The Power of Nightmares

The Power of Nightmares

2004, Politics  -    -  Playlist 61 Comments
Ratings: 8.03/10 from 59 users.

The Power of NightmaresThe Power of Nightmares, subtitled The Rise of the Politics of Fear, is a BBC documentary film series, written and produced by Adam Curtis. The series consists of three one-hour films, consisting mostly of a montage of archive footage with Curtis's narration, which were first broadcast in the United Kingdom in late 2004 and have been subsequently aired in multiple countries and shown in several film festivals, including the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.

The films compare the rise of the American Neo-Conservative movement and the radical Islamist movement, making comparisons on their origins and noting strong similarities between the two. More controversially, it argues that the threat of radical Islamism as a massive, sinister organised force of destruction, specifically in the form of al-Qaeda, is in fact a myth perpetrated by politicians in many countries—and particularly American Neo-Conservatives—in an attempt to unite and inspire their people following the failure of earlier, more utopian ideologies.

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Michael George
3 years ago

I just watched a documentary that focused on the rise of Neoconservatism and the evangelical right without mentioning even one time the role of Zionism, whether it be in the creation of these movements or the manipulation of them.

J Miller
4 years ago

And I guess I should add that there are none so dangerous as those who think they know what is best for all and should do whatever it takes to lead them. Well and then that brings up the vast majority of humans who are just begging for someone to tell them what to do. What are ya gonna do with a species like that? Just have to let them go at it and then make a video about it and keep doing it until the species finally goes extinct.

J Miller
4 years ago

Gee if it wasn't for how corrupt some other countries are a real good case could be made for this society in this country to be the most corrupt on earth. When I hear my country mentioned I don't swell with pride, I cringe and hope it passes quickly. This is a human animal problem rather than this or that country, you know, the human animal created in the exact image of God.

J. S. Livacich
7 years ago

The apt comparison of the absolutist Muslim Brotherhood and the Neo Conservative Movement is a proper source of concern--especially now that the sources of funding can be seen as from a very wealthy few without any accountability. We all the truth about the wars on "terror" and weapons of mass destruction. See Curtis latest work!

7 years ago

Kelly Kafir,
The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
Give it a rest.

10 years ago

The masses NEED to be led??? You think that is ok?

Oh yeah, the USSR didn't put missles on Cuba, right... what a stupid mockumentary this is.

10 years ago

Qutb was a Shafi'ite - they believe in cutting out a woman's clitoris and her outer labia and sewing up the inner labia to leave a small hole near the anus. This is to prevent a woman from having sexual pleasure and to supposedly keep her chaste until she is married. It is called female circumcision or Female Genetalia Mutilation. Watch Desert Flower if you want more info.

"Sayyid Qutb was an Egyptian author, educator, Islamist theorist, poet, and the leading member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and '60s. In 1966 he was convicted of plotting the assassination of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and was executed by hanging.

Even though most of his observations and criticism were leveled at the Muslim world, Qutb is also known for his intense disapproval of the society and culture of the United States, which he saw as obsessed with materialism, violence, and sexual pleasures. (oh wait until you hear about what Islam condones!!) He is one who shaped the ideas of Islamists and particularly of groups such as Al Qaeda."

10 years ago

Islam has 1400 years of violence.

10 years ago

Everything makes sense now, but I kind of miss my ignorance. I was raised thinking America was great and we had it all figured out and now I'm realizing that was about as true as the sleeper cell terrorists in video 3... Jeremy, you are amazing.

10 years ago

Adam Curtis is my hero!!

10 years ago

If the BBC produced it you can safely bet that it will be outstanding and reveal things which the American media conglomerates would prefer to keep hidden. And then there is Adam Curtis. He is probably the best non-fiction film maker of our time. His insight into politics and other social topics is nothing short of brilliant especially when he documents the true nature of government and society and the role of corporations (and technology) which lock is into an illusion of a free democracy that we cannot escape from. All his film productions are a must-see.

11 years ago

This is wonderful! I'm glad I found it again. Good job bbc!

Neo Anderson
11 years ago

The ignorance of the common American is only exceeded by their greed, the Air force has a term for it, “followership”.

11 years ago

Let's move forward!! I bet everyone in the world wants something simple. Access to resources for the best life possible, and the freedom to live that life without prejudice and bigotry from others. Honestly this is easy to achieve if everyone has their needs met. Let's eliminate profit and the monetary-market paradigm from history. It's outdated and holding us back. Just like the "truth" of divine right of kings.

11 years ago

when an idea demands LIFE (yours or of another's), it's a dangerous one there for must not be pursued.

12 years ago

Thanks!!! Now I know that 1000 women dying in honorkilling only in Pakistan every year is a dream. And the demonstration for Sharia in Egypt is a dream. Also the islamist in Somlia who stone people and the killers in Iran is only a dream. WOW !! I am so happy.

12 years ago

It is funny seeing Curtis say that attacks on the London Tubes were a fantasy swept up by the media. He works for the media, only instead of sweeping up he is sweeping under.

It is funny seeing him portray his insight that the planned attack were fantasy as some profound revelation, esepecially after such attacks have occured with devastating effects. Has he toned down his "fantasy" insight since then? No. Now he wants to tell us that the American Revolution, freedom, and the World Wide Web are a fantasy. Nothing is happening in the Middle East.

12 years ago

Adam Curtis is full of crap. The Soviet Union didn't exist? Al Quaida didn't exist? The US is in no way special or unusual in world history? Next he will try to prove that the 4th of July never happened.

12 years ago

Adam Curtis docs are excellent! Check out Century of the Self if you haven't already.

12 years ago

I think he covers 7/7 despite the fact it is in the future. He talks of the thread from those inspired by what is created and the increased possibility of terror strikes as a result of the mythology that the war on terror bought with it.

Amazing documentary.

12 years ago

From what I've seen (part 1/3) this is a fascinating doc. I took from it that in today's age, the two most polarizing world views out there namely, Neo-Conservatism and Qutb's Islamism are basically based on the same thing: fear. Ironically, it's fear of each other that drives them. And to see their long and interconnected history is very eye opening.

It's really a Platonic view of society: the most desirable structure is one where the people fear something and thus rally around an elite and common morals. Fear of chaos, fear of the unknown...fear of anything. This fear allows the political structure to endure, and cannot exist without something or someone to fear.

P.S. This doc is a little dated, because he scoffs at the idea of an attack in the UK, yet, a year later, there's a bombing in the Tubes, from homegrown terrorists, to boot. I agree that the threat is exaggerated greatly, but he shouldn't act as if it doesn't exist at all.

12 years ago

Given the recent events in Egypt, I came back to watch this for a 2nd time and I'm glad I did. I'm still trying to make sense of what is behind the revolution-is it a true populist uprising, or is the Muslim Brotherhood behind it? The fact that the movement (if you could call it that) leading to Sadat's execution was spurred by the peace talks with Isreal and the cozy relationship with the west seems eerily similar to what I've heard many of the protesters saying when asked about the reason for their outrage. In any case, this is an excellent doc, thanks for posting it Vlatko!

Elvis P.
12 years ago

It's all about Power....for as long as there is oil....after oil these people will all look like you and me, pupets at the mercy of Mother earth.

12 years ago

The first video link isn't working. Anyone else having this problem?

12 years ago

This is one of those documentaries that everyone needs to see.

13 years ago

It was good not to see any regional point of view in the documentary series. But something was missing on the reasoning wars with Green Politics' Precautionary Principle. Giving a Green Politics view on that matter could raise the doc. series objectivity.

13 years ago

As a European citizen this is extremely well-documented documentary which also states how our government is following the similar tracks adopted from the states -

"Either you with us, or against us", then our littleman jumped to the USofAmaster with whiping tail, with the consequences of both the Iraq-war, which went from nuclear(never to be found)-terror threat to "saving a people"

Now still in Afghanistan . .

A "new" right-wing nationalistic party, is gaining seriously ground, because of there extremely well-coordinate placement of fear in our country - towards Arabic-nationalities and other minorities.

What to do in just this small fraction of serious problems?

13 years ago


Actually, my main problem with Strauss, (other than he having been a total fruit cake), was his insistance, (and the present day insistance that persists), is that without religion, there would be no morality.

The neo-cons think that if we don't believe the bible, we will run around like wild animals murdering everyone we see.

That is a real monsterous, dangerous, falicy.

In fact, the exact opposite is true. Religion causes immorality.

Yes. It does.

13 years ago

Overall, I think this is a fantastically made documentary with a coherent hypothesis, which (as I understand it) argues that both Islamists and neoconservatives use 'nightmares' and the power of fear to advance their goals.

I feel I must, however, take to task both the film and some of the comments which, to me, appear to demonstrate a lack of understanding of both Leo Strauss, and neoconservatism more generally. Firstly, Strauss himself was not a political theorist, nor did he advocate any particular position on how to best advance society. Indeed, reading political counsel into Strauss is a risky and difficult task, as anyone who has attempted to understand his views will most likely argue. Strauss, as I see it, was far more concerned with academia and what he perceived as an abandonment of antiquity in the study of philosophy. Nowhere in any of his writings does he call for 'noble lies' or 'pious frauds' to coerce the masses as part of a sinister plot.

Further, I feel the links between Strauss and the neoconservatives are overblown at best, outright fabricated at worst. Indeed, I would like to have explained to me what is 'Straussian' about neoconservative foreign policy. Also, I feel the film has too wide a definition of neoconservatism, as, if one considers the main doctrines of neoconservative thought, many of the individuals fall more into the the traditional/paleoconservative camp, I would argue (in particular Rumsfeld and Cheney). I think what sets the neocons apart from more traditional conservatives in terms of US foreign policy is their clear moral clarity, and Manichean perception of global politics. In this sense, it is easy to see why 9/11 represented such an opportunity for them to work towards their goals, as 'Al-Qaeda' could be dressed up as such an existential threat. Therefore, as I said above, I believe Curtis' main argument on the use of fear in achieving political goals is sound.

Whether or not those goals are good or not is, obviously, a different debate.

13 years ago

This film is bizarre. Am I to take it that the war on terror was waged almost exclusively on misinformation from the US, which somehow metamorphed into evidence?

I find it impossible to believe anything these days. I had been hoping that the more I read/watch the more I would be able to form my beliefs, however I'm finding that I am becomine rapidly more sceptical every day.

13 years ago

... & now, after having watched the last part of the doc, I think, as a whole it points toward some quite relevant concerns in terms of the obvious manipulations of the existing US policies

13 years ago

Hi Randy,

I guess that many of us are grown up enough and do have some education, for which they HAVE WORKED hard to get (which by the way does not necessarily play a decisive role in measuring intelligence and ability for independent thinking). Also, an attempt to put everyone who thinks independently (and differently from you too Randy, as not everybody has to have the same opinion about things that agrees with yours) in the same basket with Alex Jones is a bit cheap, ineffective too, way to put your point through and I would have expected more from you.

On the other hand, you are right when you say that this doc is not a proof of conspiracy theories, but I don't think that was its aim. The way I see it, it is an attempt to describe the evolution of the neocon ideology and its rise to prominence in the US politics. You are also right that this is being widely discussed among the political theorists, but it does not mean it is not important that such an ideology has influenced (and still is) the US foreign policy. I don't know what you think others, including me, are THINKING it means, but, with respect, I think it is really not important what you personally think about it.

The last paragraph of your post I'm referring to is absolutely correct in my view - "even without any god at all, we can be moral, upstanding citizens of society." Spot on!

13 years ago


I have to agree. Leo Strauss and his kind are strange individuals with radical religious ideas and have no buisness on the political stage. The neoconservatists are no more than pushers of extremist christian fundamentalism and irrational thinking.

Science should run the political stage and religion should be seperated from its position of power. Ill say it again, what ever happened to seperation of church and state? This is the problem with the system we have. Government can never be fair and/or just with religion breathing down its neck about every non-religious idea brought to the table. Thus , leaving no room to think and work outside the box.

This doc only confirmed my opinion on the neoconservative movement. Ridiculous.

13 years ago

To you Randy,

Alex Jones can get pretty obnoxious sometimes, that's for sure. However, before you go trying to insult people, you should do some research of your own. America has a history of "false flag" events. If you search it you can find General McNamara stating that the Gulf of Tonkin incident never happened, but yet it was what kicked off the Vietnam War. You could also look up the "Northwoods Document" (unclassified now).

A REAL education would be ALL the facts surrounding 9/11. Ever hear of PNAC, (Project For A New American Century) and it's members including: Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and how in 2000 PNAC wrote a document called "Rebuilding America's Defenses" stating how America needed to have permanent military bases established in the middle east in order to secure our oil and other interests there, and how the American people would never stand behind just going and occupying a country...? The Document stated: "The process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event like a new Pearl Harbor." This was written one year prior to 9/11.

There's a lot of money to be made in wars. The Rockefellers and Bernard Baruch each made some $200 million off of WW1. Some men only think in terms of money. With Cheney heading up Halliburton and Bush with his oil ties, heck, that's a win win. Did you know that the head of the ISI, who was said to be the guy who wired the $100,000 to Muhammed Atta, (head hijacker), was here on "Official Business" from September the 6th through the 13th, 2001? "Truthers" as you call them just want some questions answered.

Something else you should look up is "Black September". On September 6th, 1970 three planes were hijacked, (and an attempted fourth), by Palestinian terrorists and then blown up in Jordan on Septmeber 12th. It's seems highly unlikely that while Bush and Condoleeza Rice were saying that they "couldn't imagine anyone ever using planes as weapons", that the Intelligence Agencies weren't aware of this. Now I don't want to start calling you people "Coincidentors" but, if that doesn't make you raise an're just Fox News Retarded.

I suggest you further your education and watch "The Money Masters" to see who really runs your country, before you start singing along with Toby Keith.

13 years ago

To all of you conspiracy theorists, WTC Truthers, I say to you, grow up, get a real education, and stop thinking that Alex Jones is going to give you the "inside knowledge". I understand you feel inadequate compared to people that have advanced degrees, but, you know, you can get them, too... if you WORK hard enough, like I did.

This doc was not proof of any of your consiracy theories. This stuff is taught openly in political science classes. It does not mean what you THINK it means.

What it means is, a sad little guy named Leo Strauss who loved "Gunsmoke" and "Perry Mason" thought that evolution and the destruction of the christian god in America would mean that people would turn into animals, so he had to make followers that would instill the TRUTH: that only god could be moral, everything else was evil...

This infected islam, as well, naturally. And that was the cause of 9/11, ultimately.

What you and I must know, is that even without any god at all, we can be moral, upstanding citizens of society. Something he didn't know, which makes him dumber than you and I.

No conspiracy theories, just sad little men who like TV. You can easily be better than them with a real education.

13 years ago


Upon reading your post, all I could think about were the statisctics: For every 1 American that dies in a foreign terrorist attack, 58 people die in the US because of lack of healthcare. So ask yourself, what do you fear more: the ghosts in the cave or subjects that really do have influence over your daily life..?

Please educate yourself regarding developments since 9/11 and the 'War of Terror', before posting. And about the 7/7 attacks, ask yourself; If you were a suicide bomber, would you really leave HALF of your explosives in the car..?
7/7 stinks as much as 9/11.. Madrid was real terrorism in my opinion, because it was the only country that actually released the (horrible) footage of the attack.

13 years ago

Fascinating doc - a must watch indeed.

Chocstar - "the last part claims that al quaeda is not an organisation but merely an idea shared by a couple of disorganised; that seems a bit too much for me"

Have you watched any 911 related documentaries? I must assume not. People are conditioned to shy away from "conspiracy theories" - after all only "crack-pots" would believe such things wouldnt they? A conspiracy theory could be 2 people planning to cheat at an exam test or so big that it encompasses thousands of people in multiple countries. Look at the history of Prescott Bush if you want some historical evidence that CTs are real and evidenced. Just google Prescott Nazi Gold. That should get you started.

With regards to your comment on 7/7 - who knows. 7/7 is infinitely less documented as opposed to 911 but similarities are discussed. For instance: on 9/11 training exercises were being played out for exactly what happened; on 7/7 training exercises were active and the exact scenario to what happened employed.

A good doc to watch in conjunction with this one would be:
"War and Globalization: The Truth Behind 9/11" which goes into more detail of the al-quaeda myth.

13 years ago

the last part claims that al quaeda is not an organisation but merely an idea shared by a couple of disorganised; that seems a bit too much for me... sure they didnt have sophisticated cave-fortresses in the afghan mountains BUT
they were big enough of a danger and tightly organised to exert the 9/11 attacks and as khalid sheikh mohammad admitted to planning an attack on the L.A. library tower.

al quaeda is no new soviet union empire of evil but a serious threat that needs to be dealt with. leaving them be transports us back to the eve of sep. 10th 2001.

apparently this documentary was produced after the madrid train bombings and BEFORE the 7/7 london bombings... how would've the conclusion of the producers turned out with 56 british citizens dead due to al quaeda inspired terrorism.

14 years ago

my instincts were right, i just couldn't articulate them. makes me almost want to believe in something (other than individual freedom), but i know better than that! thank u, thank u to the makers of this doco. :*)** sniff sniff.

14 years ago

This one was really good. Highly recomended.

14 years ago

Another examination of the recent self inflicted schizophrenic politic. Curtis at his best.