The Function of Violence

Hannah Arendt has a short book called On Violence that appears to be the closest thing she ever wrote to a pamphlet or zine for mass distribution. In the middle of the book is a glossary of sorts for some key concepts that get thrown around in political discourse haphazardly: power, strength, force, authority, and violence. I understand her desire to set the matters straight on these words’ meaning as an attempt to prevent political actors, people willing to take meaningful and directed political action, from falling into ideologically sterile beliefs or patterns of behavior that would disable that political action from taking effect. Continue reading “The Function of Violence”

Judith Butler: Public assembly and plural action

A Judith Butler talk on the right of public assembly and the idea of popular sovereignty. Beyond the statist forms of representation, the performance of appearing in public (with thanks to Hannah Arendt) as the enactment of a people seeking to constitute themselves – the always sought after “we”. The difficulties in a politics of appearing in public come from the mediating technologies of representing such an assembled body; the prison, which blocks much of the population from appearing; police/state violence; and privatization, which subjects public spaces to market forces.

the anthropo.scene

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Lightning Thoughts on Hannah Arendt: On Revolution

Novelty and freedom (as in freedom found in a city or isonomy) for revolution. The beginning, the foundation: desire for something new by way of radically inventive action. Revolution must contain a difference that transcends a negative criticism (dialectical necessity) and breaks away from the very framework of the (+,-) opposition available. Must utilize negative criticism for positive change, avoiding the traps of reintegration of the negative back into the (altered) whole and outright suppression; a new body. Will general assemblies, town-halls, and councils be forever a “new” organizational body if a history is done of them? What makes them novel if they keep recurring?

The need for a change, a break from dominant political power scheme must not be prepared by a scientific necessity, theoretical program, or seen as a moment in a cycle of history. This pushes the past onto the future when predicting the future is so very hard and un-absolute. History should be conceived as a story, not a formula. History (the past) is not a science. This would repeat the power structure of the past without a courage to discriminate against one’s present circumstance.

The impulse to the eternal, to find the truth or God, an origin or an enduring principle uncover-able in all things; this must be handled in a paradoxical way so as to promote action. For the action element requires its supplement (theory) to be non-totalizing and non-absorbing if the action is to break with the prevailing hegemony. Action can reflect the current of theories, mirror their principle movement and structure as they are written, delivered/received. For the act to be new (not totally brand-new – this gives rise to necessity/freedom debacle) but challenging and foundational (new in context to an intolerable present), theory must be obscure and open to interpretation, non-predictive and inconclusive as to next steps, i.e. ’the difference of EVERY moment’ ’the novelty common to ALL acts’.

Violence of state beginnings, the myth of violent (law-giving) birth

State “peace-keeping” force too strong (really this time), need revolution from within without ’non-violent’ principle to limit and divide in two (binary logic). Confrontation to show we’re serious, but violence must be reversed and made unambiguous.

Must establish a model for Political decision making within a critical community that simultaneously critiques surrounding powers limiting its free expression while checking power grabbing within itself. (It does not matter that it’s outcomes don’t restructure the greater world attacking it; for should the revolutionary energy become an army of the poor or slaves and so seek to cut off the head and start over in the name of “freedom”, the other surrounding powers to this country (whichever it may be) would be able to carve it up for their own purposes on the larger international scene. (Total Global revolution of communists theory understand this) A power vacuum would ensue that would lead to another great terror, seeing how the rage of the oppressed and poor would only destroy and not create a new nation. Power grabbing corrupts.)
Would it be this bad though today as it was in the French Revolution? Egypt, Tunisia and others??? have shown regime change is possible from a revolutionary uprising… Is regime change enough? What is the goal, Democracy? Who has that?
The constitutional, nation/community building exercise of revolutions though that draws people together under threat of a common enemy to make decisions as a body: this can create a new will. It will antagonize the dominant powers they reject as defunct and unresponsive to their needs/desires, but without a direct military assault. A confrontation and struggle on land yes, but a replacement for the current national leaders would only lead to more destruction. The power structure as it is is not fought over but rejected on their size and inescapability. There will be battles, but as a weak power seeking a new world inside of one that inflicts such misery, the critical community challenges power as well as creates new political bodies. A generator of critique that can also critique itself: exposing the top of power as well as safeguarding its own participants from climbing the ladder of power that only corrupts. Not in the traditional constitution making process of revolutions that limits public government’s infringement on individuals (Arendt), but an opening of a space for group empowerment. This is no pep-rally for self-esteem though, this is collective consensus reaching on actions that have genuine effects on power establishments. The constitutional “we the people” founded a nation, but this other “we” (other) is not so clearly designated. The members I speak of may come and go, the body is not written and bounded by written laws that set universal limits. A law commands it’s people to act within guidelines but the principles here are more like a heightened awareness for power checking and the stubbornness to challenge all power – critique. A negative sentiment that is against a lot, but the positive thing it is for is in the making – it is the sum of the relations forged by the struggle.
With no goal for power, no object of desire like a demand, this novel “we” disrupts and shakes the ground that corruption stands on without appropriating that ground and building anything on top of it. “We” cannot be accommodated, for nobody is sure WHAT we want (there is no object), and the inherent tendencies for power that characterize all groups and their members are checked in open discussion. A constitution is foregone in place of regular assemblies where transparency is demanded and all can voice their concerns/criticisms of both the enemy (as many-faced as the “we” – capitalism is not the only thing) and the process for the assembly/satellite groups. The critique goes both ways, within and outside, ensuring (or trying to) that power-over is deflected. All this body can do is grow or be crushed by existing forces; but it is radically different from those forces.
Some internal critiques: without the energy, the momentum, the intense wave of outrage fueling a movement, will the critique become attacks on each other? Without the space to argue in public and have the opportunity to convince each other, will our differences fester and lead to hostile camps vying for control? Are the space (territory) and the critique both required? What will compel the masses to keep coming?