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
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
"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.
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,
and Science Volume 7, Numbers 1/2, Spring/Summer 2000, 160-164.