State, Violence, and Global Order
Over on the front page, Tim Kowal offers a considered meta-observation of how American power functions in the world:
True, America wields a big stick in the world. But it wields it clumsily, taking imprecise whacks at different ideas for different reasons. Despite an economic and military might that would make any dictator green with envy, the structural dysfunction our Constitutional democracy imposes renders our government chronically unenergetic, inefficient, and ultimately incapable of acting like a totalitarian.
Kowal writes in response to Robert Kagan’s new book The World America Made, specifically Kagan’s musings on the global costs of a decline in America’s military power. Like Tim, I’m nowhere near remotely qualified to comment informatively on the particulars military policy. Even a meta-observation is beyond my capacity to offer. Instead, I’d like to raise a question related to the underlying theme of Kagan’s book and Tim’s post: is state violence, specifically the exercise of military power, necessary for establishing and preserving global order?
For the record, I ask this question as someone who quite rightly passes for a peacenik; I maintain that war can never be “just.” War must always be an evil and a moral failure, even when circumstances render it the only rational option for the protection of life and freedom. Killing is always an injustice; murder gravely so. War involves both. I desire a world without war. I long for a time when all war can be outlawed by international consent. I have no faith in war to plant the soil for a lasting peace. Peace is rather the fruit of solidarity and development.
It would seem, then, that my answer to the question would be “No.” To my dismay, I’m not sure I can say that. History, at least, speaks otherwise. The pacifist refusal to embrace violence profits those willing to use it. So Paul Ricoeur reminded us. He also observed, following the insights of Machiavelli, that “the State is that reality which up to now has always included murder as the condition of its existence, of its survival, and first of all, of its inception.”
It is here, at the point where I am prone to despair for an end to war, at the stage where my faith in humanity floats away like a dead body in the water, that my hope for the future becomes distinctly religious. My hope for the reconciliation of human persons cannot be a hope in any human power. Human intelligence and ingenuity can secure order, but they cannot bring peace. They can punish and protect, but they cannot save or sanctify. If there is hope for peace, it must come from elsewhere.
You can’t have a world without war. But you can have a world in which you don’t personally participate in war.
It is possible to be drug into war aginst your will. Ignoring something does not make it go away.
You may have a world in which you individually and in a social organization work for an end to war.
Very similar to the dilemma you posed in your last bog. Is this a recurrent theme with you? I prefer to believe that only the threat of military action should be enough to ensure global order. In fact, the case could be made that by flexing our own military muscle, the US has only revealed the weaknesses in its ability to police the world. Perhaps The Princess Bride is a poor analogy but I cannot help but think of Wesley’s over-aggresive challenges (“To the Pain!”) to the Prince and Humperdinck’s resulting surrender as a perfect illustration.
Epistemological uncertainty is definitely a pet theme of mine. Lately I’ve been interested in the topic as it relates to ethics, politics, and religion.
For all our other disagreements on this family of issues, I find myself exactly in accordance with your last two paragraphs.
Oh. I better rethink them then. 😉
Exactly. That’s why I thought I should let you know.
“The pacifist refusal to embrace violence profits those willing to use it.”
Wouldn’t Jesus perhaps respond to that with something like, “Yes. So, what’s your point?”
Pacifism doesn’t prevent state violence; it participates in the system of violence and may even encourage it.
“Pacifism doesn’t prevent state violence; it participates in the system of violence and may even encourage it.”
All of which has what to do with Jesus? The question is: Are you going to let the prince of this world make you over in his image? or are you going to allow the Prince of Peace to make you over in His?
IF my kingdom were of this world, THEN my people would fight.
The refusal to return violence with violence has consequences: namely the perpetuation of violence. If you choose pacifism, understand and appreciate those consequences.
As for what this has to do with Jesus, we could ask 1) whether or not/to what extent Jesus encouraged the violence that was brought upon him and 2) what that means for the efficacy of his approach and for the betterment of the world.
I don’t believe that Jesus was concerned–at all–with “the betterment of the world.” The individual was to be concerned with the state of his soul. The world was a lost cause, consigned to the devil until such time as it would be totally destroyed and replaced with the Kingdom.
So, what, the beatitudes have nothing to do with being in the world?
KC, I am sitting here trying to understand how pacifism encourages state violence. Could you expand it so I have a clue as to what you are saying?
Say you have two states, one intent on invading a subjugating the other. If the belligerent state believes that the other will fight back, it may think twice about attacking. If it knows or suspects that the other will not put up a fight, but do nothing militarily in response, then it’s more likely to attack. In short, the threat of military force acts as a check upon the force of others. You remove that check, then you’re risk implicitly encouraging violence.
None of which is to say that violence itself doesn’t breed violence. It does.
If the other state knows you won’t fight back, it doesn’t need to attack. It just tells you how things are gonna be.
Telling you how things are going to be requires a political apparatus. How do you establish that political apparatus? With violence.
The Beatitudes have to do with perfecting the self. But many are called and few are chosen. Jesus never taught, or anticipated, that the majority of men would practice perfect love or that the world would be saved through its gradual improvement. Jesus preached that the current world would abruptly end and a new world take its place–populated by “the few” who had prepared themselves to be ready for that abrupt ending.
“How do you establish that political apparatus? With violence.”
There only needed to be violence if those told what to do object to those orders violently. And, even if there is gratuitous violence on the part of the new masters, there is no need for it to be enlarged by a violence reaction. Again, martyrdom is a possible choice, if it comes to that. This is what Jesus taught. At no time did He ever offer violence as the loving response, or offer any response other than love as the choice favored by God.
I see it differently. If someone objects non-violently, the state will threaten with some form of compulsion, fines, jail, etc., this time secure in the knowledge that the objector will not resist.
At least, I think that’s a plausible scenario. Some states might act differently, carving out exemptions for conscientious objectors to one or more facets of the state project. Even then, it’s possible to argue there’s a presumption that the state is granting the exemption, or is suffering disobedience or objection in the name of fairness, or justice. I’m not sure that’s the only argument out there, but it’s one that comes to mind.
The pacifist refusal to embrace violence profits those willing to use it. So Paul Ricoeur reminded us.
Anscombe argues for this point, too, although I’m sure that since she wasn’t a pacifist and Ricoeur was that their arguments are somewhat different. (Anscombe’s argument was, more or less, that pacifism was, theoretically speaking, realpolitik trying to play nice, and by so being stripped itself of any answer, beyond mere denial, to people who appealed in realpolitical terms to necessity.) I seem to recall Ricoeur talking about this in terms of the lead-up to WWII; is that what you had in mind?
Ricoeur addresses these points in his essays “Non-violent Man and History” and “State and Violence,” both of which appear in the book History and Truth. Here’s a relevant quote:
“Failing to consider the broadest dimensions of violence, pacifism thinks itself humane and benign. It believes it is already in the world, that it has come from the world, the result of the natural goodness of man which is simply masked or hindered by some few evildoers. It is not aware that it is actually very complicated, that it has history against it, that it can only come from elsewhere, that it summons history to something other than what is naturally intended by history.
Thus the violence which one refuses to embrace turns to the profit of another violence which the former did not prevent or perhaps even encouraged. Hence if non-violence is not have any meaning, it must fulfill it within the history which it at first transcends. It must have a secondary efficacity which enters into account with the efficacity of the violence in the world, an efficacity which alters human relationships.”
At the risk of being trite, the “something” from “elsewhere” that is needed to transcend history and give meaning to non-violence is (unconditional) love. One needs to be ready to die, rather than to kill, if those are the only two choices. This is difficult, but possible. History without war is arguably not possible. Therefore, one’s goal should be–as an individual–to transcend ideas such as nation and history, even family if necessary, in order to choose the Good, which is love, and which entails non-violence.
My next post will deal with this theme.
There is a real sense according to which Christianity (or, as I prefer, discipleship) is a religion of slaves. Having come to that realization, the question becomes: should I accept this condition as a gift? Or should I rebel against it (like Lucifer, perhaps?)
One often needs to be ready for other people do die, too. A pacifist who argues against military intervention to prevent a genocide needs to acknowledge that if his or her argument is successful, innocent people will die.
“…if his or her argument is successful, innocent people will die.”
This is a possibility that must be acknowledged up front. The consolation is that if that happens, unlike their killers, they will have died innocent.
I feel much more sympathy for the pacifist giving up their own life, than for them arguing for someone else to give up their innocent life.
I think I disagree with the last clause of the last sentence. I get that the offenses need come, and the woe goes to him by whom the offense cometh. But those who enable the offense, in my opinion, bear some of the blame. Maybe it boils down to something analogous to our fallen nature–without grace, we cannot but choose sin–at least that’s my preferred analogy. Some people come out cleaner than others, but nobody comes out clean.
The state was birthed in violence, lives violently, and dies a violent death.
More importantly, the state is not an entity with its own fully independent existence–it is a meta-entity that is composed of and operated by humans. As long as the human propensity to violence exists, there will be times when the only effective response is further violence. Non-violence can work only against semi-domesticated state actors, so all we can do is hope for a future where all state actors are semi-domesticated.
I’m intrigued by the adjective “semi-domesticated.” Can you describe that further?
Lawful Evil has more constraints upon itself than Chaotic Evil, as well as just any manner of simple beasties.
I’m intrigued by the adjective “semi-domesticated.” Can you describe that further?
Hmm, it’s kind of an off-the-cuff thought. Harvey Mansfield wrote a book called Taming the Prince: The Ambivalence of Modern Executive Power, which touches on the necessity of executive power in government, but the need to constrain it. And following Weber’s definition of government as having a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, we know that all governments are based in force, with the value of democracy and the rule of law being that it places constraints on that use of force (shrinking the Venn diagram circle of what counts as legitimate, I suppose).
So to some extent we’ve domesticated government, but we can never fully domesticate it. It always remains a dangerous thing that isn’t fully within our ability to control. Sort of like Siegfried and Roy’s white tigers.
Semi-domesticated is the best we can achieve–full domestication is not possible, and non-domestication is suicide.
“Maybe it boils down to something analogous to our fallen nature–without grace, we cannot but choose sin–at least that’s my preferred analogy. Some people come out cleaner than others, but nobody comes out clean.”
But, where do you draw the line? How many would you kill in order to save one innocent person? Under what circumstances is it permitted to do evil so that good might result?
What you say is quite sensible, by the pragmatic logic of the fallen world. But I continue to maintain that Jesus would not approve it as a course of action. If we don’t care what Jesus taught (and requires of His followers), then by all means–homicide is the best choice, always.
I’m not sure what Jesus would have approved of. Outside of the New Testament (and I haven’t read the whole thing, I admit), my own reflection, and others’ reflectinos, I have little to go on when it comes to knowing.
One of the purposes of my comment was to highlight one of the dangers of doing right, doing so feeds our pride, and creates the danger that we might think we are a god unto ourselves.
Now, I admit that although I did say that, that was not all I said and that I am in a sense moving, or at least tweaking the goal posts. And my analogy breaks down when it comes to right action even if one concedes that in a sense, we are all fallen creatures. I certainly don’t intend to argue that “homicide is the best choice, always” any more than I would insist on asking “how many innocent persons would you allow to die without killing one guilty person?” At the same time, perhaps you are not accusing me so much of saying that “homicide is the best choice, always” as you are pointing out that you see that claim as a logical outcome of what I say.
You might have a point. I don’t know where I’d draw the line. I don’t support military intervention to stop the Lord’s Resistance Army and I didn’t support military intervention into Darfur. And who knows what I would have done if I were British and it were 1938? And those are supposed to be the “no-brainer” options for someone who takes my non-pacifist position.
There is a huge difference between enlightened self interest and belligerence. America today sends “you must do it our way” to many of the world’s countries. I prefer nonviolence but realize that violence is sometimes necessary, but does America need to be the instigator? Iran is next on our list of countries the neocons want to bring down and I feel that our track record of fixing countries in the last few years has not been worth the money let alone the blood.
The above sentences are disjointed and don’t hold together well but what I an trying to say is that I am getting the idea that you are saying that pushing violence is okay. America has put her milatary might into many countries and the blood letting continues. I am tired of the wars. I became tired of war during Vietnam and really haven’t changed much since then. Who really benefits from our violence except the corps. It surely wasn’t the three guys from my high school that were killed in Asia.
I am getting the idea that you are saying that pushing violence is okay.
Not at all. Pushing lethal violence is never “okay.” War is always a moral failure. It can never be justified. That being said, pacifism, the refusal to return violence with the violence, still results in violence, even encouraging it, and so it is no bloodless option. When faced with violence, the choices one has are all bloody.
One thing Locke had going for him was noting the difference between man in the state of War and man in the state of civilization.
One ought never to go to war. If war is brought upon you, you are no longer in the state of civilization: you fight to win, and win quickly. With all the ugliness that implies. The only way for the horror of war a to end is for the warriors to die, as it never leaves them, and those who grew up without the war to replace those who grew up during it.
The quicker it is over, the fewer people who experience it, the better off humanity is.
The quicker it is over, the fewer people who experience it, the better off humanity is.
In one sense I agree with this, but in another I don’t. At least, I wonder if American politicians would be so quick to declare war if they themselves had experienced its horrors.