Fear Itself - the Book Fear Itself: Enemies Real & Imagined in American Culture (Purdue University Press, 1999) explores the role fear of newcomers has played in the scapegoating of various groups since the arrival of the first settlers. The Roman Catholic newcomers in the 1830s are one example; Fear Itself explores many others, beginning with the Native Americans encountered by European settlers and the Loyalists in the American Revolution, through the waves of immigration in the nineteenth and twentieth century. The collection explores the great paradox of American culture—that we invite people to come to the United States to make a better life in this country and participate in freedom and democracy. But once they arrive, we are tremendously uncomfortable with difference.

Book Description

Franklin D. Roosevelt famously remarked, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." In his 1933 Inaugural Address, Roosevelt recognized that American culture has been particularly susceptible to imagining and persecuting enemies in every dark corner of its history, with some devastating results. From its colonial beginnings, America has feared the new, the different, the marginal, and has historically cast outsiders as being in league with Satan. Fear Itself explores the continuum of fear that has centered on enemies real and imagined in American culture.

This collection contains twenty-seven new essays on American paranoia drawn from a range of disciplines, including American studies, film studies, history, literature, religious studies, and sociology. Arranged by topic and largely in chronological order, it explores manifestations of fear throughout the history of the United States. Approaching the topic from a variety of perspectives and methodologies, contributors to the collection explore theoretical constructions of fear, religious intolerance in early American culture, racial discrimination, literary expressions of paranoia, Cold War anxieties, as well as phobias of the modern age and about the future.

Together, these essays cover topics from nearly every period of U.S. history, offering a remarkable picture of the "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror" that Roosevelt discerned as such a paralyzing threat on the even of the second world war, and which continues to haunt American culture even as we shape our perceptions of the future.

Praise for Fear Itself

"Fear Itself is an analytically keen and illuminating tour of terror. From the European settlers’ first violent encounters with indigenous peoples in the seventeenth century, to the culture of conspiracy which flourishes on the internet in the twilight of the twentieth, fear has been a marked presence—and often a motive force—in American culture. This collection is more than an innovative, interdisciplinary response to Richard Hofstadter’s originary musings on Americans’ ‘paranoid style’ (although it is also, admirably, that). The excursion goes well beyond the usual station stops—anti-Catholicism, nativism, Yellow Peril hysteria, and anti-communism—to present a more generalized portrait of American disquiet. The cumulative effect of the essays is to suggest that in a nation like the United States, whose social order is so fluid, whose population is so diverse, whose political culture is so porous, and yet whose imperatives of power are so unforgiving, perpetual fear is perhaps the natural state of the body politic at rest. Remarkable in its range yet highly satisfying in its cohesion, this collection will be a rich resource for anyone interested in our national life at the intersection of politics and culture."

----Matthew Frye Jacobson, Professor of American Studies and History at Yale University, author of Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (1998) and Special Sorrows: The Diasporic Imagination of Irish, Polish, and Jewish Immigrants in the United States (1995).

"From our Puritan beginnings and the early colonists’ paranoid fear of 'Praying' or 'Christianized' Indians, Fear Itself charts an illuminating path through American cultural history, demonstrating the astonishing degree to which American character has been shaped by fears of internal enemies, even more so than external ones. The collection argues for an American paradise that will never be, since, even with borders secured by oceans and harmless neighbors to the north and south, the American pathology has been one obsessed with the barbarian inside the gates."

---John C. Hampsey, Professor of Classical Literature and Interdisciplinary Studies in the English Department at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, has published an assortment of philosophic essays on paranoia (one forthcoming in The Midwest Quarterly), and is completing a book on paranoia and Western intellectual history.

"...the idea for this collection of essays is a good one.  [It] reminds us that any fear that turns to hysteria or paranoia tends to blind us.  That is the kind of fear of which we must be afraid."

---Rosamond Kilmer Spring of the Joachim Institute, Review of Fear Itself in Bridges: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Theology, Philosophy, History, and Science Volume 7, Numbers 1/2, Spring/Summer 2000, 160-164.


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