Reflections on Violence

Ardent, Hannah 1969. A Special Supplement: Reflections on Violence. Journal of International Affairs 27:

...all violence harbors within itself an element of arbitrariness; nowhere does Fortuna, good or ill luck, play a more important role in human affairs than on the battlefield; and this intrusion of the “Random Event” cannot be eliminated by game theories but only by the certainty of mutual destruction. (Ardent 1969)
War is unpredictable.
...“within a very few years” robot soldiers will have made “human soldiers completely obsolete,”... (Ardent 1969)
From M. W. Thring's "Robots on the March." I was reminded of Sci-Fi memes, e.g. (Bradbury's) mechanical hounds and modern "micro-drones" (gnat-sized spy-devices).
Political assassination, with the exception of a few acts of individual terror perpetuated by small groups of anarchists, was mostly the prerogative of the Right, while organized armed uprisings remained the specialty of the military. (Ardent 1969)
I so wish there were a citation for this. Everyone knows about the "propaganda by deed" or early 20th century anarchists, yet no one seems to know about the political Right committing acts of terror. It was really the fad of the time, not an essentially anarhist practice. But somehow, the "degenerate anarchism" is automatically associated with Molotov cocktails and political assasinations.
These notions are all the more remarkable since the idea of man creating himself is in the tradition of Hegelian and Marxian thinking; it is the very basis of all leftist humanism. But according to Hegel, man “produces” himself through thought, whereas for Marx, who turned Hegel’s “idealism” upside down, it was labor, the human form of metabolism with nature, that fulfilled this function. One may argue that all notions of man-creating-himself have in common a rebellion against the human condition itself—nothing is more obvious than that man, be it as a member of the species or as an individual, does not owe his existence to himself—and that therefore what Sartre, Marx, and Hegel have in common is more relevant than the specific activities through which this non-fact should have come about. Still, it is hardly deniable that a gulf separates the essentially peaceful activities of thinking or laboring and deeds of violence. (Ardent 1969)
Got me thinking that "anarchist people" can only borne out of an anarchist society, which, if not an oxymoron, is still a long way down the road.
The first reaction was a revulsion against violence in all its forms, an almost matter-of-course espousal of a politics of nonviolence. The successes of this movement, especially with respect to civil rights, were very great, and they were followed by the resistance movement against the war in Vietnam which again determined to a considerable degree the climate of opinion in this country. But it is no secret that things have changed since then, and it would be futile to say that only “extremists” are yielding to a glorification of violence, and believe, with Fanon, that “only violence pays.” (Ardent 1969)
Again, a piece of anarchist history: most "mainstream"/lifestyle anarchists espouse a non-violent attitude to activism, even to the point of sickening some anarchists at the sound of the words "non-violent." And on the other hand, there are still pamphlets, like Bonanno's text, which endorse violence as a necessary means for revolution.
...it is the function of all action, as distinguished from mere behavior, to interrupt what otherwise would have proceeded automatically and therefore predictably. And the distinction between violent and non-violent action is that the former is exclusively bent upon the destruction of the old and the latter chiefly concerned with the establishment of something new. (Ardent 1969)
Hmm. It is not simple to distinguish the notion of action from that of behaviour. Here automatism seems to be the distinguishing quality - action is disruptive, inordinary, and behaviour is routine, matter-of-course. Interesting, as I have not met such a simple scheme before.
Let us therefore turn to authors who do not believe that the body politic, its laws and institutions, are merely coercive superstructures, secondary manifestations of some underlying forces. Let us turn, for instance, to Bertrand de Jouvenel, whose book, Power, is perhaps the most prestigious and, anyway, the most interesting recent treatise on the subject. “To him,” he writes, “who contemplates the unfolding of the ages war presents itself as an activity of States which pertains to their essence.” But would the end of warfare, we are likely to ask, mean the end of States? Would the disappearance of violence in the relationships between States spell the end of power? (Ardent 1969)
This is basically an anti-statist argument: get rid of the states and you concomitantly get rid of warfare, as states are the agents of war. As the saying goes, the people did not want war, but governments and states did (and still do).
The answer, it seems, would depend on what we understand by power. De Jouvenel defines power as an instrument of rule, while rule, we are told, owes its existence to “the instinct of domination.” As he writes, “To command and to be obeyed: without that, there is no Power—with it no other attribute is needed for it to be …. The thing without which it cannot be: that essence is command.” If the essence of power is the effectiveness of command, then there is no greater power than that which grows out of the barrel of a gun. (Ardent 1969)
Getting closer to what I know from Foucault and others: power does not stand on brute force, but on - as Weber would put it - legitimate authority, that is to say, on effective command.
...bureaucracy, or the rule by an intricate system of bureaux in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few nor the many, can be held responsible, and which could be properly called the rule by Nobody. Indeed, if we identify tyranny as the government that is not held to give account of itself, rule by Nobody is clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could even be asked to answer for what is being done. It is this state of affairs which is among the most potent causes for the current world-wide rebellious unrest. (Ardent 1969)
Something similar is stated in Page's Political Authority and Bureaucratic Power: that "the main danger of beaucratic government is not that it produces bad, ineffective or illiberal government, but rather a system over which there is no public control." Meaning, nobody, not the politicians, nor the petty officials nor the pblic have any meaningful control over bureaucratic governments.
The many recent discoveries of an inborn instinct of domination and an innate aggressiveness in the human animal were preceded by very similar philosophic statements. (Ardent 1969)
Presumably an indirect reference to Konrad Lorenz's On Aggression which was published earlier that decade.
However, there exists another tradition and another vocabulary no less old and time-honored than the one mentioned above. When the Athenian city-state called its constitution an isonomy or the Romans spoke of the civitas as their form of government, they had in mind another concept of power, which did not rely upon the command-obedience relationship. It is to these examples that the men of the eighteenth-century revolutions turned when they ransacked the archives of antiquity and constituted a republic, a form of government, where the rule of law, resting on the power of the people, would put an end to the rule of man over man, which they thought was “a government fit for slaves.” They too, unhappily, still talked about obedience—obedience to laws instead of men; but what they actually meant was the support of the laws to which the citizenry had given its consent. (Ardent 1969)
Very much a Kantian contention (at least according to Cassirer) - that men should be governed by laws to which they consent. This definition is problematic or raises some "microsociological" questions, because I personally have not consented and indeed would not consent, given the chance, to obligatory military service, for example.
Indeed, it is one of the most obvious distinctions between power and violence that power always stands in need of numbers, whereas violence relying on instruments up to a point can manage without them. (Ardent 1969)
This was the main take-away in the lecture: that power is contstituted by the socium, while violence rests on weapons, or the instruments of violence.
A legally unrestricted majority rule, that is, a democracy without a constitution, can be very formidable indeed in the suppression of the rights of minorities and very effective in the suffocation of dissent without any use of violence. (Ardent 1969)
This brings something to the table for discussing dystopian fiction. Namely, in Orwell's 1984, there is no constitution (althought, strictly speaking, neither is there democracy), and the Party is very effective in suffocating dissent.
It is, I think, a rather sad reflection on the present state of political science that our language does not distinguish between such key terms as power, strength, force, might, authority, and, finally, violence—all of which refer to distinct phenomena. (Ardent 1969)
Steven Lukes's Power: A Radical View does offerr a meticulous analysis of such kef terms (e.g. power, influence, manipulation, coercion, etc.).


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