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

Dan Degerman*, Matthew Flinders, Matthew T Johnson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


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
Title of host publicationCrisis and the Culture of Fear and Anxiety in Contemporary Europe
EditorsCarmen Zamorano Llena, Jonas Stier, Billy Gray
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 3 Mar 2022


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