Entrepreneurs of Fear

The USA in the Twentieth Century

As soon as "national security" comes up for discussion in the United States, all parties involved do their best to outdo each other. The more money invested, the larger the security agencies, and the hotter the vocabulary, the better. That guaranteeing security is part of every state’s raison d'être is an understandable but feeble argument. A brief survey of the twentieth century shows that, in the case of the United States, national security stands for a collective obsession—a way of thinking and feeling that does not differentiate between interior and exterior and that places domestic and foreign enemies on the same plane and amalgamates them. Visions of effective prevention and all-encompassing precautionary strategies dominate the political discourse. According to this mindset, dangers must be addressed before they become real, even if there is no conclusive presumption or sufficient evidence of a threat. It is enough that a scenario is potentially imaginable. The risk of not taking action appears to be larger than the risk of taking action. This leads to the advancing legitimation of a security policy that makes the protection of the individual depend on a generally suspicious attitude towards everyone.

The project explores similarities and differences in societal "self-mobilization" since the end of World War I—expressions of a policy that orchestrates a state of emergency on different "fronts" to strengthen national solidarity.

(April 2014)