of despotism is yet available, it is a fact, that since the end of the 17th century, and during 18the century, the problem of despotism occupied great interest in the field of political theory. Montesquieu is a central figure in this tradition. Despotism is perhaps his greatest innovation in the classification of political orders. He took into account virtually every development of the concept of despotism; from its formulation in the Greek society to its identification with slavery, and its most recent form as system of government. As Melvin Richter, in his extensive study of the concept of despotism in political theory of Montesquieu, stressed that "despotism was for him, not simply a structure of state power and offices, but as a system with a characteristic social organization propelled by fear...thus he argues in a number of ways the characteristics peculiar to despotism: its suppression of conflict I the name of order; its refusal to recognize the legal status of intermediate groups, and finally, its insistence upon unquestioned obedience to command " (20). Passive obedience presupposes education of the kind peculiar to despotism: the subject must be ignorant, timid, and broken in spirit; despotism belongs to the population without the tradition of self-government and countries where climate (mores) favors acceptance of arbitrary rule. Its existence is simple and virtually incompatible with the existence of any law that limits the caprice of the despot. The "principle" of despotism is fear. It is simple principle, its end is tranquility, but tranquility cannot be called peace, "it is only silence by those towns which enemy is ready to invade" (21). Montesquieu, through his explanation of fear as a distinctive principle of despotic government, introduced a distinctively modern element into the discussion of illegitimate forms of political orders. It was by no accident that his principal target in this discussion was Hobbes who had thought to make absolute government legitimate by arguing that it alone could end insecurity of isolated individuals. Montesquieu, on the other hand, argued that any regime, which is absolute, makes fear pervasive and universal. Thus, Montesquieu treated fear in politics with subtlety and depth, previously absent from discussion. Already, he perceived that a regime seeking to completely control its subject requires more than a formal structure. It must rely heavily upon psychological manipulation and neutralization of the opponents in politics through fear. He noted that despotism is always being corrupted because its principle, fear, is corrupt. The degeneration of each government generally begins with the corruption of its principle. A despotic government will destroy itself by its own inner logic, while in all other forms of government, correction can prevent corruption.

Tyranny and despotism were classical concepts for "negative political regimes"; but in the 19th and 20th centuries, new concepts of illegitimate and quasi-legitimate government were developed. In his famous lectures of 1828 on the History of Civilization in Europe, Guizot revamped the theory of legitimacy in such a way as to maintain it as standards as being the pluralist theory of justice, reason and right in politics. He argues that all power originally owed its existence at least in part to force; but, at the same time, he warned, all forms of government know that force is no title. Hence, the first characteristic of political legitimacy is "to disclaim violence as source of authority and to, associate it with moral notion of justice, of right, of reason." Legitimacy, noted Guizot, has nothing to do with absolute power and is incompatible with the personal will of an individual or group. Indeed any such claim is illegitimate. Amongst the four forms of illegitimate power the worst is "democratic despotism." Such a type of regime is based on a complete transfer of the sovereignty of people to a single individual. Accordingly, it is a pure and unmixed despotism. A. Tocqueville, who as young man sat in the large audience attending Guizot's lectures, was not unaffected by his concept of political legitimacy and illegitimacy. In his introduction to Democracy in America, he asked under what conditions do we regard the legitimate exercise of political power and obedience to it. Using the indirect method implicit in political philosophy, Tocqueville combined the study of legitimacy and political liberty with inquiry into those regimes regarded as illegitimate. After the French Revolution, the terror, and the rise of the first Napoleon, a number of theorists expressed the view that modern politics and society had been transformed and all previous regime classification had become obsolete. After the coup d' etat of Louis Napoleon in the middle of the 19th century, the term "caesarism" and "bonapartism" became current. Once again, theorists of the modern age in politics were taking surprise. No one had foreseen that out of the revolution of 1848, a regime would emerge. To explain this post-democratic phenomenon, to specify its characteristic became the task of most influential scholars (Tocqueville, L.von Stein, W. Roscher, H. Treitsche etc). It was often argued that under such dictatorships, subject were put under grater constrains than under tyranny, despotism or monarchy. The modern age was the first to use such effective techniques as psychological manipulation, mass mobilization, the organization of enthusiasm by nationalistic appeals and effective spreading of "organized fear" (Ferrero). The quasi-legitimate government is, as stated by Ferrero, one which hides the principle of force, fear, and insecurity behind apparent institutions and apparent legitimacy. According to Ferrero, the quasi-legitimate government is hardest to understand because these forms of government seek justification in the conflicting principles of legitimacy. It lives under an inadmissible contradiction and because it lives under an inadmissible contradiction, it is in constant danger of insulting the common sense and morality of its subjects. As a result, it must strive to conceal its real nature. It may enjoy the advantages of quasi-legitimacy only insofar as it succeeds in disguising itself. Ferrero adds that whole generation may obey a government of this kind without ever suspecting its real nature, or believing that it is opposite of what it actually is. In such political order, nothing is stable, permanent, definite or organic (22). H. Treitsche pointed out that this form of regime, democratic tyranny, arises when the mass of people grew in political mobilization and in ambitions, but he added a new moment stressing that a distinctive feature of such a form of government was an attempt by the ruler to increase a glory of the state and his power by wars. " Thus Ceasarship was never a matter of legitimate inheritance, its possessor held it by no established right, therefore it was Tyranny ...It is significant of the nature of this form of government that its title should nothing more or less than the name of a man...It is clear that here the characteristics of true monarchy, peace, and security are totally lacking" (23). Franz Neumann follows this line of argument, stressing that "in some situations, the dictator may feel compelled to build up popular support, to secure a mass base for either for his rise to power or for the exercise of it, or for both. We may call this type a caesaristic dictatorship, which, as the name indicates is always personal in form" (24). He adds a very specific kind of identification to that type of order; "caesaristic identification." This kind of identification of masses with a leader is most the regressive form of political identification. Such a form of political identification plays a role in history when the situation of the masses is objectively endangered, when the masses are incapable of understanding the historical process, and when fear is activated by the danger becomes aggressive fear through manipulation. Those regressive and totalitarian movements are always accompanied by a conspiracy theory of history as being a false legitimating principle. Eric Voegelin adds to that analysis that Caesarism is essentially related to corrupt people (Tocqueville pointed out that "corruption" is formative principle of despotism), to the low level of political society and to the decline of civic virtue and public spirit.

Section 6

 back to top

In the previous chapters, I reproduced the most important streams in political theory concerning the relationship between fear and politics. But, for several reasons we mentioned they remain one-sided in one very important aspect; that being the inherent fear and abuse rooted in the framework of social and political institutions remains even in the climate of "legitimate power" and "well ordered political society." This is a central part of Judith Shklar's political theory and her stimulating study, The Liberalism of Fear. It is worthwhile to take a moment to provide few words about Judith Shklar's background to help us to better understand her interest into the problem of fear. She came from a family of German Jews in Riga, and thus belonged to triply besieged minority. Her experience as a refugee, as well as his later life as an emigrant in America, explains her outlook on political power. She once wrote that there are two kinds of political scientists: those who would like to exert it, and those who study power because they fear of it; those who would like to ride the horse of power, and those who are scared of being trampled by it. She puts herself in the second category. This was the germ that leads to her most important contribution, Liberalism of Fear. She reinforced the notion of "negative politics" in political theory in much the same manner as Montesquieu. As Michael Walzer noted, "Her politics was largely negative, it is the way liberalism of fear is most often understood." Shklar argues that fear, strictly secular and worldly, which concentrate on the avoidance of cruelty and pain, can provide a solid ground for a universal political theory. She attempted to base a political theory on fear rather than rights. She contrasted the "liberalism of fear" with the "liberalism of rights." In contrast to the dominant stream in liberal theory, she sees the pursuit of rights as secondary. She argues that individual rights represent a means of diminishing public cruelty and fear, rather than a primary end of liberal politics. Protection against the fear of cruelty "both begins and ends with the political institution as being right." In, A Life of Learning, she made similar claims: "As I read Montaigne, I came to see that he did not preach the virtues but reflected on our vices, most cruelty and betrayal. When I asked myself, what would a careful thought, through political theory that "put cruelty first" be like? I took it as my starting point that the willful infliction of pain is an unconditional evil and tried to develop a liberal theory of politics from that ground up. I was especially drawn to skepticism, autonomy and legal security... as our best hope for less brutal and irrational word" (25).

"Putting cruelty first," means that we start with what we most want to escape. This form of politics is founded equally on the history of war and revolution in the twentieth century and Shklar's own experience..." (26). In addition, it is worth mentioning a surprising a characteristic by a political philosopher. She was deeply concerned about the psychology of political actions. She, like Montesquieu, was interested to know how "character and government" constantly mold each other. Dealing with liberal regimes, she focused not on elites and central institutions, but on the ordinary citizens, daily victims and their problems, a view from the bellows ("everyday life"). Accordingly, she believed that justice means not doing more harm. Thus, she sketched the character of "good liberals" in term of avoiding cruelty, snobbery, fear and betrayals. Her focus is on avoidance rather than on fulfillment; on evil rather than on virtue; on injustice rather than on justice. Above all, she stresses that "fear is ultimately an evil moral condition." Her distrust of government was complemented by an equally deep suspicion of the oppressive power of communities, especially nationalism. Given the inevitability that inequality of military, police, and persuasive power which is called government, there is always something to fear. Putting fear of physical cruelty and abuse as her first challenges, she concluded that the state ought to be prime target; liberalism of fear tells us that we ought to fear the state we have created. Governments are institutions that have the greatest capacity for intolerance and cruelty; hence, state is what citizens fear first and foremost. "Fear and favor that have always inhibited freedom are overwhelmingly generated by government, both formal and informal"(27). Accordingly, one may, thus, be inclined to celebrate the blessings of liberty rather than to consider the dangers of tyranny. Systematic fear is a condition that makes freedom impossible and is aroused by the expectation of institutionalized cruelty more than anything else (28). Acute fear is most common in social control, and the liberalism of fear is a response to these undeniable actualities and it therefore concentrates on damage control. In the liberalism of fear, the basic units of political life are not discursive and reflective persons, not friend and enemies, but weak and powerful. The basis of freedom liberalism wants to secure is freedom from the abuse of power and intimidation of the defenseless that this difference invites. Accordingly, liberalism of fear does not offer a summum bonum, it does begin with summum malum. Thus, evil is cruelty and inspires fear. According to Judith Shklar, the only possible liberalism is liberalism that thrives above all to tame the individual cruelty ("cruelty is absolute evil") and the most blatant form of injustice. "The fear of fear does not require any further justification, because it is irreducible. It can be both the beginning and the end of political institutions such as rights" (29). According to Judith Shklar, there are "positive" and "negative" sides to the liberalism of fear. On the positive side, it means that the rule of law and of procedural fairness includes access to all "court, legal services and policy protections; the dispersion of power, property and the consent as continuos process under condition of "personal freedom." One the negative side, it means that there is the possibility that different individuals, protected from fear, could do something with their lives. The goal of liberalism of fear is not to eliminate fear, an outcome neither practicable nor unequivocally desirable. Fear can play a very different role in the lives of men: activation of a state of fear can play warning role. "To be alive is to be afraid, and so much to our advantage in many cases, since alarm often preserves us from dangers" (30). The goal of liberalism of fear is to cut fear down to the size; to tame it, and doing so to open up the widest possible degree a space in which citizen can "make effective decision without fear." The task of liberalism is "to restrain potential abuses of power in order to lift the burden of fear from the shoulders of adult women and men."

Let me conclude this paper by following an argumentative discourse by Judith Shklar. Public cruelty is not just an occasional personal inclination. It is made possible by the difference in public power and it is almost always built into the system of coercion upon which all governments have to rely to fulfill their essential functions. Therefore, a minimal level of fear is implied in any system of public, coercive government. The fear it does not prevent is that which is created by arbitrary, unexpected, unnecessary and unlicensed act of force and by habitual and pervasive acts of cruelty in any regime.


  1. Montaigne, The Essays, trs. by E. J. Trechman (The Modern Library, New York, 1946),pp.60-62.
  2.  Franz Neumann, The Democratic and the Authoritarian State ( New York, The Free Press of Glencoe, 1964), pp.2o7-301.
  3. Judith Shklar, "The Liberalism of Fear", in Liberalism and Moral Life (ed.) Nancy L. Rosenblaum (Chicago and London, Chicago University Press, 1989), p.29.
  4. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, The Complete Hobbes Translation (Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press1989), 7.29., p.459.
  5. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, 1.123., p.69.
  6. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, 1.75., p. 44.
  7. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, 1.9., p. 6.
  8. Nicolo Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, Trs. by Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcow (Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press, 1996), II.15., p.9.
  9. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed: Richard Tuck ( Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 82.
  10. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, p.83.
  11. Carl Schmitt, The Concept of Political , trs. by Georg Schwab (New Brunswick: Rutgers, 1976),p.52.
  12. Carl Schmitt, The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes: Meaning and Failure of Political Symbol, trs. by G.Schwab and E. Hilfstein (Westport and London, Greenwood Press, 1996), p. 91.
  13. Carl Schmitt, The Leviathan, p.91.
  14. Carl Schmitt, The Leviathan , p.74.
  15. Gulgielmo Ferrero, The Principles of Power, The Great Crisis of History ( New York, G.P.Putman, 1942), 125.
  16. Gramsci's concept of "hegemony" is seen as political cultural guideline for collective action in political society. Hegemony is institutionalization of pattern of group activity in the state and the concurrent idealization of that scheme into a dominant symbolic framework that reign as common sense. Cultural hegemony has been established when members of all social strata interpret politics in terms favored by the elite group. Accordingly, political conflict can be intense; it will, however, be fought along a single dimension, on that hand originally been favored by the hegemonic block. See Antonio Gramsci, The Prison Notebooks ( N. York, 1981). According to Gaetano Mosca ruling classes do not justify their power exclusively by de facto possession , but try to find a moral and legal basis for it. This legal and moral basis , or principle, on which power of ruling classes rests is what he called "political formula". These political formulas answer the real need in mans social nature and it is feeling that one is governed not on basis of mere material and political force , but on basis of moral principle.
  17. See Gaetano Mosca, The Ruling Class: Elementa di Scienzia Politica (New York, McGraw Hill,1939).
  18. Foucault describes modern state as polymorfyc entity. The modern state has 
    come into being through the development of various techniques of government. These techniques are not tied to a centralized state power but rather it work in diffuse ways through society; it is rooted in whole series of multiple and indefinite power relations that supply the necessary basis for the negative forms of politics. Liberal freedoms are in fact expression of a pastoral power that "subjugates and makes subject to" ( See Michel Foucault, "Politics and Reason", in Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and other Writings, 1977-1984 (ed.) L. Kritzman (London, Routledge,1988). Zigmund Bauman's Modernity and Holocaust presents the most sophisticated version of that line of argument. He charged previous theorists of modern Europe civilizing process, including Elias with ignoring self destructive dynamic of political power. The modern civilizing process, typically understood as the slow but steady inclusion of shared norms, not only results in dangerous concentration of the means of violence in state hands; it is also a process of insulting the ownership and development of violence against moral calculation and, hence, carries within it the seeds of planned cruelty on a mass scale. Accordingly, holocaust style must be recognized as legitimate outcomes of civilizing tendencies, and its constant potential. For discussion on "uncivil society" see John Keane, Civil Society: Old Images , New Visions ( Stanford, California, Stanford University Press, 1998), pp.114-131.
  19. Guglielmo Ferrero, The Principles of Power, pp. 44.
  20. Guglielmo Ferrero, The Principles of Power, p.316. For discussion off "great fear" see George Lefevbre, The Great Fear of 1789: Rural Panic in Revolutionary France, tress. John White (London, NLB, 1973).
  21. Melvin Richter, Political Theory of Montesquieu (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press,1977), p. 78.
  22. Franz Neumann, The Democratic and Authoritarian State, p. 126.
  23. Gugliemo Ferrero, The Principles of Power, p. 125.
  24. Heinrich Treitsche, Politics (London, Constable,1961), p. 125. On the concept of "caesarism" see W. Roscher, Politik: Geschitliche Naturlehre der Demokratie, Aristokratie und Monarchie (Stuttgart, Verlag der J. g. Cotta,1982).
  25. Franz Neumann, The Democratic and Authoritarian State, p. 236.
  26. Judith Shklar, "Life of Learning", in Liberalism Without Illusion(ed.) Bernard Yack (Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press,1966), p. 247.
  27. Michael Walzer, "On Negative Politics", in Liberalism Without illusion, p. 17. 
    Judith Shklar, "Liberalism of Fear", p 22.
  28. Judith Shklar, Ordinary Vices (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1984), pp.7-41.
  29. Judith Shklar, "Liberalism of Fear", p. 27.
  30. Judith Shklar, "Liberalism of Fear", p. 29.