If your goal as a leader is to be an authoritarian and rule over people rather than represent them and govern on their behalf, then you’re probably a student of one of the most popular and oft-taught political principles throughout the ages: the use of fear.
In 1513, Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, an Italian historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist and writer based in Florence during the Renaissance, defined the principle in The Prince, a political treatise: “[S]ince love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.”
Hundreds of years later, Robert Higgs, senior fellow in Political Economy at The Independent Institute, expounded further upon this principle of using fear to govern:
To disregard fear is to place ourselves in possibly mortal jeopardy. Even the man who acts heroically on the battlefield, if he is honest, admits that he is scared. To tell people not to be afraid is to give them advice that they cannot take. Our evolved physiological makeup disposes us to fear all sorts of actual and potential threats, even those that exist only in our imagination.
The people who have the effrontery to rule us, who call themselves our government, understand this basic fact of human nature. They exploit it, and they cultivate it. Whether they compose a warfare state or a welfare state, they depend on it to secure popular submission, compliance with official dictates, and, on some occasions, affirmative cooperation with the state’s enterprises and adventures. Without popular fear, no government could endure more than twenty-four hours. David Hume taught that all government rests on public opinion, but that opinion, I maintain, is not the bedrock of government. Public opinion itself rests on something deeper: fear.
History of fear
Scaring us into submission is a principle in wide use today, this very moment, as a way to prescribe and control sociological and political outcomes sought by the elite.
But it isn’t a new tactic. Some historians correctly argue, for example, that constant fear of nuclear war with the former Soviet Union drove the growth of what President Dwight D. Eisenhower called the “Military-Industrial Complex,” a development that led successive administrations to pursue unlawful military ambitions and Congress to adopt unconstitutional surveillance and reporting laws (which continues to this day).
In more modern times, some correctly argue that politicians used fear in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to pass the USA Patriot Act, a law that contained a host of unconstitutional provisions which continue to usurp constitutional protections, based on the fear that, in the future, there might be more attacks.
The school of thought remains pervasive among the elite. At a CEO Forum hosted by The Wall Street Journal in early 2009, when he was preparing to serve as White House chief of staff to President-elect Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is, it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” In other words, use the fear generated by the “crisis” do impose your will.
Well-versed in the concept himself, Obama says it’s you and I who are the fear mongers. In recent days, he has accused gun owners are “ginning up fear” to push their own agenda: “Those who oppose any common sense gun control or gun safety measures have a pretty effective way of ginning up fear on the part of gun owners that somehow the federalgovernment is about to take all your guns away. There’s probably an economic element to that; it obviously is good for business.
And yet, even as he spoke those words, Obama was already preparing to sign scores of new executive orders and actions to impose new gun-control measures throughout the Executive Branch, using public concern and fear generated by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings as his own impetus for the new measures. He tipped his hand when he quoted from a letter the White House claimed was sent to him by a little girl named Julia following the massacre: “I’m not scared for my safety, I’m scared for others. I have four brothers and sisters, and I know I would not be able to bear the thought of losing any of them.”
Fear mongers in government, media serve up danger of the day
There are more examples of how the political and media elite are inciting, then using, fear to push their agendas.
Congress and Obama have both used last-minute, over-the-edge, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it fear tactics to stump for, and ensure, passage of certain pieces of legislation, particularly the so-called “fiscal cliff” discussions recently and those involving raising the debt ceiling – all fueled by a corporate media willing to play along to get along – despite overwhelming evidence amassed by economists and analysts that our national debt is unsustainable:
— “Investors worried about going over the ‘fiscal cliff’ may have bigger things to fret about: the debt ceiling fight coming in January.” — “Fiscal cliff may be a fear, but debt ceiling much scarier,” Reuters, Dec. 29, 2012
— “The fiscal cliff has consumed Washington for months, but it may end up being the long opening act for a fiscal drama with even higher stakes: the debt ceiling.” — “Enjoy the fiscal cliff debate? Just wait for the debt ceiling,” Politico, Jan. 1, 2013
— “Despite its dismal approval rating, Congress deserves thanks for at least not driving the economy over the fiscal cliff. Let me state unequivocally that the New Year’s Day deal was a lot better than the alternative, no doubt. That said, a treacherous fiscal obstacle course still looms ahead of us.” — “The Debt Ceiling Is Scarier Than the Fiscal Cliff,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 14, 2013
And so on.
Crisis creation and perpetuation
Federal agencies are also used to instilling fear and push agendas. Consider:
— The Transportation Security Administration exists only on the “possibility” that some terrorist act might occur at some future point.
— Out of fear over some food-borne diseases – no matter how remote – the Food and Drug Administration writes scores of new “safety” regulations each year (but the agency won’t approve regulations requiring GMO-foods to be labeled).
— Fears first of global cooling in the 1970s then of global warming and climate change in the 1980s and beyond, the Environmental Protection Agency has implemented thousands of regulations aimed at controlling you (while compliant lawmakers shrug innocently and claim they want to help but are powerless to do so).
— And, of course, Congress and the president essentially operate by perpetuating one fearful crisis after another. If it isn’t foreign terrorism, it is fear of domestic terrorism; it’s fear of impending fiscal calamity (without ever really solving the underlying fiscal problems like too much spending). It’s the possibility that we may be attacked at any moment by some third-world dictatorship that justifies more military deployments overseas.
But after a while, a skeptical public gets jaded and is no longer scared (because you can only cry wolf so many times). So it becomes necessary to continuously stoke fear by creating new crises, as explained by Higgs:
Fear is a depreciating asset. …Unless the foretold threat eventuates, the people come to doubt its substance. The government must make up for the depreciation by investing in the maintenance, modernization, and replacement of its stock of fear capital. For example, during the Cold War, the general sense of fear of the Soviets tended to dissipate unless restored by periodic crises, many of which took the form of officially announced or leaked “gaps” between U.S. and Soviet military capabilities: troop-strength gap, bomber gap, missile gap, antimissile gap, first-strike-missile gap, defense-spending gap, thermonuclear-throw-weight gap, and so forth. Lately, a succession of official warnings about possible forms of terrorist attack on the homeland has served the same purpose: keeping the people “vigilant,” which is to say, willing to pour enormous amounts of their money into the government’s bottomless budgetary pits of “defense” and “homeland security.” This same factor helps to explain the drumbeat of fears pounded out by the mass media: besides serving their own interests in capturing an audience, they buy insurance against government punishment by playing along with whatever program of fear-mongering the government is conducting currently…
So, just who is really “ginning up fear” in America? Answer: It isn’t you or me.
“The passion to be reckoned upon is Fear.” – Thomas Hobbes, English philosopher – 17th Century.