The Faces of Fear: Cross-cultural Dialogues on Fear and Political Community
Keywordsfear and political community
history of fear
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AbstractInspired by the hopes of better understanding and managing fear in our political lives, this dissertation engages Western and Chinese thinkers in a cross-cultural dialogue about fear. Influenced by the Enlightenment portrayal of fear, we tend to think fear as the greatest evil of civilization and the greatest enemy of freedom. This research shows that this way of thinking about fear is not the only one that is plausible or available to us. In order to understand what is missing from our current understanding of fear, this dissertation explores parallels among six philosophers who represent diverse attitudes to fear and political community. The six philosophers are grouped in three pairs, each of which includes one Western and one Chinese thinker: the moralists, Aristotle and Confucius; the realists, Hobbes and Han Fei; and the Enlighteners, Montesquieu and Liang Qichao. From the dialogue among these thinkers, the thesis shows how the concept of fear has changed its character; how fear has developed critical relationships with justice, equality and liberty; and how fear has been related to the different ways of political life. At the same time, by highlighting each voice’s strengths and weaknesses, this cross-cultural dialogue enables us to see how each theory may hide sources of fear within itself and how, ironically, they sometimes inflate the fears that they were designed to tame. Contemporary liberals, in particular, need to learn that there is much that is missing in our current understanding of fear and how these limitations may undermine their efforts to promote individual liberty and security. In this regard, these different faces of fear point both to a richer portrait of fear and a better understanding of how to handle it.
Brandeis University, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences