Daniel J. Levine, “Threat inflation as political melodrama: ISIS and the politics of late modern fear.” Journal Article

Daniel J. Levine (University of Alabama)

Critical Studies on Security; Published March 16th 2018


Fearful talk surrounding ISIS discloses two ‘public secrets’ that collectively define the dilemma of late modern politics. The first is a transition from politics that is experienced and narrated chiefly as tragedy to one that is experienced chiefly as melodrama. The second is a motivated wish to shed the moral burden which tragedy places on the contemporary political subject. ISIS, then, is terrifying not because it represents a throwback to premodern forms of charismatic domination or political atavism, but because its embrace authorises a politics informed by what Tamsin Shaw calls ‘the freedom and exhilaration of moral insensibility.’ Assessing the effects of, and developing responses to, the wish for such freedom should be a priority for students of democratic and normative international theory.