February 23, 2021
Finkelstein comments: At the end of his classic study, Black Reconstruction, W. E. B. Du Bois meditates on what caused poor whites in the American South to unleash a reign of terror after the Civil War against the newly freed slaves. His explanation is as if not more relevant today:
How is it that men who want certain things done by brute force can so often depend upon the mob ? Total depravity, human hate and Schadenfreude, do not explain fully the mob spirit in America. Before the wide eyes of the mob is ever the Shape of Fear. Back of the writhing, yelling, cruel-eyed demons who break, destroy, maim and lynch and burn at the stake, is a knot, large or small, of normal human beings, and these human beings at heart are desperately afraid of something. Of what? Of many things, but usually of losing their jobs, being declassed, degraded, or actually disgraced; of losing their hopes, their savings, their plans for their children; of the actual pangs of hunger, of dirt, of crime. And of all this, most ubiquitous in modern industrial society is that fear of unemployment. It is its nucleus of ordinary men that continually gives the mob its initial and awful impetus. Around this nucleus, to be sure, gather snowball-wise all manner of flotsam, filth and human garbage, and every lewdness of alcohol and current fashion. But all this is the horrible covering of this inner nucleus of Fear.