Wyatt’s the Long Love That in My Thought Doth Harbour
Siddhartha Biswas SOME OBSERVATIONS REGARDING VIOLENCE Frantz Fanon, ‘Concerning Violence’ National liberation, national renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to the people, commonwealth: whatever may be the headings used or the formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon. At whatever level we study it – relationship between individuals, new neames for sports clubs, the human admixture at cocktail parties, in the police, on the directing boards of national or private banks – decolonization is quite simply the replacing of a certain “species” or men by another “species” of men. You do not turn any society, however primitive it may be, upside down with such a program if you have not decided from the very beginning, that is to say from the actual foundation of that program, to overcome all the obstacles that you will come across in so doing. The native who decides to put the program into practice, and to become its moving force, is ready for violence at all times.
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From birth it is clear to him that his narrow world, strewn with prohibitions, can only be called in question by absolute violence. 2 Raymond Williams, ‘Keywords’ Violence is often now a difficult word, because its primary sense is of physical assault, as in “robbery with violence,” yet it is also used more widely in ways that are not easy to define.
If we take physical assault as sense (i) we can take a clear general sense (ii) as the use of physical force, including the distant use of weapons or bombs, but we have then to add that this seems to be specialized to “unauthorized” uses: the violence of a “terrorist” but not, except by its opponents, of an army, where “force” is preferred and most operations of war and preparation for war are described as “defence”; or the similar partisan range between “putting under restraint” or “restoring order,” and “police violence. We can note also a relatively simple sense (iii), which is not always clearly distinguished from (i) and (ii), as in “violence on television,” which can include the reporting of violent physical events but indicates mainly the dramatic portrayal of such events. The difficulty begins when we try to distinguish sense (iv), violence as threat, and sense (v), violence as unruly behavior. Sense (vi) is clear when the threat is of physical violence, but it is often used when the real threat or the real practice, is unruly behavior.
The phenomenon known as “student violence” included cases in senses (i) and (ii), but it clearly also included cases of sense (iv) and sense (v). The emotional power of the word can then be very confusing. 3 Walter Benjamin, ‘Critique of Violence’ For if violence is a means, a criterion for criticizing it might seem immediately available. It imposes itself in the question whether violence, in a given case, is a means to just or an unjust end.
A critique of it would then be implied in a system of just ends. This, however, is not so. For what such a system, assuming it to be secure against all doubt, would contain is not a criterion for violence itself as a principle, but, rather, the criterion for cases of its use. The question would remain open whether violence, as a principle, could be a moral means even to just ends. Frantz Fanon, ‘Concerning Violence’, ed Bruce B.
Lawrence and Aisha Karim, On Violence: A Reader, Duke University Press: Durham, 2007, p 79. 2 Lawrence and Karim 80. 3 Lawrence and Karim 181. 1 1 Siddhartha Biswas To resolve this question a more exact criterion is needed, which could discriminate within the sphere of means themselves, without regard for the ends they serve. 4 John Keane, ‘Thinking Violence’ Like all concepts in the human sciences, categories like violence are as dangerous as they are necessary.
They can be fatal for the imagination, in that they lull their users into a false sense of certainty about the world, seducing them into thinking that they ‘know’ it like the back of their hands; on the other hand, without any such categories, thinking is swamped, sometimes drowned, by the world’s otherwise unintelligible tides and waves and storms of events, people and things.
One way of escaping this dilemma, which undoubtedly grips political thinking about violence, is to build a measure of indeterminacy into the category of violence by defining it abstractly as an ‘idealtype’ – understanding it as an arbitrarily chosen, yet clearly defined term that seeks to redescribe the world in order to attune our senses to its complex political realities . . . 5 Charles Tilly, ‘Violence as Politics’ The mention of contemporary social movements should remind us of political actors whose voices have remained muted so far. Like their conomic counterparts, political entrepreneurs engage in various forms of brokerage: creating new connections between previously unconnected social sites. But they do more than link sites. They specialize in activating (and sometimes deactivating) boundaries, stories, and relations . . . They specialize in connecting (and sometimes disconnecting) distinct groups and networks . . . They specialize in coordination . . . 6 Political entrepreneurs complement and overlap with another significant type of political actor, the violent specialist.
Every government includes specialists in violence, people who control means of inflicting damage on persons and objects. The cast of characters varies considerably by type of government but commonly includes military personnel, police, guards, jailers, executioners, and judicial officers. . . . Plenty of specialists in violence, however, work outside of government. Some athletes – boxers, gladiators, bullfighters, and rugby players are obvious examples – specialize in doing damage.
Armed guards, private police, paramilitary forces, guerrilla warriors, terrorists, thugs, bandits, kidnappers, enforcers, members of fighting gangs, and automobile wreckers sometimes enjoy governmental protection, but usually operate outside government, even in defiance of government. . . . Lest we slip into thinking of violent specialists as driven by bloodlust, we should recognize that for most of the time the ideal outcome of a political interaction is to manipulate others without damaging anything.
The genuinely effective specialist deploys threats of violence so persuasively that others comply before the damage begins . . . To be sure, an occasional demonstration of ruthlessness solidifies a specialist’s reputation, and backing away from visible challenges damages a specialist’s credibility. 7 4 5 Lawrence and Karim 269. John Keane, Violence and Democracy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004, p 30. 6 Charles Tilly, The Politics of Collective Violence, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003, p 34. 7 Tilly 35-36 2