Friday, August 23, 2019

Hannah Arendt's On Violence

Unfortunately, this is really timely.

Arendt wrote this short book in 1970, but there's nothing in it that needs to be updated today. Absolutely nothing significant has changed; it's just more. She was responding to the violence of WWII, Vietnam, the student riots in Paris, and, most specifically, the People's Park protests in Berkeley, where she was teaching at the time as students attempted "transforming an empty university-owned lot into a 'People's Park'." Sheldon Wolin and John Schaar wrote about how the event unleashed an unnecessarily strong police backlash:
"A rock was thrown from a roof-top and, without warning, police fired into a group on the roof of an adjacent building. Two persons were struck in the face by the police fire, another was blinded, probably permanently, and a fourth, twenty-five-year-old James Rector, later died. Before the day was over, at least thirty others were wounded by police gunfire, and many more by clubs. . . . Tear gas enfolded the main part of the campus and drifted into many of its buildings, as well as into the surrounding city. Nearby streets were littered with broken glass and rubble. At least six buckshot slugs entered the main library and three 38 calibre bullets lodged in the wall of a reference room in the same building. Before the day ended, more than ninety people had been injured by police guns and clubs."
That was on May 15, 1969, known as "Bloody Thursday." The Kent State shootings in Ohio were almost exactly one year later. Arendt tries to make sense of it all through a look at the changing view of violence in society.


The problem with the "brains" in the councils of governments is
"not that they are cold-blooded enough to 'think the unthinkable,' but that they do not think. . . . The logical flaw in theses hypothetical constructions of future events is always the same: what first appears as a hypothesis . . . turns immediately into a 'fact,' which then gives birth to a whole string of similar non-facts, with the result that the purely speculative character of the whole enterprise is forgotten. Needless to say, this is not science but pseudo-science, 'the desperate attempt of the social and behavioral sciences,' in the words of Noam Chomsky, 'to imitate the surface features of sciences that really have significant intellectual content.' And the most obvious and 'most profound objection to this kind of strategic theory is not its limited usefulness but its danger, for it can lead us to believe we have an understanding of events and control over their flow which we do not have" (6-7). 


She explains how Marx's non-violent ideas were warped over a telephone game of interpretations. In Marx's writings he advocates for no violence. Revolution is something that happens by chance when everything lines up, when the people have had enough and could do nothing other than revolt:
"the revolutionary Left under the influence of Marx's teachings ruled out the use of violent means: the 'dictatorship of the proletariat'--openly repressive in Marx's writings--came after the revolution and was meant, like the Roman dictatorship, to last a strictly limited period. . . . [The Left knew] only too well that revolutions are not made intentionally and arbitrarily, but that they were always and everywhere the necessary result of circumstances entirely independent of the will and guidance of particular parties and whole classes" (11-12).
Then George Sorel wrote Reflections on Violence, in 1908, wherein he combined Marxism with Henri Bergson's philosophy of life to develop ideas similar to Sartre's later "amalgamation of existentialism and Marxism--thought of class struggle in military terms; yet he ended by proposing nothing more violent than the famous myth of the general strike, a form of action which we today would think of as belonging rather to the arsenal of nonviolent politics" (12). Sartre did advocate for violent protest. Most influentially, he wrote a preface to a popular piece of writing, Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, in 1963, which was widely read (at least the first part) by Arendt's students in the late 60s. Unaware of his own basic disagreement with Marx on violence, Sartre wrote that "irrepressible violence . . . is man recreating himself,' that it is through 'mad fury' that 'the wretched of the earth' can 'become men' . . . the idea of man creating himself . . . is the very basis of all leftist humanism" (12). Hegel said man produces himself through thought. Marx turned Hegel's idealism upside down to conclude that "labour, the human form of metabolism with nature, that fulfilled this function" (13), but Sartre began a "new shift toward violence in the thinking of revolutionaries . . . No doubt all this has a logic of is own, but it is one springing from experience, and this experience was utterly unknown to any generation before" (13).

Sartre's experience of the war affected his views of the necessity of violence, which then affected a generation of views, even those who had no first hand experience with war. Arendt goes on to explain the pathos of the New Left was
"closely connected with the weird suicidal development of modern weapons; this is the first generation to grow up under the shadow of the atom bomb. . . . Their first reaction was a revulsion against every form of violence. . . . But it is no secret that things have changed since then, that the adherents of nonviolence are on the defensive, and it would be futile to say that only the 'extremists' are yielding to a glorification of violence and have discovered that 'only violence pays'" (14). "In George Wald's words, 'what we are up against is a generation that is by no means sure that it has a future. . . To the often-heard question Who are they, this new generation? one is tempted to answer, Those who hear the ticking'" (18).
At this point, unlike any other, we have the double barrel effects of nuclear weapons and climate change for a generation with the least hope possible to reach a healthy old age.

While student rebellion is a global phenomenon, it's in the United States where the "student movement has been seriously radicalized wherever police and police brutality intervened in essentially nonviolent demonstrations" in part because of race relations at the time (and now). She writes about a phenomenon also discussed by Martin Seligman in his overview of university psych departments. It feels distasteful to reiterate it, but they both complain of universities admitting black students without any academic qualifications who are ill-equipped to do the work. For a brief time, while the more prestigious schools typically admitted 25% of people who applied, in the late 60s they began to admit 75% of people who applied and also identified as having black heritage. Arendt explained, "The yielding of university authorities to black demands has often been explained by the 'guilt feelings' of the white community" (19). That's something I haven't heard openly discussed before reading these two books. I ignored it in Seligman's work as the musings of a slightly racist older man until I saw it reiterated here. I'm not sure if it should be classified as an attitude of old-school racism or an authentic description of a problematic policy of the time.

Back to warping Marx's ideas: "The new undeniable glorification of violence by the student movement has a curious peculiarity. While the rhetoric of the new militants is clearly inspired by Fanon, their theoretical arguments contain usually nothing but a hodgepodge of all kinds of Marxist leftovers . . . [Sartre] "has given expression to the new faith: 'violence,' he now believes, on the strength of Fanon's book, 'like Achilles' lance, can heal the wounds it has inflicted.' If this were true, revenge would be the cure-all for most of our ills" (20). Fanon wrote in a provocative manner, asking, "who has ever doubted that the violated dream of violence, that the oppressed 'dream at least once a day of setting' themselves up in the oppressor's place" (21), but this is NOT what Marx was saying:
"The point, as Marx saw it, is that dreams never come true. The rarity of slave rebellions and of uprisings among the disinherited and downtrodden is notorious; on the few occasions when they occurred it was precisely 'mad fury' that turned dreams into nightmares for everybody. . . . To identify the national liberation movements with such outbursts is to prophesy their doom--quite apart from the fact that the unlikely victory would not result in changing the world (or the system), but only its personnel" (21).
This is the plot of Animal Farm. Arendt explains further that we can't have a unity of the third world because "The Third World is not a reality but an ideology" (21).

I'm not sure I agree with her, and Marx, that the downtrodden rarely successfully rise up against their oppressors. There was the Haitian uprising for instance. Or, I certainly don't want it to be the case that it's impossible or unlikely to do successfully. However it appears clear that the chance of revolution decreases as the strength of the weapons of the government increase. She addresses that later. But here she adds one positive result of the new movement: "the claim for 'participatory democracy' . . . derives from the best in the revolutionary tradition--the council system" (22).


She laments the change that took over left-wing politics which lost touch with their working class affiliations and were completely swept up by bureaucracy:
"The New Left has remained in a declamatory stage, to be invoked rather inarticulately to lose even its merely representative function to the huge party machines that 'represent' not the party membership but its functionaries) and against the Eastern one-party bureaucracies, which rule out participation on principle. Even more surprising in this odd loyalty to the past is the New Left's seeming unawareness of the extent to which the moral character of the rebellion clashes with its Marxian rhetoric. Nothing, indeed, about the movement is more striking than its disinterestedness" (23). 
"To be sure, every revolutionary movement has been led by the disinterested, who were motivated by compassion or by a passion for justice. . . . Still, they too had first to espouse the nonspeculative, down-to-earth interests of the working class and to identify with it; this alone gave them a firm footing outside society. And this is precisely what the modern rebels have lacked from the beginning and have been unable to find despite a rather desperate search for allies outside the universities. . . . the complete collapse of any co-operation with the Black Power movement, whose students are more firmly rooted in their own community and therefore in a better bargaining position at the universities, was the bitterest disappointment for the white rebels" (24).
She suggests it's absurd to join all youth together as one while ignoring class. Today, calling everyone middle class has a subtle way of separating, instead of unifying, people as a group because we can easily look to one another and see, You have so much more, or less - Your troubles are not like mine. It's a start to be aware of privilege, but it doesn't erase the effects of poverty or the marks of difference within this giant class that imagines it's classless. This current pretence of equality is a barrier to real class equity.

PROGRESS: Quality over quantity

How we think of progress has also changed. We used to think of progress in terms of acquiring knowledge and character rather than land and possessions. The development of capitalism and constant growth forces us to constantly compare our lot with others, strive for more, and see each others as competitors. We have progress for the sake of progress; we can't stop changing and evolving, the faster the better.
"The notion that there is such a thing as progress of mankind as a whole was unknown prior to the seventeenth century. . . . The seventeenth century . . . thought of progress in terms of an accumulation of knowledge through the centuries, whereas for the eighteenth the word implied an 'education of mankind' whose end would coincide with man's coming of age. . . . Marx's classless society seen as the realm of freedom that could be the end of history actually still bears the hallmark of the Age of Enlightenment. . . . Now . . . 'the laws of movement alone are eternal. . . . As to man, all we can say is 'we are born perfectible, but we shall never be perfect" (26). 
"There is the obvious argument against progress that, in the words of Herzen, 'Human development is a form of chronological unfairness . . . or, in the words of Kant, 'It will always remain bewildering . . . that the earlier generations seem to carry on their burdensome business only for the sake of the later . . . and that only the last should have the good fortune to dwell in the [completed] building.' However, these disadvantages . . . are more than outweighed by an enormous advantage: progress not only explains the past without breaking up the time continuum but it can serve as a guide for acting into the future. . . . Progress gives an answer to the troublesome question, And what shall we do now? The answer, on the lowest level, says: Let us develop what we have into something better, greater, et cetera. (The, at first glance, irrational faith of liberals in growth, so characteristic of all our present political and economic theories, depends on this notion.) On the more sophisticated level of the Left, it tell us to develop present contradictions into their inherent synthesis" (27).
Hegel's dialectic wasn't about taking what we have and doing it more and more, but using the dialectical process that produces its opposite then creates something new in the synthesis. It's about better, not more, of quality, not quantity.  Arendt decides, "In either case we are assured that nothing altogether new and totally unexpected can happen, nothing but the 'necessary' results of what we already know" (28).

However, the previous century was full of unexpected leaps in the way student rebellion is inspired by moral considerations:
"This generation . . . has taught us a lesson about manipulation, or, rather, its limits. . . . Men can be 'manipulated' through physical coercion, torture, or starvation, and their opinions can be arbitrarily formed by deliberate, organized misinformation, but not through 'hidden persuaders,' television, advertising, or any other psychological means in a free society" (28).
She refers to "manipulation addicts" who think everyone is or can be manipulated into action, but she now sees this ability to override those forces. When the National Guard attacked the unarmed students at Berkeley, "some Guardsmen fraternized openly with their 'enemies' and one of them threw down his arms and shouted: 'I can't stand this any more'" (29). She connects the drive towards a progress in quantity to academic work, which has become a demand for a re-working of previous works rather than anything truly enlightened:
"Progress is a more serious and a more complex item offered at the superstition fair of our time. The irrational nineteenth-century belief in unlimited progress has found universal acceptance chiefly because of the astounding development of the natural sciences. . . . The ceaseless, senseless demand for original scholarship in a number of fields, where only erudition is now possible, has led either to sheer irrelevancy . . . or to the development of a pseudo-scholarship. . . . the rebellion of the young . . . has been chiefly directed against the academic glorification of scholarship and science, both of which, though for different reasons, are gravely compromised in their eyes. . . . Progress, in other words, can no longer serve as the standard by which to evaluate the disastrously rapid change-processes we have let loose" (29-30).
To conclude the Part I of her book,
"If we look on history in terms of a continuous chronological process, whose progress, moreover, is inevitable, violence in the shape of war and revolution may appear to constitute the only possible interruption . . . the preachers of violence would have won an important point. .. . . It is the function, however, of all action, as distinguished from mere behavior, to interrupt what otherwise would have proceeded automatically and therefore predictably."


The problem with some of our thoughts around violence stem from imprecise use of terms.

There is a "consensus among political theorists from Left to Right to the effect that violence is nothing more than the most flagrant manifestation of power" (35). There is a same idea of power "from Right to Left, from Bertrand de Jouvenel to Mao Tse-tung." Marx calls it "the state as an instrument of oppression in the hands of the ruling class" (36). Max Weber talks about "the state as 'the rule of men over men based on the means of legitimate, that is allegedly legitimate, violence" (35). And C. Wright Mills says, "All politics is a struggle for power; the ultimate kind of power is violence" (35).

But some authors don't see the state as a coercive superstructure. Bertrand de Jouvenel: "To him who contemplates the unfolding of the ages war presents itself as an activity of States which pertains to their essence.' This may prompt us to ask whether the end of warfare, then, would mean the end of states. . . . a man feels himself more of a man when he is imposing himself and making others the instruments of his will' which gives him 'incomparable pleasure'" (36), but the meaning of this depends on what we think these words mean.

IF power is about commanding, then the greatest power is from the barrel of a gun, but "it would be difficult to say in 'which way the order given by a policeman is different form that given by a gunman'" as Alexander Passerin d'Entreves discussed in 1967. Is a state about power or force?

The idea that power is about control and command is useful, particularly considering power today, which is largely power of a bureaucracy:
"They derive from the old notion of absolute power . . . coincide with the terms used since Greek antiquity to define the forms of government as the rule of man over man--of one or the few in monarchy and oligarchy, of the best or the many in aristocracy and democracy. Today we ought to add the latest and perhaps most formidable form of such dominion: bureaucracy or the rule of an intricate system of bureaus 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 rule by Nobody. . . . 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, making it impossible to localize responsibility and to identify the enemy, that is among the most potent causes of the current world-wide rebellious unrest, its chaotic nature, and its dangerous tendency to get out of control. . . Moreover, this ancient vocabulary was strangely confirmed and fortified by the addition of the Hebrew-Christian tradition and its 'imperative conception of law'" (39).
This part about the state being unable to take responsibility is particularly germane to our current political issues. Then she explains that, beyond Nietzsche's idea that we all crave power over others, is another instinct for submission. We want to be told what to do:
"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. According to John Stuart Mill, 'the first lesson of civilization is that of obedience . . . . If we would trust our own experiences in these matters, we should know that the instinct of submission, an ardent desire to obey and be ruled by some strong man, is at least as prominent in human psychology as the will to power, and, politically, perhaps more relevant. . . . Ready submission to tyranny is by no means always caused by extreme passiveness.' Conversely, a strong disinclination to obey is often accompanied by an equally strong disinclination to dominate and command. . . . If it were true that nothing is sweeter than to give commands and to rule others, the master would never have left his household" (39).
So, this notion of power fits well with the ancient Greeks and with our religious ideologies, but it's not the only way to conceive of it:
"However, there exists another tradition and another vocabulary. . . . When the Athenian city-state called its constitutions an isonomy, or the Romans spoke of the civitas as their form of government, they had in mind a concept of power and law whose essence did not rely on the command-obedience relationship and which did not identify power and rule or law and command. . . . when they discussed obedience to laws, they mean "support of the laws to which the citizenry had given its consent. . . . Under conditions of representative government the people are supposed to rule those who govern them. All political institutions are manifestations and materializations of power; they petrify and decay as soon as the living power of the people ceases to uphold them. . . . To suppose that majority rule functions only in democracy is a fantastic illusion . . . The king, who is but one solitary individual, stands far more in need of the general support of Society than any other form of government" (40-41).
The strength of government, in this view, is tied to the number of people in agreement, and the relationship between power and violence is a reverse correlation. So, tyranny,
"is therefore the most violent and least powerful of forms of government. Indeed one of the most obvious distinctions between power and violence is that power always stands in need of numbers, whereas violence up to a point can mange without them because it relies on implements. . . . To claim that a tiny unarmed minority has successfully, by means of violence--shouting, kicking up a row, et cetera--disrupted large lecture classes whose overwhelming majority had voted for normal instruction procedures is therefore very misleading. . . . What actually happens in such cases is something much more serious: the majority clearly refuses to use its power and overpower the disrupters; the academic processes break down because no one is willing to raise more than a voting finger for the status quo. What the universities are up against is the 'immense negative unity'. . . . The merely onlooking majority, amused by the spectacle of a shouting match between student and professor, is in fact already the latent ally of the minority" (42).
This is a pivotal point she's making that the parties and citizens in many countries would be wise to consider. When someone like Doug Ford or Trump or Bolsonaro makes rules that go against the people, it's because they are being allowed to make those rules through the silence of their colleagues and the relative inaction of too many of their citizens.

To use terms power and violence as synonyms, then, "resulted in a kind of blindness to the realities they correspond to." It leads us to think the most important issue is Who rules over Whom, but "it is only after one ceases to reduce public affairs to the business of dominion that the original data in the realm of human affairs will appear in their authentic diversity" (44).

SPECIFIC TERMS DEFINED: Power is the opposite of violence

Power is "the human ability to act in concert . . . it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together. When we say of somebody that he is 'in power' we actually refer to his being empowered by a certain number of people to act in their name" (44).

Strength is "designates something in the singular . .. belongs to its character. . . . the almost instinctive hostility of the many toward the one has always, from Plato to Nietzsche, been ascribed to resentment, to the envy of the weak for the strong, but this psychological interpretation misses the point. It is in the nature of a group and its power to turn against independence, the property of individual strength" (44).

Force is merely to "indicate the energy released by physical or social movements" (45).

Authority only appears two-fold: "Personal authority, as, for instance, in the relation between parent and child . . .  Its hallmark is unquestioning recognition by those who are asked to obey; neither coercion nor persuasion is needed. (A father can lose his authority either by beating his child or by starting to argue with him, that is, either by behaving to him like a tyrant or by treating him as an equal). . . . The greatest enemy of authority, therefore, is contempt, and the surest way to undermine it is laughter" (45). "University authorities, administrators and faculty alike, have lost the respect of many of the students . . . When authority leaves, power enters. . . . . The university today calls upon the police for protection exactly as the Catholic church used to do before the separation of state and church forced it to rely on authority alone" (45).

I think this is a prescient view of teaching and parenting as it has come to pass. We've lost authority by running our homes and classrooms as if the children are just as wise and capable as the adults. The more we ask, "What do you think we should have for dinner, or how do you wish to learn this material?" the more we lose our authority, and the more our wisdom falls into question until our charges take to learning manners and facts and morals from their peers as much as (or more than) any authority in the arena.

Violence is "distinguished by its instrumental character . . . it is close to strength, since the implements of violence, like all other tools, are designed and used for the purpose of multiplying natural strength until, in the last stage of their development, they can substitute for it" (46).

It's tempting, Arendt suggests, "to equate power with violence, in a discussion of what actually is only one of power's special cases--namely, the power of government. Since in foreign relations as well as domestic affairs violence appears as a last resort to keep the power structure intact against individual challengers--it looks indeed as though violence were the prerequisite of power. . . . On closer inspection, though, this notion loses much of its plausibility" (47).

Regarding the advent of fascism, some suggest that "Now every revolution is likely to meet the attack of the most modern, most efficient, most ruthless machinery yet in existence. It means that the age of revolutions free to evolve according to their own laws is over" (47), but Arendt argues that recent history disagrees: "the gap between state-owned means of violence and what people can muster by themselves--from beer bottles to Molotov cocktails and guns--has always been so enormous that technical improvements make hardly any difference" (48). But we still hold this mistaken notion that revolutions are by design:
"In a contest of violence against violence the superiority of the government has always been the absolute; but this superiority lasts only as long as the power structure of the government is intact--that is, as long as commands are obeyed . . . Where commands are no longer obeyed, the means of violence are of no use; and the question of this obedience is not decided by the command-obedience relation but by opinion, and, of course, by the number of those who share it. . . . civil obedience . . . is but the outward manifestation of support and consent" (48-49).
This is similar to what Chomsky and Chris Hedges suggest: that a revolution isn't necessarily a matter of taking up arms, but a matter of refusing to obey, of refusing to allow the system to continue to work. It's harder to conceive of what that looks like, though. How do we begin?
"Even the most despotic domination we know of, the rule of master over slaves, who always outnumbered him, did not rest on superior means of coercion as such, but on a superior organization of power--that is, on the organized solidarity of the masters" (50). "In domestic affairs, violence functions as the last resort of power against criminals or rebels--that is, against single individuals who, as it were, refuse to be overpowered by the consensus of the majority" (51). Power needs legitimacy. "Power springs up whenever people get together and act in concert, but it derives its legitimacy from the initial getting together" (52).
Power and violence often appear together, and are related, but they're not the same: "violence can always destroy power, resulting in the most instant and perfect obedience. What never can grow out of it is power" (53).

At Berkeley, the National Guard used gas outlawed by the Geneva Convention. "Politically speaking, the point is that loss of power becomes a temptation to substitute violence for power" (54).

Terror: "Terror is not the same as violence; it is, rather, the form of government that comes into being when violence, having destroyed all power, does not abdicate but, on the contrary, remains in full control" (55).

"Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power's disappearance. (56)

To conclude Part II: Arendt disagrees with the "time-honored" opinion that "evil is but a temporary manifestation of a still-hidden good." She thinks that's a dangerous idea shared only "for the simple reason that they inspire hope and dispel fear--a treacherous hope used to dispel legitimate fear" (56).  So, violence can't be derived from power, which is its opposite, so to understand violence, we have to look for its roots.

ROOTS OF VIOLENCE: It's about class control, not nature

Konrad Lorentz published On Aggression in 1963, which put forth the sticky idea that humans are, like all other mammals, programmed by nature to be violent. Arendt argues that there's no point in discussing any link between animal and human behaviours. Even if it's natural to be violent, it doesn't give it any legitimacy. We can still think and plan in ways that other animals cannot, so we cannot use "natural instinct" as an excuse for our behaviour. People and animals can be aggressive,
"independent of provocation . . . lack of provocation apparently leads to instinct frustration, to 'repressed' aggressiveness, which according to psychologists causes a damming up of 'energy' whose eventually explosion will be all the more dangerous. . . . we are distinct from other animal species in nothing but the additional attribute of reason . . . 'reason' makes man a more dangerous beast" (61-62). "Hence science is called upon to cure us of the side effects of reason by manipulating and controlling our instincts, usually by finding harmless outlets for them after their 'life promoting function' has disappeared. The standard of behavior is again derived from other animals species. . . .the specific distinction between man and beast is now, strictly speaking, no long reason but science, the knowledge of these standards and the techniques applying them" (62-3).
Rage is "Only where there is reason to suspect that conditions could be changed and are not does rage arise. . . . Absence of emotions neither causes nor promotes rationality. . . . Rage and violence turn irrational only when they are directed against substitutes" (63).

She calls out recommendations to atone collectively for our crimes as a people:
"Where all are guilty, no one is; confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits, and the very magnitude of the crime the best excuse for doing nothing." So the claim that 'all white men are guilty' is not only "dangerous nonsense, but . . . serves quite effectively to give the very real grievances and rational emotions of the [offended or victimized] population an outlet into irrationality, an escape from reality" (65).
We can't solve the problem when we present it like this, as an attack by a group or a type of people. We have to acknowledge the individuals, specifically, if we hope to decrease violence.
"Not many authors of rank glorified violence for violence's sake; but those few--Sorel, Pareto, Fanon--were motivated by a much deeper hatred of bourgeois society and were led to a much more radical break with its moral standards than the conventional Left, which was chiefly inspired by compassion and a burning desire for justice" (65).
In Fanon's praise of violence he presented a view in which, "in this kind of struggle the people realize 'that life is an unending contest,' that violence is an element of life" (69). Violence is praised as a creative life force of producers, which then makes it a goal of individuals who see themselves as leaders and revolutionaries. He paints an image of bourgeois as complacent, bent on pleasure, without a will to power: "a late product of capitalism rather than its representative." These intellectual "theories are 'constructions' instead of 'expressions of the will.' . . . Sorel sees the worker as the 'producer,' who will create the new 'moral qualities, which are necessary to improve production.' . . . Except, "the new values turn out to be not very new. They are a sense of honor, desire for fame and glory, the spirit of fighting without hatred and 'without the spirit of revenge,' and indifference to material advantages. Still, they are indeed the very virtues that were conspicuously absent from bourgeois society" (70).

Sorel has significant insights about the motives that provoke people to glorify violence, ideas carried through by Fanon and Vilfredo Pareto, persuaded by the Dreyfus Affair in which, as often happens, the opposition used the same tactics of control they had just denounced. Again with Orwell's Animal Farm or, more recently, the ending of the Hunger Games series. But Arendt argues that there's something disastrous to his view since it's neither the managers nor the workers who have increased production in our times:
"The enormous growth of productivity in the modern world was by no means due to an increase in the workers' productivity, but exclusively the development of technology, and this depended neither on the working class nor on the bourgeoisie, but on the scientists. The 'intellectuals' . . . suddenly ceased to be a marginal social group and emerged as a new elite. . . . Its members are more dispersed and less bound by clear interests than groups in the old class system; hence, they have no drive to organize themselves and lack experience in all matters pertaining to power. . . . their potential power, as yet unrealized, is very great, perhaps too great for the good of mankind" (73).
"Biological justification of violence is closely connected with the most pernicious elements in our oldest traditions of political thought. . . . a concept of power equated with violence, power is expansionist by nature. It 'has an inner urge to grow'. . . . Revolutions, therefore, were directed against the established powers 'only to the outward view.' Their true 'effect was to give Power a new vigour and poise, and to pull down the obstacles which had long obstructed its development'. . . . Nothing, in my opinion, could be theoretically more dangerous than the tradition of organic thought in political matters by which power and violence are interpreted in biological terms" (75).
Sorel and Fanon and Lorenz lead us to talking about creation and destruction as two sides of the natural process, so violent action "may appear as natural a prerequisite for the collective life of mankind" (75).
"The danger of being carried away by the deceptive plausibility of organic metaphors is particularly great where the racial issue is involved. . . . Racism, as distinguished from race, is not a fact of life, but an ideology, and the deeds it leads to are not reflex actions, but deliberate acts based on pseudo-scientific theories. Violence in interracial struggle is always murderous, but it is not 'irrational'; it is the logical and rational consequence of racism . . . an explicit ideological system. Under the pressure of power, prejudices, as distinguished from both interests and ideologies, may yield--as we saw happen with the highly successful civil-rights movement, which was entirely nonviolent. But while boycotts, sit-ins, and demonstrations were successful in eliminating discriminatory laws and ordinances in the South, they proved utter failures and became counterproductive when they encountered the social conditions in the large urban centers--the stark needs of the black ghettos on one side, the overriding interests of white lower-income groups in respect to housing and education on the other. All this mode of action could do, and indeed did, was to bring these conditions into the open, into the street, where the basic irreconcilability of interests was dangerously exposed" (76).
"The riots are 'articulate protests against genuine grievances . . .  much the same is true for the backlash phenomena, which, contrary to all predictions, have not been characterized by violence up to now. It is the perfectly rational reaction of certain interest groups which furiously protest against being singled out to pay the full price for ill-designed integration policies whose consequences their authors can easily escape" (77).
This is something Marx described as well. The powerful will pit the powerless against one another so they end up fighting each other instead of looking at the very system that keeps them oppressed and hungry. It's a distracting tactic. A solid example she provides is around desegregation of schools, something most of us look back on with pride, but, "There are 535 members of Congress and a lot of theses liberals have children, too. You know how many send their kids to the public schools in Washington? Six" (101). Desegregation was another way to force greater competition between groups in the lower classes while having zero effect on the actual system - or people at the top of the system -  that maintains the class structure. It's not to say, however, that there aren't benefits to desegregation policies, of course, but that it's a small battle won that scarcely affected the war.  Look around at the incarceration stats and police brutality. To what extent has racism been resolved?


Here she gets at the complexity of issues that often goes unnoticed or is somehow beyond our scope. It's clarified for me, at least, how I'm sometimes guilty of looking at some economic issues too simplistically. I do generally think the best answer is the one that works best for the many in the long run, but that neglects the immediate impacts, which could be devastating for people involved:
"It goes against the very nature of self-interest to be enlightened. To take as an example from everyday life the current interest conflict between tenant and landlord: enlightened interest would focus on a building fit for human habitation, but this interest is quite different from, and in most cases opposed to, the landlord's self-interest in high profit and the tenant's in low rent. The common answer of an arbiter, supposedly the spokesman of 'enlightenment' namely, that in the long run the interest of the building is the true interest of both landlord and tenant, leaves out of account the time factor, which is of paramount importance for all concerned. . . . Near is my shirt, but nearer is my skin. . . . To expect people, who have not the slightest notion of what the res publica, the public thing, is, to behave nonviolently and argue rationally in matters of interest is neither realistic nor reasonable. Violence is rational to the extent that it is effective in reaching the end that must justify it. . . . . Violence . . . serves to dramatize grievances and bring them to public attention. . . . Sometimes 'violence is the only way of ensuring a hearing for moderation.' To ask the impossible in order to obtain the possible is not always counterproductive" (79).
Elites will give an inch so you'll forget the mile. They'll kowtow to the minor details of life, but continue to benefit from the greater injustices.
"No doubt, 'violence pays,' but the trouble is that it pays indiscriminately . . . since the tactics of violence and disruption make sense only for short-term goals, it is even more likely . . . that the established power will yield to nonsensical and obviously damaging demands . . . if only such 'reforms' can be made with comparative ease. . . . Moreover, the danger of violence . . . will always be that the means overwhelm the end. If goals are not achieved rapidly, the result will be not merely defeat but the introduction of the practice of violence into the whole body politic. . . . The practice of violence, like all action, changes the world, but the most probable change is to a more violent world" (80).
"The greater the bureaucratization of public life, the greater will be the attraction of violence. In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom one can argue, to whom one can present grievances, on whom the pressures of power can be exerted" (81).


I think this is one of the most important points she makes: a bureaucracy is a "tyranny without a tyrant" (81). It leads to a belief that these are just the rules we have to follow, nobody made them and nobody can effectively change them - the system never changes. It can't be fought against because it's not a thing, not an entity.
"On the level of ideologies, the whole thing is confusing; it is much less so if we start from the obvious fact that the huge party machines have succeeded everywhere in overruling the voice of the citizens, even in countries where freedom of speech and association is still intact" (81).
"The disintegration processes which have become so manifest in recent years--the decay of public services, schools, police . . . the death rate on the highways and the traffic problems in the cities; the pollution of air and water--are the automatic results of the needs of mass societies that have become unmanageable. They are accompanied and often accelerated by the simultaneous decline of the various party systems, all of more or less recent origin and designed to serve the political needs of mass populations--in the West to make representative government possible when direct democracy would not do any longer because 'the room will not hold all' (John Selden) and in the East to make absolute rule over vast territories more effective. Bigness is afflicted with vulnerability; cracks in the power structure of all but the small countries are opening and widening. And while no one can say with assurance where and when the breaking point has been reached, we can observe, almost measure, how strength and resiliency are insidiously destroyed, leaking, as it were, drop by drop from our institutions" (84).
"Moreover, there is the recent rise of a curious new brand of nationalism, usually understood as a swing to the Right, but more probably an indication of a growing, worldwide resentment against 'bigness' as such . . . the new, for America, experiment of centralized administration--the federal government overpowering state powers and executive power eroding congressional powers. It is as though this most successful European colony wished to share the fate of the mother countries in their decline, repeating in great haste the very errors of the framers of the Constitution had set out to correct and to eliminate. . . . its political result is always the same: monopolization of power causes the drying up or oozing away of all authentic power sources in the country" (85).
It's like she wrote this this morning!

She ends it like this:
"We do not know where these developments will lead us, but we know, or should know, that every decrease in power is an open invitation to violence--if only because those who hold power and feel it slipping from their hand, be they the government or be they the governed, have always found it difficult to resist the temptation to substitute violence for it" (87).
It's not to say that we should honour power in order to avoid violence, but that we have to be prepared to cope with violence whenever power structures are challenged.

ETA - I had never heard of Fanon before, now he's a featured topic in a new film, Luce.


Anonymous said...

Well, that was a great piece of work on your part! Thank you. Really enjoyable.

Going to have to digest it all so that the logic involved becomes more ingrained in my mind, because at first blush it explains so much to me. I'm a retired technical type so was never exposed to a decent bit of political philosophy.

There's another effect of specialization/compartmentalization, an example of which is the disdain we all felt as university engineering students back in the late 1960s towards people like those in the philosophy department. No real reason, just regular dumb folk exercising the usual foibles of having an opinion based on nothing of any import whatsoever, although I always wondered why Bertrand Russell was a mathematician.

Good stuff.


Marie Snyder said...

Thanks, BM. I'm still digesting it myself. There are so many further implications to her ideas here.

On Russell, when I was in uni, a couple profs encouraged me to do a PhD because I was really good at logic, and few people majoring in philosophy are naturally adept at formal logic because then they'd likely be very good at math. And if you're good at math, why in the world would you be majoring in philosophy! So there's that.