Fear is, and has always been, the hallmark of political tactics. The people will only willingly submit to tyranny if they are made to believe that without government a fearful state of affairs might obtain. No other emotion can bypass rational argumentation, grab allegiance and push people to violence like fear.
Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
Machiavelli was writing for kings and emperors. Nowadays, of course, politicians have the loyalty of the people, and no longer need to be feared. Rather, they use fear for the further purpose of expanding their power.
The very existence of government is predicated on fear, the fear of chaos and general violence of all against all. Never mind that government itself is the greatest creator of chaos and violence; never mind that Anarchies have always been less violent than their contemporary societies; government propaganda and Big Media have been successful in implanting the belief that Anarchy equals chaos and violence by constantly making this correlation. Now we are stuck with the laughable absurdity of a society of people who fear that, if we remove the entity which causes wars, outlaws victimless crimes and takes over vast swaths of said society, we will have widespread violence and chaos.
The dishonest usurpation of the Articles of Confederation, and its thuggish replacement by the US Constitution (a document which deserves a place alongside the Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf as rallying points for the enemies of freedom), was based on fear of widespread chaos, using the Shay Rebellion as the case in point. Very often, fear is generated by taking one or a few isolated cases and letting people’s imagination run wild. “What if we get rebellions all around? What will we do without a strong central military to protect us?” These scenarios are always outlandish, but as long as people believe that it might just happen, they will fear it, no matter how improbable it is (see, for instance, the tactics of global warming fearmongers).
Now think of all the areas in which government takes over, intervenes or legislates, and you will find a tactic (if not all tactics) based on fear. Fear of terrorism, fear of other “countries,” fear of “immigrants” taking over, fear of losing one’s culture, fear of being attacked, fear of being sick, fear of dying, fear of accidents, fear of having to take responsibility for one’s actions, fear of losing control over other people.Fear, of course, is rarely the actual reason underlying any government policy. The actual reasons for government policies are generally more mundane: corporate favours, popularity, interventionist foreign policy, expansion of the tax base, control over prevalent ideas, and so on. But fear is the most powerful tool that they possess in order to get those policies accepted and supported by the general population.
Take the “War on Terror.” The WoT has been a tremendously powerful and efficient tool in expanding the power of government. Why? Because the fear tactics underlying it became ridiculously easy to implement after 9-11. This operation made it easy for everyone to swallow the party line that “terrorists want to kill you for your freedom.” Never mind that the 9-11 attacks came after a concerted strategy that aimed to attack US military assets in the Middle East, and that the enemy of the terrorists is the interventionist policy of the US Empire, not “our freedom.” Never mind that we are not free. Never mind that the attacks that came afterwards had absolutely nothing to do with stopping terrorism.
Most wars start with government lies and deceit, and the 9-11 attacks really illustrated the power of fear. Unthinkingly, the American public bought the lies completely, because they were gripped with fear and the desire for revenge. Fear overrides discourse and thought. Fear is primal, visceral, animalistic, a similar overwhelming feeling to the one primitive man must have felt when he faced a saber-tooth tiger. A man experiencing fear either flees or fights. If he cannot fight himself, then he will cheer on those who can. Thus the terrorists’ strategy of sinking the US government in war debt predictably won out, because their terrorist attacks were so spectacular that they had the expected effect.