31 May 2011

Book release P. Aerni and K.-J Grün: Moral und Angst

Erkenntnisse aus Moralpsychologie und Politischer Theologie. Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, Göttingen, 2011


Global change creates anxiety and uncertainty – especially among those who benefit from the status quo. There is a widespread feeling that we are in a profound crisis and people want to know who is accountable for it. Professionally organised political entrepreneurs on the far-right and the far-left wing of the political spectrum are aware of this latent anxiety in a society facing an increasingly complex and uncontrollable world and know how to take advantage of it. They master the art of converting public ‘Angst’ into moral outrage by identifying plausible and convenient scapegoats that can be blamed for unwanted change, such as migrants, international trade or new technologies. By linking perceived public grievances to these objects of subliminal distrust and by repeating the same messages of indictment again and again, they manage to reduce complexity and provide meaning and identity. The messages give meaning to the people who feel affected by global change and, as a consequence, they start trusting the political entrepreneurs as those who represent the public interest. Public trust, in turn, endows the political entrepreneur with material resources and political legitimacy.
The book Moral und Angst addresses the link between morality and anxiety in politics from different academic angles. The insights gained from interdisciplinary research in the different disciplines help explain the trend towards political polarization and the lack of public leadership in areas such as international trade, migration and technological change. They indicate that public trust has become a privately managed political resource that cannot be directly exchanged for money or political power. As a result, political compromise becomes increasingly impossible and urgent global sustainability problems remain unresolved.
The authors call for an effort to overcome the dualistic mindset that tends to make watertight separations between good and bad actors, altruism and self-interest as well as emotion and reason. The findings from neurobiology, moral psychology and political theology provide a different picture of human nature and it should be duly taken into account in public policy and international trade negotiations.