An apprehension of danger or impending violence, terror is akin to fear in an accentuated or distilled form and is often accompanied by trembling. It underpins many aspects of existence, especially the cut-and-thrust of the evolutionary drive and the predatory nature of the food chain. Lacking the "blood and sawdust" element associated with "horror," it has nevertheless become allied with atrocities and outrages, from the emperors of Rome down to the massacring armies of Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, and the later purges of dictators such as Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot.
The Politics of Oppression
In Europe, terror was employed as a tool by the church and state, often to suppress dissent and maintain the status quo. Campaigns like the Albigensian Crusade, in which the soldiers of Pope Innocent tortured, burned, and butchered the heretical sect of the Cathars, are examples of the extremes to which a religious body was prepared to go in order to maintain its authority, and the same might be said of the witch trials and the Spanish Inquisition. Many philosophers and statesmen have viewed such brutalities in terms of the degeneration of a cause. The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1794) considered the "Reign of Terror" of the French Revolution (April 1793 to July 1794) as a crisis of the human spirit: a vast abstract notion of freedom had arisen that annulled all moral and humanitarian considerations. Others saw it as a brutal mob avenging themselves on their enemies. During this period around seventeen thousand people were put to death, and the republican leader Maximilien de Robespierre (1758–1794) observed "in times of peace the springs of popular government are in virtue, but in times of revolution, they are both in virtue and terror."
Under ruthless regimes, people tend to adopt a docile attitude toward those in authority. It is not uncommon for families, neighbors, and friends to betray each other. Trust and the communal patterns of daily life inevitably suffer—during Stalin's pogroms, for instance, hundreds of thousands of children were orphaned and left to roam the country, living rough, often starving, and many of these eventually became soldiers who were notably brutal and insensitive. In order to pursue his policies—particularly the collectivization of Soviet agriculture and the removal of all rival left-wing factions—Stalin institutionalized terror, creating government mechanisms that were extensions of his will, oiled by bureaucrats and fueled by propaganda. So many thousands were put to death on a daily basis that the appalling became indistinguishable from the ordinary.
From a despot's point of view, the advantage gained from terror tactics is that he has under him a cowed, servile population; the disadvantage is that, having dispatched so many to camps or firing squads, he may start to anticipate revenge from every quarter and extend his field of killing until his situation becomes more isolated and absurd.
The Culture of Terror
But terror need not imply persecution or a life-threatening situation. It has another strand, a religious, aesthetic aspect that implies awe or reverence before a universe whose many mysteries—including those of religion—have never been fully grasped. William Wordsworth (1770–1850), in his poem The Prelude (published 1850), spoke of the "ministry of fear" and evoked the brooding silence of a huge mountain peak hemming him in as he rowed across Esthwaite Lake. The British politician and thinker Edmund Burke (1729–1797), in his Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), saw terror as an elevating, thrilling sensation deriving from the "sublime" and accompanying the observation of soaring, stupendous scenery. In the Duino Elegies (1923), the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926) perceived "beauty" as "nothing but the beginning of terror," implying that, in the act of emotional surrender or identification, man lays himself open to a force over which he can exercise little control. Buildings, too, can produce such an effect. There are churches whose massive, solemn architecture, like those of the London architect Nicholas Hawksmoor (c. 1661–1736), induce a dread concomitant with an all-powerful deity.
Contemporary evangelists emphasize the "love of God," but men like Martin Luther feared God just as much. The latter was literally a "terrible" power capable of visiting plague, famine, and earthquake. During the Middle Ages and the early modern period, numerous "panic" and "God-fearing" cults sprang up—from the flagellants to the Anabaptists—that exploited mass credulity, drawing upon the end of the world or "day of judgment" theme and the glorious, terrifying visions of the Book of Revelation—a favorite text, significantly, of the deranged, self-appointed messiah David Koresh (1959–1993), who died amid the blood and flames of his apocalyptic vision at Waco, Texas, taking his followers with him.
During the early Romantic period, the classic terror image The Nightmare (1782) was painted by Henry Fuseli (1741–1825), showing a young woman sprawled out sleeping and the head of a phantom horse rising above the bed. Perched on the woman's breast is a small hairy incubus. The popularity of such works gives rise to the question: Do people enjoy being terrified? The answer is that, in comfortable surroundings, they may enjoy the vicarious thrill of a mental journey through terrains littered with ruined castles, skulls, vampires, and apparitions: hence the enduring appeal of Gothic novels like The Castle of Otranto, Dracula, Frankenstein, and, more recently, the horror film and works of popular authors like Stephen King. Furthermore, the terrors banished at the climaxes of books and films are reassuring compared with the spectacular diseases and potential nuclear catastrophes filling much contemporary reality. Ghosts and ghouls, for all their menacing antics, hint at a startling extension of existence rather than the terminal facts of modern warfare. The effect of such works is to reassure more than terrify, for usually the fears are objectified and framed in the neutral environment of the page or screen.
Gods of Terror
The black Hindu goddess Kali was depicted with three eyes and four arms, bloated with the blood of her victims; Seth, the dark god of Egypt, as a monster or crocodile; and Satan, the adversary of Jehovah, as a scaly dragon devouring the souls of the dead. The Russians envisaged a figure of legendary dread in the "Pest Maiden," whose billowing skirts unloosed plague and famine.
In ancient Greece, Pan the goat-god was associated with surges of panic and terror, such as a flocks bursting into a stampede or men overcome with fear and trembling in the depths of the forest. Apart from being a musician and flock-keeper, Pan was a god of the hunt. Undoubtedly a primal terror is that of the hunted creature pursued by an avenging pack. The phrase "thrill of the chase" may be counterbalanced by "terror of the quarry." Frightened cries or pleas for clemency may have featured in the early articulation of speech.
Niccolò Machiavelli's (1469–1527) manual of Renaissance statesmanship, The Prince, is a classic treatise on leadership utilizing terror or fear. It urges the ideal prince not to put "the reproach of cruelty" before such overwhelming issues as political unity and that "it is much safer to be feared than to be loved when one of the two must be lacking." While seldom quoting or approving Machiavelli—unjustly his name became synonymous with conspiracy and deceit—many subsequent leaders and dictators have taken his strictures to heart.
Since the 1990s, terror has been localized in tiny pathways between nerve cells in a small, almond-shaped clump of tissue called the amygdala. Joseph LeDoux—an authority on the emotional brain—observed, "We have shown that the amygdala is like the hub in the centre of a wheel of fear. If we understand the pathways of fear, it will ultimately lead to better control." Part of the primitive brain, the amygdala seems to have developed early, steering organisms away from poisons and predators. Some researchers associate it with conditions like depression and autism. Specific fears can be "burned" into it and stimulate a trigger reaction or recurrent terror. Through research into the amygdala and neurocircuitry, some hope that terror, man's oldest adversary, will be conquered, provoking the question: Will there be such a thing as a hero in the future?
See also Heresy and Apostasy ; Machiavellism ; Mind ; Terrorism, Middle East ; War .
Burke, Edmund. Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Edited by David P. Womersley. New York: Penguin, 1999. Primary source dealing with "terror" as an incarnation of what is sublime in nature.
Carter, Rita. Mapping the Mind. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1998. Cogent, popular study of how the brain works, with sections on the amygdala or "fear center."
Cohn, Norman Rufus Colin. The Pursuit of the Millennium. London: Secker and Warburg, 1957. An authoritative look at the "panic cults" and apocalyptic terrors of the Middle Ages and early modern periods.
Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties. New York: Macmillan, 1968. A gripping account of Stalin's purges.
Fumagalli, Vito. Landscapes of Fear: Perceptions of Nature and the City in the Middle Ages. Translated by Shayne Mitchell. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity, 1994. Enlightening psychogeography of the medieval world.
Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. Translated by Peter Bondanella and Mark Musa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Treatise on realpolitik in the sixteenth century.
Newman, Paul. A History of Terror. Stroud, U.K.: Sutton, 2001. Accessible survey of the various manifestations of terror and panic against a historical backdrop.
Schmitt, Jean-Claude. Ghosts of the Middle Ages. Chicago: University Press of Chicago, 1998. Shows how "ghosts" were harnessed to the chariot of religion.
TERROR.TERROR IN NINETEENTH- AND TWENTIETH-CENTURY EUROPE
STALINIST TERROR IN THE SOVIET UNION
Wherever there are people, there will also be violence. Human violence, however, can emerge in different manifestations, it arises from different motives and occasions, and if it dissociates from the underlying causes, it may develop a momentum of its own. In the latter case, violence itself is the only language spoken. The way in which violence shapes life in human societies, though, depends on its manifestations. It may appear as a pogrom, as interethnic conflict, as a military campaign, as annihilation, or as terror.
Terror is a form of violence that distinguishes itself from other forms by the fact that it pursues certain goals and is at the service of certain interests. Terror surfaces in the name of systems, states, parties, and ideologies; reference to the maliciousness of the opponents serves to justify and legitimate it. Terror constitutes violence organized by state or political organizations, setting it apart from spontaneous acts of violence, from riots and pogroms. What really matters to all violent regimes practicing terror is to spread fear, to stigmatize people, and to identify them as victims of persecution, or to intimidate society by threatening and carrying out violence as a means to gain obedience by force. This was the scenario during the French Revolution, in the colonial wars of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in the early stages of the National Socialist (Nazi) dictatorship in Germany, and in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and in China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s.
Terror, applied on a regular basis, generates an atmosphere of anxiety and paranoia, creating a new reality in which terror dissociates from the occasions that have caused it in the first place. It takes on a life of its own. Under these circumstances, anyone can become a victim of state violence, and the perpetrators are no longer able to differentiate between real and imagined enemies; they become prisoners of their idées fixes and sometimes even themselves victims of terror. This is what happened in the phase of the Terror (1793–1794) during the French Revolution, in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, in Mao Zedong's China during the Great Leap Forward in the 1950s and in the course of the Cultural Revolution from the mid-1960s onward, and finally, yet importantly, in Cambodia under the dictatorship of Pol Pot in the 1970s.
Wherever violence aimed not only at suppressing deviations but also at eradicating them forever, and where minorities were targeted for marginalization or extermination, terror turned into annihilation. The most tangible place of modern exterminatory force is the camp, in which the claim of totalitarian regimes to purge societies from their "eternal" enemies was institutionalized through a practice of systematic deprivation of rights and dehumanization. Extermination left victims with no other way out but to die. Therefore, the kind of exterminatory force exerted by the Nazis against the Jews differs from the type of terror intent on forcing obedience and spreading fear and terror. Terror amounts to arbitrariness; extermination, on the other hand, is unambiguous. Nevertheless, the dividing lines separating terror and annihilation are not clear-cut. Representative of this fact are, above all, the Stalinist regimes in the Soviet Union and in China, whose terrorist methods became a practice of extermination during specific phases—in the years 1937 and 1938 in the Soviet Union and during the 1950s in China.
To be sure, the causes and motives for the use of terror are variable over the course of history. Wherever perpetrators practice terror, they justify their actions either by reference to their ideological convictions or to circumstances forcing them to exercise terror against others. As a rule, state authorities decide to employ terror if they feel they can no longer control the situation, if they perceive themselves to be surrounded by enemies and threatened by foreign powers, or if they have lost confidence in their position of power. A confused state of affairs and a power vacuum constitute the perfect seedbed for conspiracy theories that view the world as a place that is populated by enemies, saboteurs, and spies and one that can be liberated from all evil only by means of terror. Terror does not represent an inevitable result of revolutions and dictatorships. Yet, the interlocking chain of events already mentioned seems to favor its development.
Modern terror was born in the French Revolution as a method of enforcing authority. It was exercised systematically and justified ideologically by the political elite vis-à-vis a number of adversaries: against the members of the royalist governing elite who were stigmatized as conspirators and traitors; and against clergymen and peasants in the Vendée who were supposed to be subjugated through merciless terror. The European colonial powers also resorted to terror in the early twentieth century in order to make rebellious tribes and ethnic groupings submit to their will: this included hostage-takings, executions, and systematic depopulation of the territories inhabited by the rebels. The Nazis, too, made use of such instruments, especially at the beginning of their rule, when they built camps for oppositional Communists and Social Democrats and persecuted citizens of Jewish descent. In the last year of the war, the terror reappeared one more time, with the aim of nipping any resistance in the bud and deterring potential adversaries. Nonetheless, Nazi rule in Germany did not rest on terror against the population. Instead, it was based on popular assent. The Nazis' terror developed to the full beyond the German borders, in places where resistance emerged and enemies had to be defeated: above all, in Poland, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union.
More than any other dictatorship of the twentieth century, the Stalinist system in the Soviet Union was identified by both contemporaries and future historians as a rule of terror. The Bolsheviks themselves spoke of the "Red Terror" to label the violence they exercised against their real or perceived adversaries in the postrevolutionary period and during the Russian civil war (1918–1920). In 1920 Leon Trotsky, the military leader of the Bolshevik Revolution, declared publicly that the revolution killed individuals and acted as a deterrent to thousands of others. For that reason, Trotsky added, the Red Terror was state-organized terror, which took as the ultimate yardstick the suitability of violence for reaching revolutionary objectives. In fact, Vladimir Lenin and his followers systematically used violence against the members of the former tsarist elites, against officeholders of the old regime, and against striking workers and rebellious peasants in order to intimidate and deter them from resisting the regime. This approach pivoted on a perfidious system of hostage-taking, calculated executions, and public humiliation. In carrying out these measures, the political police—the Cheka—were not bound by any restrictions whatsoever. The terror reached a climax toward the end of the civil war, when troops commanded by the Bolshevik military leader Mikhail Tukhachevsky advanced against rebellious peasants in the southern Russian province of Tambov using poison gas and transported their families to concentration camps. Hundreds of thousands died during the civil war due to terrorist use of violence.
The terror excesses arose from a chain of several circumstances: the ideological furor of the Bolshevik leaders bent on delivering society from its enemies, the resistance of the "White" counterrevolution during the civil war, and the lack of influence and power wielded by Communists in the provinces as well as their affinity to violence. In the face of chaos and uncontrollable circumstances, violence represented the only source of power available to the warring factions. The Bolsheviks were merely more successful in applying it than their adversaries.
Terror and bolshevism were no synonyms, because along with the stabilization of political and social conditions between 1924 and 1928 the violence ended. It was not until the beginning of the cultural revolution, of industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture between 1928 and 1933, that terror reappeared on the scene as an instrument of power. The cultural revolutionary interventions in the life spheres of Soviet subjects, the nationalization of land and peasant property, and the ruthless strategy of industrialization provoked riots and rebellions and caused chaos in production; millions of people were uprooted and set in motion. Now the Bolsheviks got a taste of their own powerlessness. They responded to the self-induced crisis with terror, falling back on the techniques of violence already familiar from the civil war. Managers and factory directors—so-called bourgeois specialists—were charged and sentenced in public show trials as "vermin" and saboteurs; aristocrats and functional elites from the ranks of tsarist society, clergymen, tribal chieftains, and members of former national parties faced arrest; and several million peasants went to concentration camps as kulaks or they were deported to Siberia.
In the mid-1930s, the terror got out of control. In 1935, following the assassination of the Leningrad party leader Sergei Kirov in December 1934, hostages were executed; alleged class enemies—"socially harmful elements"—deported from the cities; and national minorities removed from the border regions of the USSR. Eventually, during the years of the Great Terror—1937 and 1938—the political leadership yielded to Joseph Stalin's urging, deciding to arrest and execute enemy groups and members of national minorities reputed to be undermining the Soviet order and to be in the pay of neighboring countries. The Politburo prescribed quotas for each region to serve as orientation for security forces. In the course of just over one year—between August 1937 and November 1938—almost seven hundred thousand people were murdered on state orders. Mass shootings took place in all of the camps across the Soviet Union. The boundary to extermination had been transgressed, even though for a short time only.
By the mid-1930s, the terror was eating its way into party and state authorities as well. The preceding purges in the party constituted the reason for this wave of terror; they had alerted political leaders to the fact that only a few party members really deserved their trust. From that point onward, the focus was no longer just on kulaks, class enemies, and enemy nations striving for the destruction of the Soviet Union. Now the enemy appeared to be at work in the party, the military, and industrial enterprises, and among state authorities as well. This conviction seems to have become firmly fixed in the minds of Stalin and his followers, as the foreign-policy threat to the Soviet Union emanating from Nazi Germany and the authoritarian governments of central and eastern Europe and of Asia grew. In view of this menace, the defiance by peasants in the empire's multiethnic frontier regions and the failure of the Soviet planned economy appeared in an entirely different light to the Stalinist leadership. Accordingly, it was the responsibility of the Communist elites to meet this danger by means of terror. But when the powerful patronage systems dominating state and party in the Soviet Union resisted Stalin's demands for the exercise of excessive terror, violence struck the inner circle of power as well. The period between 1936 and 1938 witnessed the self-destruction of party and state authorities, the physical annihilation of the economic elite and of the Soviet officer corps. Show trials, denunciations, and vigilance campaigns created an atmosphere of fear and fright in which the terror took on a life of its own and continuously supplied the leaders with new evidence of their enemies' perniciousness. Thus, terror spawned enemies and the enemies spawned terror. There was no escape from this vicious circle as long as Stalin and his followers remained unwilling to put an end to the self-perpetuating horror.
To be sure, an order issued by Stalin in 1939 ended the worst excesses of terror; but the atmosphere of suspicion and all-embracing conspiracy continued even after the Great Terror. Moreover, it was liable at any moment to produce terror once again, just as it did during the occupation of Poland and the Baltic republics from 1939 to 1941, during World War II, and in the territories recaptured by the Red Army after 1944. Not least of all, this connection is underscored by the terror against the peasants between 1947 and 1948, against alleged traitors to their own country and "cosmopolitan" Jews accused by the regime of being in the pay of Western secret services, and against the nationalist resistance in the western regions of the Soviet Union.
Stalin and his followers were brutal characters caught in a deep sense of insecurity, believing in the immanence and imminence of betrayal and conspiracies, and failing to conceive of any other way of eliminating them but by exercising terror. They fashioned a world that matched their conceptions and that they could not escape from anymore. One might also argue that they fell victim to their own persecution complex. The terror died along with Stalin himself, not only because the violent dictator had died, but also because in the 1950s the political leaders had actually managed to establish their power firmly and therefore ceased to mistrust the population and cast suspicion on anyone. The institutionalization of power and the nationalization of the Soviet Union spelled at the same time the end of the terror. Most likely, the rule of terror practiced by Mao in China and Pol Pot in Cambodia would call for a similar assessment.
Baberowski, Jörg. Der rote Terror: Die Geschichte des Stalinismus. Munich, 2003.
Figes, Orlando. A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891–1924. London, 1996.
Getty, J. Arch. Origins of the Great Purges: The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933–1938. Cambridge, U.K., 1985.
Getty, J. Arch, and Roberta T. Manning, eds. Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives. Cambridge, U.K., 1993.
Gorlizki, Yoram, and Oleg Khlevniuk. Cold Peace: Stalin and the Soviet Ruling Circle, 1945–1953. Oxford, U.K., 2004.
Jansen, Marc, and Nikita Petrov. Stalin's Loyal Executioner: People's Commissar Nikolai Ezhov, 1895–1940. Stanford, Calif., 2002.
Mayer, Arno J. The Furies: Violence and Terror in the French and Russian Revolutions. Princeton, N.J., 2000.
Service, Robert. Stalin: A Biography. London, 2004.
Although all living things must die, humans are the only species who are aware of this unfortunate fact. How does this knowledge affect us? Inspired by Ernest Becker’s influential book, The Denial of Death (1973), social psychologists Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski developed terror management theory to explore the role that awareness of the inevitability of death plays in diverse aspects of human behavior. As of 2006, more than three hundred studies conducted in at least fourteen countries have supported the central ideas of this theory and have shown that awareness of death influences a broad range of behaviors that, on the surface, bear no obvious relation to the problem of human mortality.
Terror management theory suggests that the awareness of death in an animal that wants to live creates the potential for paralyzing terror. Humankind “solved” the problem of death by using its sophisticated intellectual abilities to give life meaning, value, and permanence, and by so doing, provided a means of managing the potential for terror that awareness of death creates. People manage terror by immersing themselves in a cultural worldview that provides a theory of reality, standards for valued behavior that confer self-esteem, and the promise of literal or symbolic immortality to those who live up to these standards. Literal immortality is provided by the religious aspects of the worldview that promise some form of afterlife; symbolic immortality is attained by contributing to and being part of something that continues long after one’s individual death, such as families, nations, or other valued groups. To effectively protect against existential terror, cultural worldviews and self-esteem requires ongoing validation by others. Those who share one’s worldview and believe in one’s value increase faith in the worldview and self-esteem, whereas those who disagree with one’s worldview or one’s value undermine this faith. To maintain the anxiety-buffering effectiveness of these structures, people exert great effort to keep their self-esteem and faith in their worldview strong and to ward off any threats to these beliefs that might arise.
Consistent with the theory, research has shown that: (1) bolstering self-esteem or faith in one’s worldview makes people less prone to anxiety; (2) reminders of death increase one’s striving for self-esteem and meaning, one’s structuring of information about oneself and the world, and one’s favorable reactions to people and ideas that support one’s worldview and unfavorable reactions to people and ideas that threaten it; (3) threats to one’s self-esteem or worldview bring thoughts of death closer to consciousness; and (4) increasing self-esteem, faith in one’s world-view, or belief in an afterlife reduce the effects of reminders of death on defensive behavior. The effect of death awareness on human behavior is largely unconscious. People use self-esteem and their worldviews to defend against death-related anxiety when thoughts of death are on the fringes of consciousness; conscious thoughts of death are defended in ways more directly related to the problem of death, by denying one’s vulnerability to disease or accident and promising to pursue a healthy lifestyle. When death-related thoughts come close to conscious awareness, this signals a potential increase in anxiety, which leads people to cling especially strongly to their worldviews and self-esteem and defend these structures against threat. These defensive reactions occur so rapidly that conscious fear of death is typically averted.
This work suggests that the problem of death lies at the root of the human quest for meaning and self-esteem, and that much human behavior is driven by the protection from existential anxiety that meaning and self-esteem provide. It also suggests that prejudice, hatred, and violence are often rooted in the threat to one’s protective shield posed by those with worldviews different from one’s own. Support for this view comes from studies showing that reminders of death increase stereotyping, hostility, and aggression toward those with different worldviews, favoritism toward one’s group, and prejudice toward those from different cultures, nations, and religions. These processes have been shown to play an important role in international conflict and terrorism. Studies have shown, for example, that reminders of death have led young Iranians, who normally oppose terrorist violence, to increase their support for such tactics, and reminders of death have led young Americans, who normally oppose extreme military action, to support preemptive war and the use of weapons that would kill thousands of innocent civilians as part of the struggle against terrorism. This research shows that fear plays an important role in promoting support for violent solutions to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.
This research also suggests that individual psychological problems are often rooted in breakdowns in the protection from core human anxiety that results when one’s self-esteem or worldview is undermined. Reminders of death increase the severity of psychological symptoms, such as spider phobias and obsessive hand-washing, among those prone to these problems. People tend to be most happy and well-adjusted when they are able to view themselves as valuable contributors to a meaningful world. Although people have little conscious awareness of its impact, the problem of death exerts an important influence on most of what they do.
SEE ALSO Anxiety; Death and Dying; Self-Esteem
Becker, Ernest. 1973. The Denial of Death. New York: Free Press.
Greenberg, Jeff, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski. 1997. Terror Management Theory of Self-Esteem and Social Behavior: Empirical Assessments and Conceptual Refinements. In Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 29, ed. Mark P. Zanna, 61–139. New York: Academic Press.
Pyszczynski, Tom, Sheldon Solomon, and Jeff Greenberg. 2003. In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Solomon, Sheldon, Jeff Greenberg, and To m Pyszczynski. 1991. A Terror Management Theory of Social Behavior: The Psychological Functions of Self-Esteem and Cultural Worldviews. In Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 24, ed. Mark P. Zanna, 93–159. New York: Academic Press.
ter·ror / ˈterər/ • n. 1. extreme fear: people fled in terror | [in sing.] a terror of darkness. ∎ the use of such fear to intimidate people, esp. for political reasons: weapons of terror. ∎ [in sing.] a person or thing that causes extreme fear: his unyielding scowl became the terror of the Chicago mob. ∎ (the Terror) the period of the French Revolution between mid 1793 and July 1794 when the ruling Jacobin faction, dominated by Robespierre, ruthlessly executed anyone considered a threat to their regime. Also called reign of terror. 2. (also holy terror) inf. a person, esp. a child, who causes trouble or annoyance: placid and obedient in their parents' presence, but holy terrors when left alone. PHRASES: have (or hold) no terrors for someone not frighten or worry someone.