On Violence , war , and power, in the West.
Notes for my students of Peace and Global Studies, at Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, USA, spring 2004
The first western theoretical thinking on violence as an independent topic was Georges Sorel’s : Reflections on Violence (in French 1906)—(New York 1961 in English)…In his introduction to the first edition Sorel wrote: “the problems of violence still remain very obscure” …Historians and statesmen and philosophers have always acknowledged the tremendous role that violence plays in human affairs , yet strangely, prior to the late sixties ,violence has rarely been singled out as a phenomenon to comprehend in its own terms.. To many , such a study seemed inescapable ( in the late sixties) in view of the war question ( Indochina , nuclear doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction),the world wide rebellion on the university campuses ( what was called in Europe the Spring Revolution of 1968), and the growing appeal of violent action in the ranks of the New Left at that time.. ”!! Hannah Arendt in her excellent book “on violence”(HBJ 1969) mentioned the general reluctance to deal with violence as a phenomenon on its own right , but noticed that “if we turn to discussions of the phenomenon of power, we soon find that there exists a consensus among political theorists from Left to Right to the effect that violence is nothing more than most flagrant manifestation of power “(p.35).. C. Wright Mills said :”all politics is a struggle for power , the ultimate kind of power is violence” (the power elite, New York,1956,p.171), echoing as it were ,Max Weber’s definition of the state as “the rule of men over men based on the means of legitimate ,that is allegedly legitimate , violence .”(Max Weber in the first paragraph of his “Politics as a Vocation”,1921).
Weber (according to Arendt) seems to have been aware of his agreement with the Left .He quotes in the context Trotsky’s remark in Brest-litovsk”, Every state is based on violence,” and adds”, this is indeed true”….To equate political power with “the organization of violence” makes sense only if one follows Marx’s estimate of the state as an instrument of oppression in the hands of the ruling class.( Arendt,p.36).
Bertrand de Jouvenel (Power: the natural history of its growth, in French 1945—English translation :London 1952) sees war as “ an activity of States which pertains to their essence”(p.122).. This prompt us to ask whether the end of warfare, then, would mean the end of states. Would the disappearance of violence in relationships between states spell the end of power?(Arendt p.36). (( here we have a large field of contemplation and research and study about the definitions , borders , and nuances when speaking of concepts of : Power , Authority ,Force , Strength , in relation with the idea of the Nation-State as sole tenant of Legitimate Violence ( according to Weber’s definition as well as Marx’s )…Please think about it : it is an excellent topic for a Final Research Project !!!
It is interesting here to quote Adam Smith (Theories of Nationalism,London:Duckworth,1971) who sees the Nation-State as “the norm of modern political organization. .It is the almost unquestionable foundation of world order , the main object of individual loyalties , the chief definer of a man’s identity…It permeates our outlook so much that we hardly question its legitimacy today”(p.2)… But it would be a mistake to suppose that the legitimacy of the nation state has never been seriously questioned …Pacifism and Anarchism , both , challenged the Nation-State.. Pacifism was the Ideology and Movement that has resisted an institution closely related to the development of the nation-state :challenging the right of the state to engage in, and conscript its citizens for , war. Anarchism was more radical : it challenges not merely the nation-state right to make war , but also its very right to exist…
The word pacifism was coined ( as recently as 1901) to refer to all those who opposed war and worked to create or maintain peace between nations…In Anglo-American usage ,”pacifist” has the narrower meaning in which it refers to those whose opposition to war takes the form of refusing personally to take part in it or support it. Such persons have also usually opposed all overt violence between human beings , though not the covert violence , usually referred to as “force”, the kind used by police. PACIFICIST is perhaps the more appropriate term to convey the broader meaning…”pacificists” may support the use of military forces in ‘peace-keeping” operations, whereas “pacifists” are generally “anti-militarists”…Historically , anti-militarism is associated with the belief that most modern wars are fought in the interests of ruling classes…in the late 19th and early 20th centuries , before socialist parties controlled any states , many socialists were anti-militarists and some socialist leaders were pacifists..( see the film “Rosa Luxemburg”)..In practice ,”pacifism”, ”pacificism” and “anti-militarism” often overlap , but the terms do stand for fairly distinct orientations.
The intellectual origins of Western pacifism are firmly rooted in the beliefs of religious sects… the first one is the followers of Jesus ( see the Sermon on the Mount to understand Jesus’ doctrine of “nonresistance to evil”…First Christians refused military service …The eclipse of this early Christian pacifism came with the conversion of Constantine who in 313 (A.D or C.E) made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire…with the sect ( Christianity) transformed into a church allied to the state, St Augustine 354-430 AD) enunciated a new doctrine : the clergy were to be totally dedicated to God and to live accordingly, but the laity were to fulfill the normal obligations of subjects. He also developed the doctrine of the “just war” which later , St Thomas Aquinas ( 1225-1274) elaborated.
In the Middle Ages several heretical sects , notably the Waldensians , the Cathari, and the Czech Brethren of the Law of Christ , challenged the new orthodoxy , and espoused pacifist ideas.( See them on the Internet or consult any Encyclopedia).
But the real beginning of the modern pacifism dates from the Reformation of the 16th century , and especially to those who came to be known as the Anabaptists…( Try to search and see for the groups of Anabaptists , the Hutterites , the Mennonites , the Quakers , the Brethren , the Amish and others….).
The first man to use the term : Anarchy , was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon ( 1808-1865) , naming a society without government.. The classical anarchist movement which he initially inspired and which was further developed by Michael Bakunin ( 1814-1876) and Peter Kropotkin(1842-1921) , formed an integral , if contentious part of the wider socialist movement from the 1840s to 1939.
Saoud EL Mawla