Ruth Wodak: The Politics of Fear

From September 2018 to May 2019 and from February to September 2020, Ruth Wodak was a Senior Visiting Fellow at the IWM. During her fellowship she worked on the second, revised edition of her book “The Politics of Fear. The Shameless Normalization of Far-Right Discourse,” which was released by SAGE in December 2020. In January 2021, Ruth Wodak was awarded the Bruno Kreisky Prize 2021 for her Lifetime Achievements (publizistisches Gesamtwerk).


Fear Eats the Soul

A Commentary by Miloš Vec

There are several features I simply love in Ruth Wodak’s work. The recently issued second edition of The Politics of Fear. The Shameless Normalization of Far-Right Discourse (SAGE 2021) is a brilliant example of what I admire in her academic writing. Probably the most compelling quality for me is the engagement of its many theoretical discourses with practical evidence. All of her claims and theses are very clearly elaborated and then backed with rich, recent empirical evidence, including not only quotes from a vast variety of literary genres but also visual sources like posters, photographs, media screenshots, and cartoons. All this is supported by a typography and layout that make it extremely easy to follow the line of argumentation and the use of detailed examples. I cannot recall any other book from the field of discourse analysis that appealed as much to me in its style.

“Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” is the title of a famous 1974 West German movie by director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Its original German title, “Angst essen Seele auf,” is linguistically clear about the modification of German grammar by a non-native speaker – the meaning intended would be expressed more correctly as “Die Angst isst die Seele auf.” This is important as the movie depicts an unhappy love affair between a young North African immigrant and a middle-aged German woman. The very unconventional couple is faced with overwhelming rejection and destructive hatred in 1970s Munich (the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre plays an explicit role with regard to the perception of Arabs). One can only imagine how Fassbinder, who died in 1982, would have perceived today’s political climate and the discourse about migration and migrants. Already the shift in which subject feels fear is striking. In Fassbinder’s movie it is the Arab migrant who formulates the iconic statement “Fear Eats the Soul” whereas today’s far-right politicians talk about the fears of the imagined community of “authentic” people – and keep quiet about those others who have experienced terrifying things.

[ read the full text here ]

Miloš Vec was IWM Permanent Fellow (2016-2020) and is Professor of Legal History at the University of Vienna.

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The Book

Far-right populist politics have arrived in the mainstream. We are now witnessing the shameless normalization of a political discourse built around nationalism, xenophobia, racism, sexism, antisemitism and Islamophobia. But what does this change mean? What caused it? And how does far-right populist discourse work?

The Politics of Fear traces the trajectory of far-right politics from the margins of the political landscape to its very centre. It explores the social and historical mechanisms at play, and expertly ties these to the “micro-politics” of far-right language and discourse. From speeches to cartoons to social media posts, Ruth Wodak systematically analyzes the texts and images used by these groups, laying bare the strategies, rhetoric and half-truths the far-right employ. The revised second edition of this best-selling book includes:

  • A range of vignettes analyzing specific instances of far-right discourse in detail.
  • Expanded discussion of the “normalization” of far-right discourse.
  • A new chapter exploring the challenges to liberal democracy.
  • An updated glossary of far-right parties and movements.
  • More discussion of the impact of social media on the rise of the far-right.

Ruth Wodak, The Politics of Fear: The Shameless Normalization of Far-Right Discourse: London UK, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi, Singapore: SAGE Publications, 2nd revised edition, ISBN10: 1526499207, ISBN13: 9781526499202, Publication date: 18 December 2020.


Deutsche Ausgabe

Ruth Wodak, Politik mit der Angst: Die schamlose Normalisierung rechtspopulistischer und rechtsextremer Diskurse, Wien: Edition Konturen, 2020, Zweite, völlig überarbeitete Auflage, ISBN 9783902968562.


The Author

Ruth Wodak is emerita Distinguished Professor of Discourse Studies, Lancaster University (UK) and retired Professor of Applied Linguistics, University of Vienna. Her research activities encompass critical discourse research, language and politics (populism research), identity and past politics, gender studies, migration research, and linguistic bias research on racism and anti-Semitism.

She received numerous prizes and distinctions, inter alia: the Wittgenstein Prize (1996), the Grand Cross of Honour in Silver for Services to the Republic of Austria (2011) and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (2018).

She has held numerous visiting professorships and fellowships, including  Austrian Chair, Stanford University (1992/3), Leverhulme Visiting Professorship at the University of East Anglia, Norwich UK (2003/4); Kerstin Hesselgren Visiting Chair of the Swedish Parliament, Örebro University (2008), Royden J. Davis Chair for Interdisciplinary Studies, Georgetown University, Washington DC (2014); Distinguished Schuman Fellow at the European University Institute (2016); Willy Brandt Chair at the University of Malmö (2017).

IWM Fellowships

September 2018–May 2019
February 2020–September 2020

Recent books

1) Österreichische Identitäten im Wandel (mit Rudolf de Cillia, Markus Rheindorf & Sabine Lehner). Springer

2) Sociolinguistic Perspectives on Migration Control (eds. Markus Rheindorf & Ruth Wodak) Multilingual Matters 2020

3) Europe at the Crossroads. Confronting Populist, Nationalist and Global Challenges. (eds. Pieter Bevelander & Ruth Wodak) Nordicum 2019