Politik der Furcht – The Politics of Fear

Die PanikmacherIn der Weimarer Republik gingen die nationalsozialistische SA und die Trupps von KPD und linken Splitterparteien auf die Straßen und dort aufeinander los. Gestritten haben sie über ideologische Positionen, die sie als fern voneinander eingeschätzt haben, obwohl sie beide zwei Merkmale miteinander geteilt haben: Intoleranz und Hass auf den jeweils anderen.

In der derzeitigen Republik, die leider keine Bonner Republik mehr ist, sondern eine Berliner, gehen Gruppen von Menschen auf die Straße, die sich voreinander und vor Dritten fürchten. Die einen inszenieren ihre Furcht vor Zuwanderern, die letztlich die alte amorphe Angst vor dem Fremden ist. Die anderen inszenieren ihre Furcht vor den Fremden-Ängstlichen, die letztlich dieselbe Angst vor dem Fremden ist. Die Definition von “fremd” ist entsprechend relativ, Ausländer oder Kulturfremder für Erstere, Inländer und Rechter für Letztere.

Der Hochgesang auf die Furcht, der das rationale Fundament auf dem allein Demokratie möglich ist, durch ein irrationales Fundament ersetzt hat, wurde von Politikern über Jahrzehnte durch ihre Politik der Furcht, in der sie Furcht für ihre politischen Zwecke benutzt haben, eingeübt. Sie sind nun mit den Geistern konfrontiert, die sie selbst gerufen haben – und wäre es nicht so traurig, weil die Geister den vier Reitern der Apokalypse gleichen, nur dass Sie nicht das Ende der Erde einläuten, sondern das Ende eines weiteren deutschen Versuches, demokratisch zu sein oder besser: zu erscheinen, befürchten lassen, man müsste darüber lachen.

Kaum einer hat diese Politik der Furcht besser beschrieben als Frank Furedi, den wir deshalb ausführlich zitieren wollen:

Furedi_Politics of fear“The absence of political purpose and clarity about the future continually encourages the cultural sensibility that we describe as the conservatism of fear. In public life the sensitivity is often experienced as the politics of fear. In recent years it has become common for one group of politicians to denounce their opponents for practising such politics.
The tern ‘politics of fear’ contains the implication that politicians self-consciously manipulate people’s anxieties in order to realize their objectives. There is little doubt that they do regard fear as an important resource for gaining a hearing for their message. Scare tactics can sometimes work to undermine opponents and to gain the acquiescence of the electorate. […]
The politics of fear is rightly seen as a manipulative project that aims to immobilize public dissent. It is that, but it is also the mantra with which a disconnected elite readily responds in the circumstances of its isolation. […]
Since 9/11, politicians, business, advocacy organizations and special interest groups have sought to further their narrow agendas by manipulating public anxiety about terror. All seem to take the view that they are more likely to gain a hearing if they pursue their arguments or claims through the prism of security. […]
Fear has become the common currency of claims in general. Health activists, environmentalists and advocacy groups are no less involved in using scare stories to pursue their agenda than politicians devoted to getting the public’s attention through inciting anxieties about crime and law and order. In fact the narrative of fear has become so widely assimilated that it is now self-consciously expressed in a personalized and privatized way. In previous eras where the politics of fear had a powerful grasp – in Latin America dictatorships, Fascist Italy or Stalin’s Soviet Union – people rarely saw fear as an issue in its own right. Rather, they were frightened that what happened to a fried or neighbour might also happen to them. They were not preoccupied with fear as a problem in an abstract sense. Today, however, public fears are rarely expressed in response to any specific event. Rather, the politics of fear captures a sensibility towards life in general. The statment ‘I am frightened’ is rarely focused on something specific, but tends to express a diffuse sense of powerlessness. […]
Politics has internalized the culture of fear. So political disagreements are often over which risk the public should worry about the most. Politics in Europe is currently dominated by debates about the fear of terror, the fear of asylum seekers, the fear of anti-social behaviour, fears over children, fears concerning food, fear about health, fears over the future of Europe. […]
And yet the politics of fear could not flourish if it did not resonate so powerful with today’s cultural climate. Politicians cannot simply create fear from thin air. Nor do they monopolize the deployment of fear; panics about health or security can just as easily begin on the Internet or through the efforts of an advocacy group as from the efforts of government spin doctors. […] The reason why the politics of fear has such a powerful resonance is because of the way that personhood has been recast as the vulnerable subject. In an era where the ethos ‘there is no alternative’ prevails, there is little need for an omnipotent state to remind us of our lack of power. The state of diminished agency is one that disposes people to interpret events through the prism of anxiety and fear. And if vulnerability is indeed the defining feature of the human condition, we are quite entitled to fear everything. […]
Although the politics of fear reflects a wider cultural mood, it did not emerge on its own accord. Fear has been consciously politicized. […]
The politicization of fear is inextricably linked to the process of exhaustion and demoralization noted before. Societies that are able to project a positive vision of the future do not need to employ fear as a currency in public life. […]
There is now a considerable body of opinion that regards fear as a positive asset for gaining moral consensus in society. […]
The tendency to regard fear as possessing considerable potential for supporting social solidarity and moral renewal has a powerful presence within the cultural and political elites. The Holocaust has been turned into an all-purpose symbol that is regularly used by campaigners to support a variety of different causes.[…]
The belief that social solidarity is far more likely to be forged around a reaction against the bad than around the aspiration for the good exercises a strong influence over politicians, opinion makers and academics. Instead of being concerned about the destructive consequences of the mood of anxiety and fear that afflicts the public, many social theorists regard these as sentiments that can be harnessed for the purpose of forging social cohesion. The German sociologist Ulrich Beck believes that the threat of global terrorism has this potential. He believes that “in an age where trust and faith in God, class, nation and progress have largely disappeared humanity’s common fear has proved the last – ambivalent – resource for making new bonds. […] Unfortunately, the attempt to turn fear into a positive asset has the effect of normalizing it. […]
It is important to realize that the representation of fear as an instrument of solidarity does not simply mean an accommodation to the existing state of affairs. It also represents a call for its perpetuation. From this perspective, scaring the public is represented as an act of civic responsibility.[…]
The management of public anxiety is now systematically pursued by public officials and campaigns dedicated to the task of ‘raising awareness’. In a cultural climate where fear has become both politicized and normalized, campaigners committed to raising awareness do not simply exaggerate, they self-consciously promote what they consider to be ‘good lies’.[…]
The defence of the ‘good lie’ or the ‘greater truth’ is invoked when the inflated stories peddled by campaigners devoted to raising awareness are exposed to the public. ‘Children will die before their parents’, warned the British House of Commons Health Select Committee report on obesity in 2004. To raise awareness of this danger, the report highlighted the case of a three-year-old girl, who was presented as the youngest known death from obesity due to her parents’ failure to feed her properly. When her doctor complained this was a lie, the girl’s obesity being a result of a genetic defect, some advocates of the report refused to apologize. As far as they were concerned it was legitimate to make small mistakes in the interest of the greater truth. A similar approach is adopted by some campaigners committed to raising awareness about global warming. Stephen Schneider, a climatologist, justified the distortion of evidence in the following terms: ‘Because we are not just scientists but human beings as well .. we need to … capture the public imagination’. He added that ‘we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts that we have’. […]
The precondition for effectively countering the politics of fear is to challenge the association of personhood with the state of vulnerability. Anxieties about uncertainty become magnified and overwhelm us when we regard ourselves as essentially vulnerable. Yet the human imagination possess a formidable capacity to engage and learn from the risks it faces. Throughout history, humanity has learnt from its setbacks and losses and has developed ways of systematically identifying, evaluating, selecting, and implementing option for reducing risks. There is always an alternative, and whether or not we are aware of the choices confronting us depends on whether we regard ourselves as defined by our vulnerabilities or our capacity to be resilient” (Furedi, 2006: 123-141).

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