In defence of fear: COVID-19, crises and democracy

Dan Degerman*, Matthew Flinders, Matthew Johnson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)
25 Downloads (Pure)


The COVID-19 crisis has served, not just to instill fear in the populace, but to highlight the importance of fear as a motivating dynamic in politics. The gradual emergence of political philosophical approaches calling for concern for ‘positive’ emotions may have made sense under non-pandemic conditions. Now, however, describing fear in the face of a deadly pandemic as ‘irrational’ or born of ‘ignorance’ seems ‘irrational’ and ‘ignorant’. In this article, we draw upon the work of John Gray and behavioural science to present a defence of fear. We show how the pandemic has highlighted deficits in the work of four thinkers highly critical of fear: Martha Nussbaum, Zygmunt Bauman, Hannah Arendt and Sarah Ahmed. We argue that, if such approaches are to be of value in anything other than optimal conditions, then they have to acknowledge the fundamental role of fear in helping human beings to pursue fundamental interests.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)788-809
Number of pages22
JournalCritical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy
Issue number6
Early online date22 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2023
Externally publishedYes


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