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There are major concepts, definitions, and themes addressed throughout Hannah Arendt’s attempt to deconstruct the various social movements and their political focus during the riots and protests of the 60s and 70s of the last century. This deconstruction is especially made clear with her clarifications regarding that time period’s violent upheavals in the name of Marxism, a philosophy she says in incompatible with violence altogether. The dichotomy Arendt outlines between Violence and Power however, will be the focus of this report. To further the paper’s emphasis, the definitions of what Violence and Power are will be examined within the structure of Arendt’s dichotomy. It will contrast Arendt’s definitions of power and violence in respect to related fields of study that attempt to reconcile the same concepts found within Arendt’s dichotomy and what potential implications this overall structure may have on various perspectives within the realm of politics.

The last paragraph of the book, there is a sentence written which states, “every decrease in power is an open invitation to violence.” Further, on page 56 Arendt writes, “Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent.” Here in lies a glimpse of the dynamic relationship that is portrayed in the book between power and violence. The level of violence determines the level of extant power and visa versa. Arendt claims that violence is not a component or tool of wielding power, as is traditionally regarded; but rather the “item” that fills the void when the essence of what power actually is has vanished from the scene. Therefore, the question we must ask is, what is Arendt’s definition of power? On page 44, power “corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert.” For example, within the field of Political Science, this type of definition of power can be seen as rather peculiar. The predominant, but not exclusively accepted definition of power, is the attempt to describe its essence (something that just exists) rather than identify it to any plausible action or concrete phenomenon.

Power, as recognized by various disciplines such as International Relations and Political Science, is the ability or official capacity to exercise control; authority. Arendt extends further her clarification of power by writing,

“Power is never the property of an individual: it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together.”[i] 

Arendt’s definition and subsequent description is a rather bold assertion against the prevailing current of power classifications within related fields of study. Violence on the other hand, outlined on page 46 “is distinguished by its instrumental character. Phenomenologically, it is close to strength, since the implements of violence, like all other tools, are designed and used for the purpose of multiplying national strength until in the last stage of development, they can substitute for it.” That violence is the aggregation of separate individuals whose “capacity of character” is proven to other individuals, hence an amalgam of capable and independent people.

Having outlined the definitions of the Power and Violence within the dichotomy, I will focus for the rest of the paper on the nature of this dual relationship. To reiterate Arendt’s assertion on page 56, “Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent.” One characteristic of power many relative fields and Arendt can agree upon is that power needs legitimacy, however the author uses this quality to distinguish her conception of power’s relation to violence from that of the more traditional normative. For example, power needs to be legitimate, but because power exists only when there is a legitimate foundation for it, violence as a tool becomes irrelevant and unnecessary. If violence was used in the framework of Clausewitz, under the wisdom of Arendt’s vision, in that, war is simply a continuation of policy by other means, then in reality the legitimacy of that pre-existing power has ceased (or failed) because it was unable to convince its subjects, citizens or neighbors of its right to maintain itself. Traditional norms within the body-politic have always considered violence to be a legitimate tool of those in power, rather than an indication of the established power’s lack of legitimacy. Therefore, where power starts to decline in being able to gain the majority’s acceptance to its rule, violence is the only other means of force that can fill that void where the power once stood.

There are many potential reasons as to why Arendt could have desired to deconstruct the traditional conceptions of Power and Violence in this manner. For one, she could have been concerned by the student protests gaining traction all across the globe in the wake of a devastating Vietnam war, straining the public’s patience; or she could have simply been attempting to clearly understand the forces at work around her. There is one reason I would like to suggest as to why she focused on this specific type of dichotomy. In the beginning chapters of the book she addresses the existence of new means of warfare, especially in regards to nuclear weapons. That violence (or war) as its capacity to produce destruction stands today, can no longer be understood as the traditional means to an end, or tool of power. Her claim, in regards to the existence of nuclear weapons and how the arsenals continue to grow in the name of security and deterrence, is that the means now overwhelm the ends. She quotes a Russian physicist on page 9 writing, “A thermonuclear war cannot be considered a continuation of politics by other means. It would be a universal suicide.” What is her goal then, in light of this indicated reality, in outlining the nature of the Power and Violence dichotomy?

Here may lie an underlying reason to Hannah Arendt’s attempt to portray a new picture on power, and on violence in a modern world of nuclear arsenals that could kill each person in the world a few times over. One motive I believe is potentially the attempt to make others aware of the fact that human rationality in understanding their behavior may not be able to keep pace with our species ability to create new forms of technology, especially when most of this technology is applicable to violence and war. Therefore, I would like to end this paper with a relevant joke.

There are two aliens that appear identical and are looking down at planet earth. The first alien asks the second, is there life on planet Earth, and if so what is it like? The second alien indicates that the more dominant of the species just invented thermo-nuclear, inter-stellar missile guidance systems. The first alien has another go at a question, “Are the humans an intelligent species?” The second alien gives out a loud chuckle and replies, “No, they pointed the missiles at themselves.”


[i] Arendt, Hannah. On Violence. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1974. Print. [page 44]

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 Is there any parallel between the Occupy movement and the Tea Party? Is it a drum circle of students who should be doing something more productive with their time? Both are relevant questions to ask when attempting to make any sense at all of the current “Occupy – insert name of city being occupied here” movement. For a week, haggard individuals from all over the region have camped out on the Rose Kennedy Greenway protesting corporate greed and economic inequality.

 

The proud thunderous proclamations of the protesters “wanting to show people what a real democracy looks like” are washed away when those very same voices say, “its not so much about the demands, but using a real democratic process,” whatever that actually means. The Teaparty grew out of similar discord with the status quo of government activity, yet the Occupy participants seem to be less organized, live where they protest, rely on outside and non participating supporters to assist them in basic hygiene, but are arguably just as frustrated and angry. Further, the Teaparty has an organized and cohesive response to demanding policies of responsible (low) taxation, as well as limit the power and size of government (the group is organized to the extent that they elected representatives to high office). The Occupy Movement preaches tax increases and the tenets of how corporations and rich people are inherently evil. Sounds messy, it is.

Therefore are these protesters drum-beating hipster students or are they something more? A good place to start would be at Northeastern University with the recent 12PM “walk-out” last week. Roughly 100 students from the university met on the Centennial Lawn to voice their grievances. One of the participants was quoted saying, “I am a typical Northeastern student,” as the press statement released from the walkout had numerous grammatical and spelling errors. One of the many mysteries revealed as to why they could be worried about their economic future.

From someone who currently is and will be employed after grdaution allow me to address some of my fellow peers comments and concerns. To Victoria Porell, no, students don’t have lobbyists, but when you work for a company, most likely that company will. If your economic interests are tied to the company you work for, and that company is competitive, chances are you will be represented just fine. In response to Alyssa the “I am a typical Northeastern student,” (no you are not), and your ‘How am I supposed to afford to live off of that?’ You went to college to get an education, acquire a talent or skill, and then seek an employer that would be able to afford investing in your ability to make the company succeed; how are you suppose to afford living off that mentality?

Lastly, to the future and fellow Political Scientist, Jon Pheonix’s, “College was supposed to be the be all, end all. The place where no matter how crazy your background, you go into college, you come out and you’re supposed to be guaranteed entry into the middle class.” The be all and end all is you, not college and certainly not how “crazy” your background in college was for the past four years, whatever you might have been doing. Ultimately, if the United States of America is to have another century of a strong and prosperous future, for all of its citizens, its youth must abandon resorting to its fears rather than its strengths in a time of calling and of crisis.

Making my way to the Boston Harbor Hotel, I found myself suddenly surrounded by the new fashionable style of protesting called “Occupy –insert name of place being occupied here-“. In this instance “Occupy Boston” happened to be huddled into a small public park across the street from South Station and the Federal Reserve building. As I made my way past the encampment of disillusioned youth, I heard announcements about utilizing the “meditation tents” from the “spiritual committee” and what appeared to be a well groomed, corporately-dressed supporter boldly claiming, “we are not so much focused on the demands, but using a real democratic process,” whatever that actually means, or how it is to be accomplished is still to be determined.

Looking around I had to ask myself what was the main objective of this ad-hoc gathering that seemed to have invaded a taxpayer funded public park (which is now completely in shambles, muddied, and the grass almost non-existent as a result of the 50 or so tents amassed within the narrow space). I could not discern any real, or articulated objective to which their protestations had been formed upon. As I continued, pass the bags of garbage that had piled up along the sidewalk, there were cardboard signs that read, “stop the budget cuts,” and, “fight the rich not their wars.” I could not help but wonder why these people, mostly students from hardworking and even some well to do families, have decided to protest soldiers who volunteered to serve and protect our nation in new era of global reality that was shown to us on September 11th 2001. It is most certainly the optimal time for us as Americans to rally together and grow as a nation, but instead these mostly troubled students in the very prime and flower of youth are resorting to their fears rather than their strengths.

The most alarming quality of these protests was the incoherence and lack of organization by these various citizens, many of whom were not even from Boston. There was no cohesive communal funding, the pizza deliveryman was becoming frustrated as the protestors figured out who was to pay for the forty pizzas and with what money; and the chaos continued.  Once past the area of the protestors, continuing on my trek to the hotel with the cannabis odor subsiding, thoughts rushed through my head as to what this means for us as a nation. Is wealth being used to undermine the democratic process, as one of the aggrieved shouted into the microphone? Are all the problems we face today the result of a specific type of corporatist philosophy?  One sign vividly stood out in my mind long after I witnessed the protest, which read, “The American Dream is in Debt,” but is it really?

These young protestors should take heed to five relative realities of life in respect to their grievances as they sit in these muddied quarters. First, in China the government would never have awarded the permit to protest, nor would their people have time to assemble, as they are busy working two, three, sometimes even four jobs to provide security and comfort for their family and contribute to economic productivity.  Second, in order to help the cause of wanting to pay more taxes, find a job first so the government will have a reason to take money from you. Third, when and if you do find a job, realize you will actually have to use some sort of talent or skill so the employer can adequately rationalize why they should pay you money; or in other words, jobs are the result of people being invested in for their capabilities and talents. Fourth, being gender-neutral is not all that it is hyped up to be, or even beneficial for a meaningful and productive society. I do not see how it is insulting for a man to be “classified” as the ‘provider for others’, and the women as ‘nurturers and caregivers’. Of course there is a serious subconscious psychological component I must be missing as to why an individual would feel inferior to someone who provides or to someone who loves well, but again it is probably another corporatist conspiracy (I must have lost that plot). Last but not least, my fifth piece of advice to these protestors is to lose the sense of entitlement, and all the destructive qualities that accompany it. Great achievements are the result of calculated hard work, and not from an incessant complaint to an alleged offender. Do you honestly want to embody the methods of spoiled and disillusioned children? Who can respect that?