Interview: Cowboys and Indians
Industrial: Seven Deadly Sins
Unions: The IT Factor
Politics: Bargain Basement
Environment: An Inconvenient Hoax
Corporate: Two Sides
International: Unfair Dismissals
History: A Stitch in Time
Review: The Wind that Shakes the Barley
The Road to Bangalore
The Fear Factor
By Peter Lewis
We recently marked the fifth anniversary of 9/11, the day we are told 'the world changed forever', although to some it was just more of the same in stark relief.
In "Fear - the History of a Political Idea' American political scientist Cory Robin places the current War on terror on a trajectory that goes from the book of Genesis and the way to the Twin Towers. His investigation of the central role fear has played in organising societies is a crazy ride of evolving philosophies.
From Hobbes who placed popular fear as the foundation of state legitimacy and Montesqueiu who charted the way the terror of despots created stability; classic political theory is that the imposition of political fear is a necessary, even positive, element of a mature society.
Come the revolutions of the 18th century we find Toqueville observing the triumph of the people in two continents and concluding that the equation works the other way: that free of despotism an anxious populous demands its own repression in order to feel secure;.
And finally, Hannah Arendt surveying the human wreckage of Hitler and Stalin and seeing not simple monsters, but serving even their victims by given them an ideological home that created a certainty of place even in the face of total terror.
Robin's journey continues through to the 21st Century, traversing McCarthyism, the civil rights movement and what he calls the liberal anxiety that finds individuals still adrift and in need even as they enjoy superficial choice at every turn.
Why this summary of political theory Workers Online? Because Robin's analysis ends in the workplace - the end point off the modern politics of fear, the place where vested interests use insecurity to exert a control that is essential to maintaining their exalted plce in the order.
At every step modern employees are made to feel uneasy - from insecure jobs, the spread of contracts, the break down of unions through the abuse of bargaining laws by union-busting companies to the removal of dismissal laws.
But it gets even more personal - drug testing, psychometric testing, surveillance of web and email - a worker's body and mind is less than fully their own.
These intrusions are not just about the ability to do the work, they are about quelling the confidence to challenge the executive packages and privatisation deals that continue to entrench the privileged.
Yes, Robin uses the term 'hegemony' a bit too often and the arguments gets dense, but the point is well made: fear has always been a tool of control that allow abuses of power to fly under the radar.
Fighting this fear - challenging this fear - is the primary job of progressive politicians - be it fear of immigrants, fear of interest rates, fear of terror - if fear is the currency conservatives are in the box seat.
It is only where the dialogue is empowering, where the pitch for change is optimistic, do progressives sweep to power - think Whitlam, think Hawke - their winning pitches were remarkably similar - it was time to dare to dream.
It is not a framework suited to these times, it means the current Opposition is carrying some pretty hefty handicaps. But one thing is clear - outflanking Howard on fear is not the way to win; the wrapping has to be sunnier, convincing people there were a better way, not just that this is the wrong way.
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