book review: Feardom by Connor Boyack

“Fear always springs from ignorance.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Rahm Emanuel (Obama’s former chief of staff) said, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.”  He meant that when there’s a crisis, try to stack on it as much other policy, regulation, tax increases, and programs that you can.  His statement fits nicely in with Connor Boyack’s book, Feardom.

In this book, Boyack considers how governments use fear to get the public to approve and back new rules, regulations, actions and wars that the leaders of a nation seek to implement.

While threats are real, Boyack notes that many threats are made bigger than they really are, in order to enlarge government or expand programs.  Why is this a problem?  After all, “If Jack Bauer is saving millions of lives, what’s the fuss if he ends a few along the way?”

Boyack discusses the real danger of Hitler’s Germany. Why was Hitler able to convince millions of Germans that Jews were worthy of mass death, and they had the right to overrun all of Europe?  He quotes Hermann Goering, who noted after the war (during his trial) that while the average farmer does not want war, the leaders can always drag them along, regardless of whether the nation is a democracy, monarchy, or dictatorship. Whether the people had a voice in government or not, all one had to do was say the nation was under attack, denounce the pacifists as traitors, and the people will jump on board.

The Jews were not murdered from day one. Instead, minor actions were first taken, justified by saying Jews had caused the Great Depression, stolen jobs and riches from the people. This led to the people begging the Nazis to protect them from the Jews. So, Jews were detained, controlled, and eventually carted away to camps, where it was just one additional step to gas them.  Once things go beyond a certain level of atrocity, most people stopped thinking about what they were doing, and just quietly assented.

Sadly, we see such in our own nation.  FDR imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Japanese in the name of national security. George W Bush insisted we had to expand the war on terror to not only Afghanistan, but into Iraq, even though there was no direct connection. He sought to develop a the Bush Doctrine of preemptive action – attack the terrorists before they blew up the Free World with a nuke. Boyack notes that when the Great Recession began, Bush insisted that he “abandoned the free market principles to save the free market system.”  Only George W. Bush could use such wrong logic to create a recession that would last longer than any other in history!

Such crises of fear allow leaders to justify expanding government power and authority. Boyack extensively uses the example of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. If the villagers (people) are paying attention, they will eventually stop believing the lies and cries of alarm given by the boy (government).

Boyack notes that “ignorance is fear’s greatest catalyst.”  He notes how Americans trustingly approved the Patriot Act, the TSA searches at airports, and the expansion of the NSA network.  Only when people began questioning little old ladies being strip searched at the airport, and saw Edward Snowden’s revelations on the NSA did they begin to complain.  Sadly, the complaints have not been sufficient to cause major changes in government oversight.

Boyack discusses several areas in which the government has used fear to justify creating new programs, many of which have not made a difference (while Boyack doesn’t mention it, the Dept of Education hasn’t improved school test scores since we began spending hundreds of billions in federal dollars in the Carter Administration).

Perhaps Boyack’s best thought is that we need to decide whether we want liberty, which is often chaotic, or safety, which requires a loss of liberty. We are on a ship, which is safe in harbor, but ships are meant to be out at sea, where it sometimes gets rough.

“Feardom” is a good read, and while you may not agree with all Boyack’s points and comparisons, you will agree that Americans often give up too much freedom to government, because we’ve been convinced we ought to be over-afraid and over-reactive to crises.

Connor Boyack is the founder of Libertas Institute in Utah.  It is a libertarian organization that works to develop positive legislation for the state, promoting freedom rather than regulation.  His other books include a new series on liberty for kids called “The Tuttle Twins.”

Read more about the Libertas Institute

Buy Feardom at Amazon.com

 

 

9 thoughts on “book review: Feardom by Connor Boyack

  1. The book that really brought this concept out to me years ago was “State of Fear”
    by Michael Crichton.

    Since it is a fiction thriller, it is a fun, relatively easy read. But it has a clear message about perpetuating fear as a means of control. Although largely focused on environmental movements, it really was more about highlighting the use of fear in both governments as well as consumer advertising. Well worth the time, IMHO.

  2. There’s already a name of this concept: The Hegellian Dialectic, or the conflict of opposites.

    When you want to impose something that the populace doesn’t want, you create a “problem” for which the thing you want is the solution.

    The fact that the designers control both sides is not seen until you get a bird’s-eye view over a sufficient period of time.

    For instance have you ever noticed that the Republicans give the Democrats exactly what they want about 25 years after they start asking for it? The two parties are the left and right rails of the same track leading to the same destination. The right wheels are merely 25 years behind the left wheels.

  3. Another way of stating the Hegelian dialecti is: thesis – antithesis – synthesis (resolution).

    It’s not the same as, but is closely related to “triangulation”.

  4. Thanks for the review. I had some questions divided into two basic categories.

    Since you have read the book and I haven’t, would you mind telling me what evidence Boyack uses to show that threats are made larger? I think we all agree that terrorism poses at least some threat. But I’ve also heard from radical libertarians and others that more people die from bath tub accidents than from terrorism, so we shouldn’t make a big deal of it. While others and national security professionals disagree and think we aren’t doing enough, and there is everything in between. Can you tell me a little bit more of the evidence that he uses to show how “threats are made bigger?” Does Boyack address the line between reasonable precautions and over reaction? If so, where does he stand on that line, and does he provide any examples?

    In regards to Nazi analogies, does he use any other historical examples to prove his case? There are some judicious lessons we can learn from World War II and the Nazi regime, yet I’m concerned when the Nazi example is the first that people go to. (In this review its the only one mentioned and I’ve seen libertarians go to that well fairly often.) Nazi comparisons are generally overblown, extremely superficial, and needlessly inflammatory. Because the people then inserted into your comparison, from Bush, to FDR, to anybody who disagrees with you or might favor some of the policies you oppose, automatically become Nazis. There is even a fallacy and a law of internet discussions named after it, so I would hope he used some other examples first, or that was a very judicious one of many.

    Thanks again.

  5. Connor uses examples from Lincoln and the Civil War, the Food and Drug Administration, the NSA, the war on drugs, the great Recession, and several other examples to show times when government has used fear tactics to not only note a threat, but to make it bigger than it needs to be.

    He recognizes that 9/11 is real and action needed to be taken. That said, he also recognizes that we were lied to by the Bush Administration, to expand what should have been a limited war against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan to include Iraq and many other nations. Because we have exponentially expanded our war, it has inflamed terrorism and caused them to push back time and again. And we use the war on terror to justify killing innocent people and American citizens without due process of law with drone attacks.
    On the war on drugs, we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars and incarcerated millions of addicts, without ever putting a dent into it. We have more people in prison than Russia or China, and most of those in prison are because they are addicts. Yet, the prison industry begs for more money to build prisons, increase sentences, and ensure an ever growing business operation.

    Connor isn’t calling anyone a Nazi (except Goering perhaps). I included that example, because it was a very interesting one, and shows how common people can be conned into conducting atrocities.

    He also quotes concepts of freedom and the problem of fear by a variety of historical figures, including Jefferson, Madison, Norman Vincent Peale, and David O. McKay.

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