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GUEST POST: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself - Franklin D. Roosevelt

>> 12 September 2007


Indie from The Synchronicity of Indeterminacy has allowed me to guest post his thoughts on a quote from F.D. Roosevelt. Thanks for your contribution Indie.

If you have a favorite quote and something to say about it, please feel free to submit it for placement as a guest post.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt stated in his 1933 inaugural address "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." These words were uttered during the height of the Great Depression, a period of intense upheaval and fear. The statement is inspirational because it rejects the easy exploitation of a situation in which people will, out of fear, rally behind anyone offering easy solutions and answers to difficult problems. Whereas Roosevelt called for an intelligent, considered response in reaction to a situation in which we were immobilized by fear, the rise of Hitler and Mussolini represents the opposite type of reaction.

Sane ideas such as these do not repeat themselves in history as often as their antithesis. The period of anti-communist hysteria of the late 1940's and early 1950's (McCarthyism) is a dark example of our inability to deal with fear in an intelligent manner. I have read several books documenting the period of McCarthyism. Needless to say, many innocent people from the left, actors, writers, artists, etc. were destroyed by the unfounded charges against them, and American culture since then has been all the poorer because of it. One of the books I read wonders dryly whether McCarthyism, by some wild coincidence, had actually managed to expose even a single communist among the people it singled out. Norman Corwin in "Trivializing America" (1983) quotes Gore Vidal stating that McCarthyism so weakened the left, that it paved the way for the Viet Nam war in the 1960's.

The processes of fear and how they can lead to destruction were dramatized by Rod Serling in an episode of the Twilight Zone "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" - in which residents of a typical street in America find themselves in a situation with an unseen, unspecific enemy. They eventually lose control and destroy themselves - which was exactly what the unseen enemy intended. The story was an allegorical retelling of the lessons to be found in history.

It would be grand if there were no contemporary examples of the negative affects of fear, but that is not the case. In 2003, in an e-mail to a friend, I listed some famous quotes by U.S. presidents, the ones I could remember, and matched them with a pseudo-quote by George W. Bush. If there is one underlying theme to Bush's "presidency" it would be the exact reverse of FDR’s quote. We could sum it up as "We have to fear."

Bush and his neoconservative supporters have manipulated and prolonged the fear arising out of the events of September 11th, 2001. In the immediate aftermath, the cynically named Patriot Act began the demontation of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, a surrender of liberties in exchange for "safety." Over the years we have been reminded of what we must fear: weapons of mass destruction, homemade atomic bombs destroying American cities, and general alerts warning of unspecific attacks of unspecific nature. We see attempts to label patriotic acts of protest and activism as the actions of traitors and terrorists, labels which bear in them the seeds of fear. Or these patriots are accused of directly supporting Al Quaida with their actions. From Bush's point of view, this climate of fear is necessary. There are still enough legal protections to prevent Bush from acting openly against those voices which speak out against him. But there is little that can be done against a terrified mob reacting to fear, trampling the voices of sanity.

4 comments:

weirsdo,  14 September 2007 at 05:56  

You're telling me. But I think now that they see the consequences, maybe some of those who voted for Bush because he was "strong" are reconsidering.
The only thing we have to fear are the consequences of fear.

sandra 16 September 2007 at 22:56  

Inspiring thoughts, Indie.

Sadly, based on my experience, most Bush supporters haven't changed their minds.

Indeterminacy 18 September 2007 at 09:04  

Thanks for the responses.

I notice that several right wing blogs I knew of have gone silent in the last year/months. I assumed they were not up to the task intellectually to defend Bush's insanity anymore. I don't know what the feeling in USA about Bush is now, but I have the sense that the corporations are so in control Stateside that that is the reason that the Democrats don't respond to the public will to impeach Bush.

Madeleine 26 September 2007 at 01:56  

...and he has enough support among religious zealots and the uber-rich to keep on keeping on. it seems everyone else knows it as a farce by now - one in which many gleefully play their part.

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