The problem with fear in politics

Philosopher Martha Nussbaum wrote her latest book, “The Monarchy of Fear,” to better understand the 2016 election. She tells Jeffrey Brown that when fear gets into the mix, we fail to work out actual problems.

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  • John Yang:

    Now Jeffrey Brown has the latest entry on the “NewsHour” Bookshelf.

    Philosopher Martha Nussbaum teaches at the University of Chicago in both the law school and Department of Philosophy, author of numerous books examining aspects of political and everyday life. The latest is “The Monarchy of Fear.” And it was written, she tells us in a prologue, to better understand the election of 2016.

    One insight, the political is always emotional.

    And that’s something you have written about for a long time, right? Explain your terms.

  • Martha Nussbaum:

    Well, OK, so emotions, I think, are not just jolts of electricity, but they involve thoughts about what’s happening to us, what’s good and bad.

    And fear connects us to the bad. It’s the thought that there’s terrible bad stuff out there, and we’re not entirely in control of warding it off. And so fear is then something that philosophers have talked about ever since the Greeks. And it’s always been thought to be a terrible problem for democracy.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    So, the subtitle, “A Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis,” so that’s the next term I want you to define, political crisis. What do you see?

  • Martha Nussbaum:

    Well, what I see is that people are being stampeded by their emotions, and they’re not stopping to figure things out and to work on the real problems.

    And what happens when fear gets into the works is, it’s like sort of a grain of sand that gets into the whole mechanism, and makes us spin off and turn get targets that are not real. So we get frightened. And then we think, oh, the problem is really the immigrants. Or it’s on the left too. So the problem is really those elites, instead of thinking, well, what are the actual problems, and what can we do to fix them?

    And so I wrote the book because I feel that way too, right?

  • Jeffrey Brown:


    But where does — where does emotion and fear come into what makes sense or what’s rational?

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And there’s been a lot of analysis, or some people are saying those who supported Donald Trump felt anxiety over their economic status, or there was a recent study that said a more general future fear over losing status in the country.

  • Martha Nussbaum:


    Yes, and I think…

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