Theories of violence in political science

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The study of violence in political science is a field of research that examines the different forms of violence, their origins, causes and consequences in the political context. Violence can take many forms, such as physical violence, symbolic violence, structural violence, political violence and so on. Understanding these different forms of violence and their role in politics is essential for analysing conflicts, social movements, governance and international relations.

Classical theories of violence are important to study for several reasons. First, they provide the theoretical foundations for our understanding of violence in the social sciences. They established the concepts and analytical frameworks used in the contemporary study of violence. By understanding these classical theories, we have a solid basis for addressing issues of violence in a broader context. In addition, these classical theories offer a historical perspective on issues of violence. They emerged at different periods in the history of social and political thought, and thus allow us to understand how ideas about violence have evolved over time and shaped current approaches. The concepts and terminology introduced by classical theories of violence are also essential to study. For example, the distinction between direct and structural violence proposed by Johan Galtung is fundamental to understanding the different forms of violence and their impact. By studying these theories, we gain an in-depth knowledge of these concepts and their application in the analysis of contemporary violence. It is also important to critically examine classical theories of violence. By studying them, we are able to question their assumptions and limitations. This critical approach encourages the development of new theories and new perspectives on violence, thus contributing to the evolution of knowledge in this field. Finally, the classic theories of violence remain relevant today. Although some of them may seem dated, many of the concepts and ideas they developed are still useful for understanding the dynamics of contemporary violence. By studying these theories, we can establish links between the ideas of the past and the realities of today, enabling us to gain a better understanding of contemporary issues relating to violence.

The study of classical theories of violence is essential to gaining an in-depth understanding of this complex phenomenon. They provide the theoretical foundations, historical perspective, key concepts and analytical frameworks needed to understand the nature and implications of violence in different contexts. They also play an important role in the development of new knowledge and new approaches to preventing and resolving problems of violence.

Etymology of the word "violence"[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Etymology, the study of the origin and evolution of words, can shed light on political science thinking about the concept of violence. By examining the etymological roots and meanings of terms related to violence, we can better understand the different conceptions and interpretations of this complex phenomenon.

For example, the word "violence" itself derives from the Latin "violentia", meaning "excessive force" or "violence". This root highlights the idea of violent action that goes beyond acceptable limits. The etymology of this term therefore suggests a notion of constraint or coercion exercised in an excessive manner. Similarly, the etymology of certain other words associated with violence can also offer interesting insights. For example, the word 'aggression' comes from the Latin 'aggressio', meaning 'to attack'. This underlines the idea of an offensive action or attack against others. By studying the etymology of this term, we can better understand the intentional and offensive nature of certain violent behaviours. Etymology can also reveal nuances in the different forms of violence. For example, the term "symbolic violence", popularised by the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, highlights the symbolic or non-physical dimension of certain forms of violence. The etymology of the word "symbol" refers to the idea of "putting together", underlining the importance of symbols, representations and cultural practices in perpetuating social and political violence. By studying the etymology of words associated with violence, political science researchers can deepen their understanding of the conceptions and implications of this phenomenon. This can help them to analyse political discourse, decode implicit meanings and examine the different dimensions of violence, whether physical, symbolic, structural or political. Ultimately, etymology can contribute to a better understanding of violence in the field of political science by shedding light on the origins and deeper meanings of the terms used to describe it.

The etymology of the word 'violence' goes back to the Latin word 'violentia' meaning 'excessive force' or 'violence'. However, it is also relevant to note that the French word "violence" is closely related to the word "violer" which appeared in the 11th century and is derived from the Latin "violare". The word "violer" implies an attack on a person's integrity, whether physically, morally or in terms of their very being. This connotation of violating integrity reinforces the notion of violence as an act that transgresses acceptable limits and harms others. It highlights the profound dimension of violence, going beyond the simple notion of excessive physical force to encompass moral, psychological and existential aspects. This underlines the importance of considering violence as an attack on the whole person, affecting his or her dignity, safety and well-being. By examining the etymology of the word "violence" and its relationship with the word "rape", we gain a better understanding of the seriousness and profound impact of violence on individuals and societies. It also reinforces the importance of analysing the different forms of violence and their multidimensional consequences in the field of political science.

Over time, the meaning of the term expanded to encompass not only attacks on personal integrity, but also abuses of force and actions contrary to norms and good conventions. In the 13th century, the term "violence" began to be associated with the abuse of force. This meant that violence was no longer limited to the use of excessive force, but also encompassed the use of force for purposes contrary to norms and good conventions. This highlights the normative aspect of violence, emphasising that certain violent actions are perceived as being in contradiction with the ethical, moral or legal principles of society. This extension of the meaning of the word "violence" to include actions that are contrary to good conventions underlines the importance of the social and cultural context in understanding violence. Norms and conventions vary from society to society, and what may be considered violent in one culture may not be in another. This evolution in the meaning of violence is relevant. It highlights the importance of taking social norms, values and conventions into account when analysing political violence. Actions that are perceived as violent can vary according to societal expectations and established political norms.

The introduction of the verb "to violate" from 1342 onwards reinforces the idea that violence implies an intentional action. The verb "violenter" indicates that there is an action in progress, thus underlining the active dimension of violence. It emphasises that violence is the result of a deliberate intention to act abruptly and immediately towards another person. This notion of intentionality emphasises that violence is not simply the product of chance or accidental circumstances, but that it is the result of a deliberate desire to harm, dominate or coerce others. It implies a certain aggressiveness in action, with a desire to obtain immediate and often coercive results. The appearance of the adjective "violently" and the expression "to do violence" further confirms that violence is associated with a specific action. The adjective "violently" describes an action carried out with force and intensity. It underlines the idea of a brutal, rapid and intense action, characteristic of violence. The use of this adjective reinforces the dynamic and powerful aspect of violence. The expression "to do violence" highlights the fact that violence implies deliberate and intentional action. The use of the verb "to do" underlines the active aspect of violence, indicating that it is the result of an action undertaken in a determined manner. This expression also emphasises that violence is an action that is imposed on others, an action that goes against the will or interests of the person concerned. So the emergence of the adjective "violently" and the expression "to do violence" in language reinforces the idea that violence is an intentional and dynamic action. This underlines the active dimension of violence, characterised by the deliberate use of force or coercion.

In the field of political science, this intentional dimension of violence is crucial to understanding the motivations and objectives of political actors who resort to violence. . It allows us to distinguish violence from accidents or unintentional events, and to analyse it as a deliberate strategy used to achieve specific political ends. This highlights the need to consider the motivations, intentions and dynamics of action behind violent behaviour in the political context.

Violence is inseparable from human action and intentionality. It implies an intention to act and cause harm or coerce others. The component of force is central to violence, whether physical, moral, psychological or other. It is important to recognise that violence is not limited solely to acts of physical aggression. It can also take non-physical forms, such as moral or psychological violence. Emotional abuse can take the form of intimidation, devaluation, manipulation or emotional abuse aimed at harming a person's dignity and psychological well-being. Psychological violence encompasses forms of abuse or coercion that act on the individual's psyche, and may include acts of manipulation, emotional blackmail, threats, emotional deprivation, etc. These forms of violence can have profound consequences for an individual's mental health, emotional well-being and social relationships. It is essential to understand that violence is not just the physical manifestation of force, but can also take subtle and insidious forms that undermine the integrity, dignity and well-being of individuals. In the field of political science, this understanding of violence in its various dimensions is crucial for analysing power relations, political conflicts, social dynamics and the political consequences of violence. This makes it possible to take account of the various forms of violence and to develop more holistic and effective conflict prevention and resolution strategies.

Violence is intrinsically linked to action and implies intentionality. It often manifests itself through the use of force and coercion, which can lead to a change in a person's position, situation or behaviour as a result of the harm inflicted. When a person inflicts violence on another person, he or she seeks to impose his or her will by force or coercion, thereby causing the other person to change his or her position or behaviour. This can happen in a variety of contexts, such as interpersonal relationships, power relationships, political or social conflicts. The coercion imposed by violence may be physical, for example when a person is physically attacked or subjected to acts of force. It can also be psychological, social or political, where the person is forced or coerced to conform to certain standards, requirements or demands under threat of negative consequences. It is important to note that the use of force and coercion are not the only ways in which violence is expressed. As we mentioned earlier, violence can take other forms such as moral, psychological, symbolic or structural violence, which can also have harmful effects on individuals and societies.

Hannah Arendt, a twentieth-century political philosopher, made an important contribution to the debate on violence and power. In her view, violence should be distinguished from power and might, because violence requires specific instruments, whereas power is more directly linked to the ability to act and influence. Arendt argues that violence is associated with the use of physical force or coercive means to impose one's will. It is often characterised by the destruction, submission or domination of others. To exercise violence, one needs instruments, weapons or tangible means to impose one's will by force. Arendt, on the other hand, draws a distinction between violence and power, which she describes as more directly instrumental. Power, in her view, is the ability to act collectively, to come together and take political decisions. It is based on cooperation, consent and the active participation of individuals. Unlike violence, power does not necessarily require the use of physical force or coercive means. Arendt emphasises that power is a more durable and legitimate force than violence. Power relies on the ability of individuals to come together and act in concert, whereas violence is often used to overcome obstacles or resistance to power. She also highlights the dangers inherent in using violence to achieve political goals, as it can lead to a spiral of violence and the destruction of political and social relations. In her work, Arendt examines the different forms of expression of violence, particularly in the context of totalitarianism, where violence is used systematically to control and oppress individuals. She explores the political and ethical implications of violence and power, seeking to understand how individuals can preserve their dignity and freedom in the face of violent and oppressive forces.

Scientific fields of reflection[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The term "cognitivist" generally refers to a type of psychologist who focuses on how people perceive, think, remember, learn and solve problems. Cognitivists are primarily interested in incoming information and how it is processed by the brain. They study violence from the point of view of how it is perceived and processed by the brain. Over the last thirty years or so, cognitivists have approached the question of violence from a scientific perspective. Their work has highlighted certain cognitive processes that can lead to violence. For example, they have studied how cognitive biases (such as dichotomous thinking, where everything is perceived as good or bad, without nuance) can lead to violence. They have also studied how dysfunctional thought patterns (such as rumination, where a person remains stuck on negative thoughts) can increase the risk of violent behaviour. Research has also shown that people with a tendency towards violence often have a reduced ability to recognise and understand the emotions of others, a phenomenon known as alexithymia. They may also have difficulty regulating their own emotions, particularly anger. This research has important implications for the prevention and treatment of violence. For example, it suggests that interventions aimed at improving emotion regulation and modifying dysfunctional thinking patterns may be effective in reducing violence. In addition, by understanding the cognitive processes underlying violence, we may be better able to identify people at risk and help them before they become violent. However, it is important to note that violence is a complex phenomenon that is influenced by many factors, including but not limited to social, economic and environmental factors.

Konrad Lorenz was an Austrian ethologist who made a major contribution to our understanding of animal behaviour, including aggression. In his 1963 book, On Aggression, Lorenz presented the theory that aggression is an innate instinct in animals and humans. Lorenz defines aggression as a driving force that pushes the individual to fight. For him, aggression is not necessarily destructive or antisocial, but can be essential to the survival and evolution of species. For example, aggression can encourage competition, which in turn can promote adaptation and survival. Lorenz also believes that aggression is linked to specific neurobiological processes and that it is triggered by specific stimuli, which he calls 'fixed trigger signals'. These signals can vary from species to species, and in humans they can be very complex. As far as humanity is concerned, Lorenz suggests that our innate aggression may be exacerbated by certain aspects of modern society. He argues that traditional societies had ways of channelling aggression productively and minimising violent conflict, but that these mechanisms may be absent or dysfunctional in modern society.

Some researchers, including Lorenz, have suggested that aggression is a characteristic common to all species, and perhaps even a fundamental biological instinct. This does not mean that all beings are constantly aggressive, but rather that they all have the capacity to express aggressive behaviour in certain circumstances. In the animal world, aggression can play an important role in various situations, such as defending territory, gaining access to food resources, or establishing dominance within a group. Some of these behaviours can also be observed in humans. However, it should be noted that human aggression has unique characteristics that distinguish it from aggression in other animals. For example, humans are capable of symbolic and indirect aggression (such as humiliation or social rejection), and they are also capable of large-scale violence, such as war. Furthermore, although biology and instinct may play a role in aggression, many researchers also stress the importance of environmental and social factors. For example, factors such as poverty, stress, substance abuse, exposure to violence in the media, and lack of conflict resolution skills can all increase the risk of aggressive behaviour. It is also important to stress that, although aggression may be a common characteristic of all species, this does not mean that it is inevitable or irreversible. A great deal of research shows that aggression can be modified by appropriate interventions, such as education, therapy, and changes in the social and physical environment.

Aggression can also be understood as a mode of expression and action. It may be a response to an environment perceived as threatening or stressful, and may represent an attempt to defend resources perceived to be at risk, whether physical or psychological. Aggression may also be a way of expressing feelings of frustration, anger, anxiety or fear. This does not necessarily justify aggression, but helps us to understand why it may occur. Understanding aggression as a mode of expression can also help to develop more effective ways of managing and preventing aggression. For example, it may be useful to learn how to express feelings more constructively, or how to resolve conflicts non-violently. It is also important to note that aggression is not the only way of expressing these feelings or reacting to these situations. Many people and cultures have developed non-aggressive ways of dealing with conflict, adversity and negative emotions. So, while aggression may be an instinctive response to certain situations, it is not the only possible response, and it can often be modified or controlled through learning and practice. However, it is also crucial to distinguish between aggression and assertiveness. Whereas aggression often involves intimidation, domination or violating the rights of others, assertiveness is a way of expressing oneself that respects the rights and feelings of others while effectively defending one's own rights and needs.

Issues of violence and aggression transcend disciplines and involve a wide range of factors, from individual biological and cognitive aspects to socio-cultural and political influences. At the individual level, cognitive psychology and neuroscience have contributed much to our understanding of the brain and cognitive mechanisms that can lead to violence or aggression. For example, research has shown that certain types of cognitive bias, dysfunctions in information processing or difficulties in emotion regulation can increase the risk of aggressive behaviour. However, it is also essential to understand that violence and aggression are profoundly influenced by socio-cultural and political factors. Culture can influence the way in which violence is perceived, accepted or sanctioned, and it can offer models of violent or non-violent behaviour. For example, a culture that values domination or aggression may encourage violent behaviour, while a culture that values cooperation or the peaceful resolution of conflict may encourage non-violent behaviour. Similarly, politics can influence violence at all levels, from government policies that can promote or deter violence (for example, through gun control laws or education policies) to the way in which political conflict or inequality can lead to large-scale violence, such as wars or revolutions.

Violence and aggression are multidimensional phenomena that are influenced by a multitude of factors. It is therefore necessary to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to fully understand them. These disciplines include biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, criminology, political science and others.

  • Biology and psychology often focus on the individual factors that can lead to violence, such as neurological processes, cognitive biases, personality disorders, emotion regulation, etc.
  • Sociology and anthropology often examine how social and cultural factors can influence violence, for example, how social structure, cultural norms, gender roles, inequalities, etc., can promote or deter violence.
  • Criminology focuses on the factors that can lead to criminal violence, including individual, social, economic and environmental factors.
  • Political science often examines violence at a more macroscopic level, for example, how political conflict, government policies, terrorism, war, etc., can lead to large-scale violence.

These and other disciplines provide unique and important perspectives on violence and aggression. Therefore, a full understanding of these phenomena requires an interdisciplinary approach that integrates the perspectives of all these disciplines.

Aggression can certainly be a form of expression, and in some cases it can be used to express individuality. For example, a person may resort to aggression to assert their autonomy, to resist an authority perceived as oppressive, or to distinguish themselves from others. The expression of individuality is intrinsically linked to communication. Whether expressed through art, speech, behaviour, style of dress or other means, this expression serves to convey information about oneself to others. It's a way of expressing your feelings, thoughts, values, interests and unique personality. What's more, expressing individuality is not just a one-way communication - it's also a way of interacting with others and participating in social life. For example, when we express our individuality, we can inspire others, challenge them, invite them to get to know us better, or simply share a part of ourselves with them. This is a fundamental aspect of human communication.

To fully understand violence and aggression, it is crucial to take several dimensions into account. These dimensions include biological factors, individual personality traits and social interaction.

  1. Biological factors: It is well established that biological factors can influence the propensity to violence and aggression. For example, chemical imbalances in the brain, genetic abnormalities or brain damage can increase the risk of violent or aggressive behaviour.
  2. Personality traits: Individual personality traits can also play an important role. For example, personality traits such as impulsivity, poor self-control or a tendency towards irritability can increase the risk of aggression. Similarly, certain psychological conditions, such as antisocial personality disorder, are also associated with a greater propensity to violence.
  3. Social interaction: socialisation plays a key role in the development of aggressive or violent behaviour. Children who are insufficiently socialised, or who grow up in environments where violence is common or accepted, may be more inclined to resort to aggression. In addition, people who have difficulty managing social relationships or understanding and responding to social cues may also be more likely to act aggressively.

These three dimensions are interconnected and mutually reinforcing. For example, biological factors can influence personality traits, which in turn can influence the way a person interacts with others. Similarly, social experiences can affect both a person's personality traits and biology. It is therefore necessary to take all three dimensions into account to fully understand violence and aggression and to develop effective interventions to prevent or manage these behaviours. These interventions can involve biological strategies (such as medication), psychological strategies (such as behaviour therapy) and social strategies (such as education in peaceful conflict resolution or the creation of safer, more inclusive social environments).

Controlling the environment is a key factor in limiting aggression and violence. This can be understood in several ways. Firstly, the ability to control the physical aspects of one's environment can help reduce aggression. For example, a person who is able to create a safe and comfortable living environment may be less likely to experience the stress and frustration that can lead to aggression. Secondly, mastery of the social environment can also be important. A person who has good social skills and is able to navigate relationships effectively may be less likely to resort to aggression as a means of resolving conflict. Thirdly, mastery of the inner emotional environment is also crucial. A person who has developed effective emotion regulation and stress resilience skills may be better equipped to deal with situations that might otherwise lead to aggression. Finally, environmental mastery can also mean the ability to change one's environment when necessary. For example, a person who is able to leave a violent environment or avoid creating one may be less likely to resort to violence themselves. To develop this mastery of the environment, it may be useful to adopt a holistic approach that includes mental health promotion, education in non-violent conflict resolution, the development of social skills, the improvement of living conditions, and other similar strategies.

Emotion plays a central role in aggression and violence. Intense emotions, such as anger, frustration or fear, can often trigger aggressive behaviour. What's more, the way we perceive and interpret our emotions can also influence our propensity to be aggressive. For example, if we interpret our angry emotions as an indication that we have been treated unfairly, this may prompt us to act aggressively to restore what we perceive to be a fair balance. Similarly, if we have difficulty managing or expressing our emotions in a healthy way, this can make us more likely to resort to aggression as a means of expression. This is why emotional regulation - the ability to understand, manage and respond appropriately to our emotions - is often a key element in preventing aggression and violence. Emotional regulation strategies can include things like becoming aware of our own emotions, learning relaxation or stress reduction techniques, practising assertive communication, developing problem-solving skills, and other similar techniques. It is also important to note that our perception of what constitutes 'aggression' can vary greatly from person to person and from culture to culture. What is perceived as aggression by one person may be perceived as a neutral or even positive action by another. This means that understanding and taking account of these differences in perception can be crucial in preventing aggression and violence.

Aggressogenicity is a term that refers to the capacity of a situation to provoke or encourage aggressive behaviour, and this capacity is often determined by the three dimensions mentioned above: biological factors, personality traits and social interactions. Perception plays a key role in aggressogenicity. For example, if a person perceives a situation as threatening, unfair or frustrating, they may be more likely to respond aggressively. Similarly, if a person has a biological or personal propensity to perceive situations negatively, or if they have been socialised in an environment where aggression is seen as an appropriate response, they may be more likely to find situations aggressogenic. It is also important to note that aggressive situations are not necessarily intrinsically aggressive. For example, a heated discussion or an intense debate may be perceived as aggressive by one person, but not by another. This means that the way we interpret and react to situations can have a major impact on their aggressiveness. That's why it's crucial to develop skills in emotional regulation, conflict resolution and assertive communication. These skills can help us to navigate aggressive situations more healthily and effectively, and to transform them into opportunities for growth and mutual understanding.

As a discipline, political science is very interested in violence. Violence, particularly political violence, is a fundamental aspect of the organisation of human societies, and understanding it can help shed light on many aspects of politics, such as state formation, ethnic and religious conflict, revolution, terrorism, war and peace, among others. In political science, violence is generally considered to be a form of political action. That is, violence is often used as a means to achieve political ends, whether to seize power, defend rights, resist oppression, promote social change, or other similar objectives. However, it is important to note that, although violence is one form of action, it is not the only, nor necessarily the best, way of achieving these objectives. There are many other forms of political action, such as activism, negotiation, dialogue, education, and other non-violent strategies, which can often be more effective and less destructive. As for the hypothesis that "violence is action", it could serve as a starting point for forging a theory on the conditions under which violence becomes an acceptable or preferred form of political action. For example, this theory could explore questions such as: What are the factors that lead individuals or groups to choose violence as a means of political action? How do political, economic and social structures influence this decision? What are the impacts of violence on politics and society, and how can they be managed or minimised?

Contextual theory plays an essential role in understanding violence, especially in the field of political science. By focusing on the relationship between the individual and the collective, we can examine how the social, economic and political context influences violent behaviour. The collective dimension of violence manifests itself in a number of ways. For example, groups of individuals may engage in violence together, as in riots or wars. In these cases, group dynamics can reinforce the violence, as individuals often feel less responsible for their actions when acting as a group. In addition, violence can be used as a means of asserting group identity or defending group interests. For example, ethnic, religious or political groups may use violence to fight discrimination or oppression, or to claim power. However, it is important to note that the collective dimension of violence is not just a matter of group dynamics. Wider social, economic and political structures also play a major role in facilitating or limiting violence. For example, strong and equitable political institutions can help prevent violence by resolving conflicts peacefully, while economic inequality or social discrimination can encourage violence by creating frustrations and tensions. Therefore, understanding the collective dimension of violence requires an analysis of the context in which violence occurs, including social norms, political institutions, economic conditions, and other similar factors. This is where contextual theory can be particularly useful.

Moving from an individual fact to a collective fact involves an in-depth analysis of the mechanisms of socialisation and group formation. Individual behaviours only become collective phenomena when they are adopted and repeated by a group of people. This process can be influenced by a variety of factors, such as social norms, political institutions, education, the media and other cultural influences. In the case of violence, a violent act may become a collective phenomenon when violence is perceived as an acceptable or necessary means of resolving conflicts, asserting group identity, defending rights, or achieving other social or political goals. For example, if a society is marked by armed conflict, violence may become an accepted or even expected social behaviour. Violence can be described as a societal fact when it becomes a widespread and accepted phenomenon within a society. This can happen when violence is institutionalised, as in the case of state violence, or when violence is culturally accepted, as in the case of certain forms of domestic violence or gender violence. The political management of violence is a fundamental issue insofar as it influences the way in which violence is perceived, managed and prevented in a society. Public policies can help prevent violence by promoting education, improving living conditions, putting in place measures to prevent and punish violence, and promoting the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Classical theories of violence[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Hobbes (1588 - 1979) and the theory of violence as social utility[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Thomas Hobbes.

Thomas Hobbes, the seventeenth-century English political philosopher, is well known for his theory of the state of nature and the social contract, which has important implications for our understanding of violence. In his most famous work, 'The Leviathan', Hobbes describes the state of nature as a state of 'war of all against all' where violence is omnipresent. According to Hobbes, in the absence of a central authority (a 'Leviathan') to impose order, individuals are in perpetual competition for resources, leading to a constant state of fear and violence. However, Hobbes considers that individuals are rational and seek to avoid this brutal condition of life. They therefore decide to enter into a social contract, giving up some of their freedom in exchange for the protection offered by a state or central authority. The state, in turn, has a duty to maintain order and protect citizens from violence. From Hobbes's perspective, then, violence has a certain 'social utility' in that it serves as a motivation for the creation of the state and the establishment of the social contract. The fear of violence in the state of nature encourages individuals to unite and create an organised society to ensure their collective security. It is important to note, however, that although Hobbes recognises this 'usefulness' of violence in the creation of the state, he does not promote violence per se. On the contrary, the purpose of the constitution of the state is precisely to eliminate violence from the daily lives of individuals. For Hobbes, therefore, violence is not a desirable feature of society, but rather an evil to be avoided.

Thomas Hobbes detailed three possible levels of violence in his writings:

  • Inter-individual relations in the state of nature: Hobbes depicted the state of nature as a place of brutal violence, where there is no authority to protect individuals from each other. In this state, Hobbes said, man's life is "solitary, poor, brutish, and short". Individuals are in constant conflict over limited resources, leading to a state of "war of all against all".
  • International war: Hobbes saw international relations as existing in a similar state of nature, where each state is sovereign and there is no global authority to regulate their interactions. This can lead to international wars, where each state acts in its own interests and uses force to achieve its objectives.
  • War between the sovereign and rebels: Hobbes also discussed the violence that can occur within a state, particularly between the sovereign and rebels. For Hobbes, any rebellion against the ruler is illegitimate because it violates the social contract and can lead society back to the state of nature. However, he accepts that if the sovereign fails to fulfil his obligations (in particular to protect the citizens), then the citizens have the right to defend themselves.

Each of these levels of violence illustrates a different aspect of Hobbes's political theory. They highlight his view that violence is an inevitable consequence of the state of nature and that the state and the social contract are necessary to maintain peace and order.

In his work "Leviathan", Hobbes identified three main causes of conflict in the state of nature, which lead to violence:

  • Rivalry: According to Hobbes, rivalry is caused by competition for limited resources. In the state of nature, individuals are in constant competition for the resources they need to survive, such as food, water and shelter. This competition can lead to conflict and violence.
  • Distrust: Distrust can also lead to violence, because in the state of nature, individuals cannot trust others to respect their rights or property. In such a state, individuals may resort to violence to protect themselves or their property as a precaution, even if there is no immediate threat.
  • Pride (or Glory): Hobbes also considered that the desire for fame or reputation can lead to violence. Individuals may fight to preserve their honour, to earn the respect of others or to secure their place in the social hierarchy.

These causes of conflict and violence portray the state of nature as a place of fear and insecurity, where people are constantly on their guard and ready to fight for survival. This is why, according to Hobbes, individuals have a rational interest in leaving this state of nature and establishing a social contract, to create a state that can ensure peace and security.

According to Hobbes' theory, these three main causes of conflict (rivalry, mistrust and pride) can lead to war and conflict. Without a central authority to maintain order, impose rules and regulate behaviour, individuals are likely to fight over limited resources, protect themselves as a precaution due to mistrust, and seek to assert their reputation or their place in the social hierarchy. In the state of nature described by Hobbes, these conflicts are not regulated and can easily degenerate into widespread violence or war. This is why Hobbes supported the idea of creating a "Leviathan", or powerful state, that could control violence and maintain order. What's more, these concepts can be extrapolated to the international level. States, just like individuals in the state of nature, can find themselves in conflict over resources, out of mutual distrust, or for reasons of national pride. These tensions can lead to war or international conflict. Although Hobbes described a potentially violent state of nature, his aim was not to promote violence, but rather to emphasise the importance of central authority (the state) in maintaining peace and order.

Level of inter-individual relations in the state of nature[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In Hobbes' philosophy, violence is associated with a lack of reason and is often linked to unbridled passions. For Hobbes, rational individuals would seek to avoid violence because it leads to insecurity and instability. This is one of Hobbes' main arguments for why individuals decide to form a state through a social contract: to escape the violence and uncertainty of the state of nature. However, Hobbes does not see violence as totally irrational. Rather, he sees it as the inevitable product of the rational pursuit of interests in a situation where there is no authority to regulate the behaviour of individuals. In other words, in the state of nature, it may be rational for an individual to resort to violence to ensure his survival or to protect his property.

This is one of the central paradoxes in Thomas Hobbes' political philosophy: violence, although often triggered by unreasonable passions, leads to rational action to avoid such conflicts in the future. In the state of nature, where mistrust, rivalry and the pursuit of glory reign, individuals may be driven to act violently to guarantee their own security and interests. However, life in this state of perpetual war is dangerous and unstable, and according to Hobbes, individuals are rational and naturally seek to avoid these brutal living conditions. It is therefore the prospect of such violence that prompts individuals to enter into a social contract and create a state. This shift from unreasonable violence to rational action to prevent it illustrates the paradox at the heart of Hobbes' philosophy. The desire to avoid violence, despite its passionate and unreasonable nature, motivates the creation of a rational and orderly political and social structure. Although Hobbes offers this theory as an explanation for the development of society and the state, he does not suggest that violence is a necessary or desirable prerequisite for this process. The ultimate goal, according to Hobbes, is to establish a state that can maintain peace and security, thereby minimising the possibility of violence.

It is possible to establish a conceptual chain linking 'opposition' to 'unreason', then 'passion' and finally 'anarchy'. This can be interpreted in the context of political philosophy as follows:

  1. Opposition: This could refer to the competition or struggle for resources in the state of nature, as described by Hobbes. Without an authority to impose order, individuals find themselves in opposition to each other to ensure their survival.
  2. Unreasonableness: Constant opposition and the struggle for survival can lead to unreasonable behaviour, such as violence. Without regulation or protection, individuals may act impulsively or irrationally to ensure their own safety.
  3. Passion: Hobbes saw human passions as a major cause of conflict and violence. In the state of nature, without rules to moderate these passions, they can lead to unreason and violence.
  4. Anarchy: If human passions are not regulated by an authority, the state of nature can turn into anarchy. Hobbes described this state as a "war of all against all", where there is no law or order, and violence is omnipresent.

Hobbes saw this chain of events as potential, not inevitable. He argued that by recognising the possibility of this sequence of events, individuals could choose to form a social contract and create a state, to prevent unreason, moderate passions and avoid anarchy.

The question of the rationality of action is a central issue in philosophy and the social sciences. Most theories of action assume that individuals act rationally, i.e. that they choose the most effective means of achieving their goals, taking into account their beliefs and values. However, the idea that all action is rational can be challenged. For example, we know that individuals can act under the influence of emotion, impulse or cognitive constraints that prevent them from making perfectly rational choices. Furthermore, what we consider to be 'rational' can vary according to cultural or personal context. In the case of violence, it may be difficult to consider violent acts as 'rational'. However, from the actor's point of view, violence may appear to be a rational response to a situation perceived as a threat. Moreover, in certain circumstances, violence can be used as a strategic means of achieving specific objectives. In Hobbes' theory, for example, violence in the state of nature can be seen as a rational response to a situation of insecurity and competition for resources. However, Hobbes himself recognises that this violence is harmful and destabilising, and argues that the most rational solution is to create a state that can ensure peace and security.

Level of international warfare[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The concept of the Westphalian state refers to a certain type of international order that emerged following the Treaties of Westphalia in 1648, which ended the Thirty Years' War in Europe. These treaties established the idea of state sovereignty, whereby each state has exclusive and indisputable authority over its territory and population. The Westphalian order is therefore characterised by an international system of sovereign states that recognise no authority higher than their own.

In such a system, states may enter into conflict or war for a variety of reasons, such as rivalry for power or resources, territorial disputes, or ideological differences. In this context, war can be seen as an extension of politics by other means, to use Carl von Clausewitz's famous phrase.

Hobbes' theory of the state of nature and the state of war can be applied on an international scale in the Westphalian system. In the absence of a higher global authority to regulate relations between states, states can find themselves in a situation similar to the state of nature described by Hobbes, where conflict is constant and security is always under threat. Similarly, like individuals in the state of nature, states may choose to form alliances or international organisations to guarantee their security and promote their interests.

The state, driven by an intrinsic desire to accumulate power, often finds itself in competition or conflict with other states for additional resources. This can lead to a latent state of war, where each state seeks to maximise its relative power. However, for the state to function effectively and ensure the well-being of its citizens, it must also be able to manage and regulate its own violence, both internal and external. This task is generally performed by the sovereign and various public institutions, which are responsible for maintaining order and peace both inside and outside the state's borders.

This hypothesis evokes the essential elements of the international system of states, and the reasons why states may come into conflict.

  1. Desire for accumulation: The idea that states seek to increase their power is fundamental to international relations. Power can take the form of control over more territory, resources, political or economic influence and so on. This quest for accumulation can lead to tensions or conflicts with other states.
  2. State of war: From a Hobbesian perspective, the international situation without a supranational authority can resemble a "state of war" where states must constantly prepare to defend themselves against possible threats.
  3. The role of the sovereign and public institutions: In this context, the sovereign and public institutions play an essential role in guaranteeing security and managing the state's resources.
  4. Managing violence: A crucial aspect of state power is the ability to manage and control violence. This includes not only defence against external threats, but also the maintenance of order and peace within the state's borders. In the Westphalian system, the ability to control violence is an essential attribute of sovereignty.

These elements highlight the complexity of relations between states and the way in which violence and war can be understood in an international context.

In Hobbes' theory, the state has a dual function. It must defend itself against external threats, but also against internal violence. For Hobbes, the state is a means of containing the violence inherent in human nature. In his work Leviathan, he postulated that without a central authority to impose order, society would fall prey to a "state of war of all against all". So the state, as "Leviathan", must exercise absolute power to maintain peace and prevent violence. This task includes not only defence against external threats, but also the prevention and management of violence within the state. It must be able to enforce laws and rules to avoid internal conflict and maintain social cohesion. For Hobbes, this power of the state must not be used arbitrarily, but must always be aimed at the well-being and security of its citizens.

For Hobbes, violence is an inherent characteristic of man's state of nature. Consequently, although the state, as a sovereign entity, can channel and control this violence, it can never eliminate it completely. One of the main roles of the state, according to Hobbes, is to prevent the potential self-destruction of society by regulating internal violence. However, he also recognises that violence can emanate from conflict between states themselves, often driven by competing desires for power and resources. This tension between the desire to accumulate power (and potentially generate violence) and the need to maintain peace and stability is a central dynamic in his theory. Thus, even if the state is able to contain internal violence to some degree, the possibility of violence - whether at the individual, collective or interstate level - always persists in Hobbes' thought.

Level of war between sovereign and rebel[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In Hobbes's theory, war between the sovereign and rebels represents a major threat to the stability of the state. This form of violence is of particular concern because it destabilises the authority of the sovereign and can potentially lead to anarchy and the disintegration of the state. According to Hobbes, society is based on a "social contract" in which individuals agree to submit to the authority of a sovereign in exchange for protection and security. However, if certain individuals or groups ("rebels") choose to reject the sovereign's authority and take up arms against him, this jeopardises the social order and the state of peace that the sovereign is supposed to maintain. Rebellion can be motivated by a variety of factors, such as dissatisfaction with the sovereign's policies, socio-economic inequalities, ideological or religious differences, and so on. For Hobbes, rebellion is a form of "return to the state of nature" that must be avoided at all costs, as it can lead to a state of war of all against all.

Hobbes does not see violence as something that can be completely eliminated from society or human nature. On the contrary, he sees violence as a constant, a fundamental aspect of the human condition. For Hobbes, violence is an inherent part of the human state of nature, and although the creation of the state and the establishment of sovereign authority may help to control and regulate this violence, it never disappears entirely.

This perspective can be interpreted as rather bleak, but it also has a realistic dimension. Hobbes recognises that violence, in one form or another, is always present in human and political interactions. This is why, in his theory, the main aim of the state is to control and minimise this violence as far as possible in order to preserve social order, rather than seeking to eliminate it altogether.

George Sorel (1847 - 1922) and protest violence[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Georges Sorel.

The French philosopher and sociologist Georges Sorel has a very different perspective on violence from Hobbes. For Sorel, violence is not only a threat to the social order, but can also be a powerful tool for social and political transformation. In his most famous work, Réflexions sur la violence (1908), Sorel develops a theory of protest violence. According to Sorel, violence can be a legitimate expression of class struggle and a necessary means for workers to overthrow the capitalist order. He rejects the idea that violence is always destructive or harmful, and argues that revolutionary violence can be creative and liberating. Violence, according to Sorel, is necessary to shake up social inertia and bring about radical change. He argues that general strikes, an example of protest violence, are not simply negotiating tactics, but can be revolutionary acts that disrupt the established order and pave the way for a new society. Sorel does not approve of all forms of violence. He distinguished between proletarian violence, which serves a revolutionary purpose, and criminal violence, which he saw as counter-productive and anti-social.

Georges Sorel's political thought is complex and has gone through many phases and transformations over time. Initially, Sorel was a socialist and Marxist who believed in class struggle and the need for revolution to establish a socialist society. He was also a fervent trade unionist, believing that trade unions were the instrument by which workers could free themselves from capitalist oppression. Over time, however, Sorel increasingly distanced himself from traditional Marxism and developed his own, sometimes controversial, ideas about the role of violence and mythology in politics. Some of these ideas were appropriated by extreme right-wing movements, leading some to associate Sorel with the extreme right. It is important to note, however, that Sorel himself never adhered to far-right ideology. Towards the end of his life, he even expressed criticism of certain extreme right-wing movements of his time. Nevertheless, the interpretation of his ideas by certain extreme right-wing groups helped to create a certain ambiguity around his figure. Although Sorel began his career as a socialist and Marxist, his thinking evolved in complex and sometimes contradictory ways, and was used and interpreted in different ways by various political movements after his death.

In "Réflexions sur la violence" (1906), Sorel defends the idea that violence is not just an individual act, but can also be a collective force. For Sorel, violence can be a means for a group, particularly the working class, to assert itself in the face of oppression and initiate social change. He puts forward the notion of the general strike, which, in his view, is a form of collective protest violence. A general strike, for Sorel, is not just a tool for negotiating improved working conditions, but a means by which workers can demonstrate their power, disrupt the social order and eventually catalyse revolutionary social transformation. In this way, Sorel places violence in a broader social and political context, seeing it as an act that can have meaning and impact beyond the individual act. He argues that violence can serve to reveal and challenge existing power structures, and can be an effective tool for social change when used collectively.

The chapter structure of "Reflections on Violence" illustrates Sorel's main ideas and his understanding of violence as a complex social and political phenomenon. Here is an overview of each chapter:

  1. Class struggle and violence: Sorel examines how violence plays a role in the class struggle. He argues that violence is an inevitable part of this struggle and that, far from being a threat to the social order, it can be a tool of liberation for the working class.
  2. Bourgeois decadence and violence: Sorel criticises the bourgeoisie and argues that its moral and spiritual decadence has contributed to social violence.
  3. Prejudices against violence: Sorel examines and challenges some of the common prejudices against violence, notably the idea that it is always destructive or harmful.
  4. The proletarian strike: Sorel defends the idea that strikes can be a revolutionary act and not just a negotiating tactic.
  5. The productive general strike: Sorel develops his vision of the general strike as a powerful tool for social change.
  6. The morality of violence: Sorel explores the moral aspects of violence. He argues that violence is not necessarily immoral and can be justified in certain circumstances.
  7. The morality of producers: Sorel explores the idea of the morality of producers, or the working class, and how this morality can influence their use of violence.

Overall, Sorel presents a vision of violence that deconstructs common prejudices and examines how violence can be used productively and morally to bring about social and political change.

Sorel's idea is that violence, when used by the working class to fight oppression and exploitation, can be seen as morally justified. In his view, violence can be used as a means of challenging and transforming the unjust and unequal power relations that exist in a capitalist society. He saw violence as a tool that the working class could use to liberate itself from bourgeois exploitation and oppression. It is in this context that he speaks of the "morality of violence". It should be noted, however, that these views are controversial and have been criticised for their potentiation of violence. Although Sorel sees violence as a potential means of achieving social change, it is important to consider the ethical implications and possible consequences of using violence for these ends.

In Sorel's perspective, class struggle is a means of disrupting and challenging existing power structures in society. He saw violence as a potentially emancipatory force that the working class could use to assert itself and press for social and economic change. He sees the general strike as a key example of this kind of 'positive' violence. For Sorel, a general strike is not just a means of negotiating better working conditions, but also a way for workers to demonstrate their power, to disrupt the existing social and economic order, and to force the ruling classes to recognise and respond to their demands.

In the context of radical or extremist political movements, theorising violence as a legitimate and moral tool can lead to abuse, escalation of violence and even acts of terrorism. This logic has been used by certain anarchist, revolutionary or extremist movements to justify violent action against those they perceive as their oppressors. This highlights the danger inherent in seeing violence as a legitimate tool for social change. While this may seem appealing in the context of the fight against oppression and injustice, it is important to bear in mind the potentially devastating consequences of violence. It can escalate tensions and conflicts, cause significant suffering and damage and, in extreme cases, lead to acts of terrorism.

Some extremist movements may justify their use of violence by arguing that it is necessary to fight oppression, which can lead to an escalation of violence and extremely dangerous situations. This logic can be found in certain currents of anarchism, but also in various other radical or extremist movements. Anarchism, as a political philosophy, is actually quite diverse and not all anarchists advocate the use of violence. Some currents, such as anarcho-pacifism, explicitly reject violence. Others may see violence as a necessary evil or as a tool of self-defence against oppression. Nevertheless, when individuals or groups adopt violence as their main strategy of resistance or revolt, this can lead to acts of terrorism or situations of violent and prolonged conflict. These situations are often counter-productive, causing massive suffering and destruction, without necessarily bringing about real progress towards justice or equality.

The debate on morality and violence is inseparable from political discussions and our understanding of what politics is. Politics is often seen as the art of negotiation and compromise, where the aim is to reach a solution that, while not necessarily perfect for all participants, is acceptable to the majority. However, in situations where one party feels systematically excluded or oppressed, or when traditional political mechanisms seem incapable of resolving the problems, some may turn to violence, seeing it as a form of political communication or as the only way of making their voice heard. The debate about the morality of violence in such contexts is complex and often polarised. Some argue that violence is always immoral, whatever the circumstances, while others may see it as a necessary evil or even a moral act in certain situations of oppression.

René Girard (1923 - 2015) and sacrificial violence[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

René Girard.

René Girard was a French philosopher, anthropologist, historian and literary critic. His work focused on violence, mimetic desire and sacrifice in human culture. He developed a theory according to which human desire is fundamentally mimetic, meaning that people desire what others desire, which creates rivalry and can lead to violence. According to Girard, this mimetic violence is so destructive that it threatens the survival of the community. To avoid self-destruction, communities find a scapegoat to blame and punish. This victim, who is often chosen because he or she is different or marginalised, is then sacrificed to restore harmony within the community. This theory of the scapegoat is one of Girard's major contributions to understanding violence in human societies. Girard also developed the theory of mimetic desire to explain the role of violence in religion. In his view, religions are systems that have evolved to channel and control mimetic violence. The central role of sacrifice in many religions is, according to Girard, a manifestation of this function of controlling violence. René Girard's ideas have been influential in many fields, including literature, philosophy, theology, psychology, anthropology and gender studies. However, as with all theories, they have also been criticised and debated.

René Girard devoted much of his life to exploring questions of philosophy, religion and ethics. His contributions have greatly influenced these fields, particularly through his ideas on violence, mimetic desire and sacrifice. He has been a professor at several prestigious universities in the United States, including Johns Hopkins University, the University of Buffalo and Stanford University. He was elected to the Académie française in 2005, an honour that recognises his considerable contribution to French thought. He has written many influential books, including "La violence et le sacré" (1972), "Des choses cachées depuis la fondation du monde" (1978), and "Le bouc émissaire" (1982). These works present innovative perspectives on how violence is generated and managed within human societies. Girard has also been interested in how the mechanisms of violence and sacrifice are reflected in literature, analysing the works of great writers such as Dostoyevsky, Proust and Shakespeare to illustrate his theories. His work, though profound and often complex, offers valuable insights into the nature of violence and the ways in which societies attempt to contain and manage it.

René Girard's works, "La Violence et le sacré" (1972), "Le Bouc émissaire" (1982), and "Je vois Satan tomber comme l'éclair" (1999), in which he discusses sacrifice, are essential to understanding his thinking. In "Violence and the Sacred", Girard develops his theory of mimetic desire. According to him, human desire is not innate but acquired. People desire objects, statuses and ideas, not for their intrinsic value, but because they are desired by others. This mechanism creates envy, rivalry and ultimately violence within societies. To prevent the escalation of violence, societies develop the scapegoat mechanism: the community relieves itself of its internal tensions by projecting them onto a person or group, who is then sacrificed. This mechanism is both violent and sacred, because it restores social peace and is therefore considered sacred by the community. In "Le Bouc émissaire", Girard takes his analysis a step further by showing how this mechanism is present in numerous myths and religious texts, and how it structures human societies. Girard neither justifies nor idealises violence; he seeks to explain it. By better understanding the mechanisms that generate violence, he hopes we can find ways to prevent it.

For René Girard, violence must be understood as a societal phenomenon, not just an individual one. He introduced the concept of "mimetic violence" to explain how violence spreads in a society. In his view, human beings have a tendency to copy or 'imitate' the behaviour of others, including violent behaviour. In this way, one violent act can provoke others, creating a spiral of violence. So it's not just a question of violent individuals, but of a social process of propagating violence. Girard also theorised the 'scapegoat' mechanism, whereby a society may attempt to resolve its internal tensions by targeting an individual or group for persecution. This is another way in which violence can manifest itself collectively, not just individually.

Mimicry refers to an inherent human tendency to copy the desires, behaviours and attitudes of others. It is both an unconscious and automatic process that plays a crucial role in social learning and the formation of our identity. According to Girard, mimicry leads to rivalry and violence because individuals begin to compete for the same desires and goals. For example, if two people want the same thing, they become rivals and enter into conflict. In Girard's scapegoat theory, mimetic violence is also important. When a group is faced with an escalation of mimetic violence, it often looks for a way to offload this violence onto a scapegoat - a person or group who is then persecuted or eliminated, temporarily restoring peace to the community. However, since mimicry and desire are still present, the cycle of violence is likely to begin again. It is a theory that offers a fascinating insight into how violence can spread and perpetuate itself in a society, and how societies seek to manage this violence.

Girard's theory maintains that all cultures are founded on an original act of violence, which is often mythologised and ritualised through sacrificial practices. Violence, in this sense, is not just an aberration or deviation from the social norm, but is central to the formation and maintenance of human societies. It is this violence that, according to Girard, leads to the emergence of culture, social norms and moral order. Girard also emphasises the importance of sacrifice as a means of channelling and controlling violence within society. Sacrifice acts as a defence mechanism against the escalation of violence by directing collective violence towards a scapegoat, who is often a marginal figure or an outsider. The scapegoat absorbs the collective violence, enabling society to maintain peace and order, at least temporarily. This view of violence highlights the inherent tension between our desire to live in peaceful societies and our historical reliance on violence as a means of maintaining social order. It is a tension that Girard argues continues to play out in modern societies.

Girard argues that violence, as an integral part of social structure, is embedded in the myths, rituals and sacrificial practices of all societies. Myths are the stories that societies tell about themselves, their origins and their values. They often serve to legitimise the existing social order and explain why things are the way they are. In many myths, violence plays a crucial role, often as a destructive force that must be controlled for the good of society. Rituals, on the other hand, are repetitive symbolic actions that serve to reinforce social norms and values. Rituals can often involve acts of symbolic violence, such as the sacrifice of animals or, in some societies, humans. Finally, the practice of sacrifice, as mentioned above, is a means of channelling collective violence. By focusing on the scapegoat, society is able to release its violence in a controlled way, thus avoiding the escalation of uncontrolled violence. In all these instances, violence is not only accepted, it is even considered necessary to maintain social order. It's a disturbing idea, but one that is essential to understanding how societies deal with the violence inherent in the human condition.

René Girard's theory of the scapegoat is a mechanism by which a society channels and manages its inherent violence. According to this theory, when tensions and conflicts within a community reach a certain level, the community turns to a specific individual or group (the scapegoat) on whom it projects all its collective violence. This scapegoat is often someone who is already marginalised or seen as different. The act of accusing the scapegoat and directing the collective violence towards him serves to restore balance and unity in the community. After the act, peace is restored, but this peace is precarious because it is based on violence directed at the scapegoat. Girard argued that this practice of scapegoating is at the heart of many cultures and religions, and has played a key role in the formation of human societies. However, he also noted that this method of dealing with violence has limitations, as it does not address the root causes of violence and can actually perpetuate the cycle of violence if the underlying conditions that generate violence are not resolved.

René Girard has worked extensively on myths to understand how violence is integrated into our societies. In his view, myths are not simply narratives, but representations of social violence and the way it is managed by societies. For Girard, myth functions by concealing the real violence that occurs in society. It reinterprets this violence as something necessary, even sacred. In this sense, myth operates as a kind of defence mechanism that helps society deal with the reality of its own violence. Take the example of the sacrificial myth, which is common to many cultures. In these myths, an individual or an animal is often sacrificed to appease the gods or for the good of the community. This sacrifice is seen as necessary to maintain social order and prevent further violence or chaos. Girard's theory of sacrifice suggests that this type of myth has an important function in channelling collective violence and reintegrating it into the social order. In other words, the myth of sacrifice provides a means of expressing violence in a controlled and symbolic way that maintains social order and prevents an escalation of violence. However, Girard also pointed out that this way of dealing with violence has its limits and can perpetuate violence by justifying it and making it acceptable. He therefore called for a greater awareness of the nature of violence and its role in our societies.

According to Girard, every society must deal with its own inherent violence, and this is often done through rituals and myths. These rituals and myths act as safety valves for society, allowing a controlled expression of violence that might otherwise threaten to tear the social structure apart. One of the key concepts in Girard's thinking is the 'scapegoat mechanism'. In many societies, when tension or conflict reaches a certain level, society turns to an individual or group (the scapegoat) to take the blame. By persecuting the scapegoat, society discharges its violent tension in a way that preserves social order. However, although this "controlled violence" may temporarily ease tensions, it does not resolve the underlying conflicts. On the contrary, it can perpetuate a cycle of violence by justifying aggression against the scapegoat. This unresolved tension may resurface later, requiring another scapegoat to temporarily restore peace. For Girard, understanding this process is crucial to breaking the cycle of violence and finding more peaceful ways of resolving conflicts.

René Girard proposes a revolutionary understanding of sacrifice as a social mechanism and religious ritual. In this vision, sacrifice is a kind of technique for managing communal violence. In Girard's scapegoat theory, sacrifice is a means of directing the violence inherent in the community towards a specific target (the sacrificial victim) in order to prevent this violence from spreading and generating widespread conflict. The act of sacrifice is often wrapped up in religious language and symbolism, giving the impression that it is an act demanded by the gods to maintain order in the world. In reality, it is a societal act aimed at maintaining the internal order of the community. Individuals in the community may not be aware of the true role played by violence in this process.

Girard's theory proposes that sacrificial violence is a form of substitutive violence. It is used to ease tensions and latent violence within a community, by directing this violence towards a sacrificial victim, often referred to as the 'scapegoat'. In this process, the community's intrinsic violence is transferred to this victim, who bears the burden and is ultimately destroyed or excluded from the community. This sacrificial violence is often presented as a necessary and just act, demanded by a deity or for the good of the community. This practice makes it possible to evacuate collective violence without triggering wider internal conflict. By identifying a scapegoat, the community redirects its violence and internal tensions, preventing the emergence of destructive conflicts.

According to René Girard's theory, sacrifice plays a fundamental role in managing tensions and conflicts within a society. Through sacrifice, the violence and frustrations accumulated within the group are transferred to a substitute victim, the scapegoat, who is then sacrificed to restore harmony and peace. The designation of the scapegoat is a collective process that prevents violence from breaking out within the group, which could threaten its cohesion and even its survival. Sacrifice thus becomes a structuring ritual that makes it possible to manage the violence intrinsic to society. The ritual of sacrifice has a powerful symbolism. It represents the collective expiation of faults, tensions and conflicts, and the restoration of social order. However, it is important to note that this process is based on a certain form of injustice, since the scapegoat is often chosen arbitrarily and sacrificed for faults that he or she has not necessarily committed.

René Girard's theory of the scapegoat is based on this idea of transferring collective violence to a specific individual or group, chosen as the sacrificial victim. This scapegoat is symbolically charged with all the sins, tensions and frustrations of the community, and his or her sacrifice helps to restore peace and harmony within the group. This process prevents the escalation of violence within society. Indeed, if collective violence were not channelled in this way, it could lead to more serious conflicts, or even to the self-destruction of the group. This is what gives sacrifice its regulating and calming function.

According to René Girard's theory, the scapegoat is a fundamental figure in all societies, playing an essential role in regulating collective violence. By transferring this violence to the scapegoat, society can avoid an escalation of violence that could threaten its survival. The scapegoat is thus sacrificed for the good of the community. However, this mechanism is based on a paradox: to control violence, society must itself resort to violence, in a ritualised and symbolic form. This violence is justified by the myth of the scapegoat, who is blamed for all the ills of society and sacrificed to ease collective tensions. What's more, the scapegoat's designation is not based on objective rationality. The individual or group chosen as the scapegoat is often designated arbitrarily, without any real proof of guilt. Scapegoating serves primarily to channel collective violence, rather than to dispense justice. This theory has important implications for our understanding of social phenomena such as stigmatisation, exclusion and collective violence. It also suggests that any attempt to create a totally non-violent society may be doomed to failure, as violence plays a fundamental role in the regulation of social relations.

According to Girard, the scapegoat rite enables society to maintain or restore its cohesion. In moments of crisis, when tension and violence increase, the designation and sacrifice of a scapegoat provides a form of collective resolution. Violence is channelled towards a specific target, preventing it from spreading anarchically through society, which could threaten its unity and stability. By sacrificing the scapegoat, society hopes to restore order and harmony, reduce tension and put an end to the conflict. In fact, society hopes for a return to normality, to a state prior to the crisis. The sacrifice of the scapegoat is seen as a way of appeasing the gods, purifying the community and erasing the fault that caused the crisis. Violence is thus ritualised and controlled, transformed into an act that benefits the community.

The state and political violence[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The relationship between the state and political violence is a complex one. In general, the state holds a monopoly on legitimate violence in a society, a notion introduced by the sociologist Max Weber. This means that only the state has the right to use physical force to maintain order, enforce the law and defend the nation against external threats. However, political violence goes beyond the legitimate use of force by the state. It also encompasses acts of violence perpetrated by non-state actors, such as terrorist or rebel groups, seeking to achieve their political objectives.

Political violence can also include illegitimate state violence, such as repression, torture, enforced disappearances or extrajudicial executions. These acts are generally committed by authoritarian regimes to maintain their power, but can also occur in democracies, usually during crisis situations. The state can also be the target of political violence, as in the case of coups d'état, revolutions or insurrections. In these situations, groups of individuals attempt to overthrow the government in place by force.

Finally, it is important to mention that political violence is not always physical. It can also be structural, as when certain people or groups are systematically excluded from political, economic or social power. Similarly, symbolic violence, such as propaganda or hate speech, can also be considered a form of political violence.

Political violence and extreme violence[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

There are various concepts for exploring the issue of violence, particularly with regard to violence in a political context. The four main concepts are :

  • Classic political violence refers to the use of force to achieve a political objective. This may be state violence, such as repression or war, or non-state violence, such as terrorism or armed rebellion.
  • Infrapolitical violence refers to acts of violence which are political in nature, but which are not necessarily recognised as such. This can include forms of structural violence, such as the systematic exclusion of certain groups from political, economic or social life.
  • Metapolitical violence is a more complex concept, referring to violence that goes beyond the traditional political domain. It may involve acts of violence motivated by beliefs or ideologies that transcend traditional politics, such as religious fundamentalism or ideological fanaticism.
  • Extreme violence, finally, refers to acts of violence that are so atrocious and devastating that they go beyond our usual understanding of what constitutes violence. This can include acts such as genocide, crimes against humanity or the most brutal forms of terrorism. The term "barbarian" is often used to describe those who commit such acts, suggesting that they have transgressed the boundaries of what is considered acceptable or civilised behaviour.

These concepts are not mutually exclusive and can overlap in many cases. For example, an act of political violence can also be a form of metapolitical violence if it is motivated by an extremist ideology.

Classical concept of political violence[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Political violence as a classical concept is intrinsically linked to the notion of power and authority. It can be employed either by a state or public authority in order to exercise, maintain or extend its power, or by groups or individuals seeking to challenge that power. In this context, violence can take many forms, ranging from direct physical violence, such as war or repression, to structural or systemic violence, such as institutionalised discrimination or economic oppression. The question of the legitimacy of political violence is complex and can vary considerably according to context and perspective. For example, an action that may be considered illegitimate political violence by some (such as terrorism or armed rebellion) may be seen by others as legitimate resistance to oppression. Political violence is therefore a complex form of violence involving a multitude of factors, including power, authority, resistance, oppression and legitimacy.

The following are two common justifications for the use of violence, often articulated in the context of politics or armed conflict:

  1. Violence as a principle of defensive action: This argument holds that the use of violence is justifiable if it serves to protect an individual, group or state against an imminent or real threat. This notion can be found in the principle of self-defence. It can also apply to the use of force by the state to maintain public order, prevent crime or protect national security. In such cases, the key question is often to determine the extent to which the use of violence is proportionate to the threat, and whether other less violent means could have been used instead.
  2. Violence in the service of a just cause: This argument justifies the use of violence as a means of achieving a wider or nobler end. This might include the struggle for social equality, national liberation, or the defence of certain values or beliefs. In such cases, violence is often perceived as a necessary evil, justified by the seriousness of the injustice to be fought or the importance of the objective to be achieved. This approach can lead to situations where the means (violence) are justified by the end (the just cause).

Political violence in defence of the rule of law is a complex issue that gives rise to much debate. The use of force by the state, for example through the police or the army, is generally justified by the need to maintain public order and security. However, such force must always be used proportionately and in accordance with the principles of the rule of law. One of the major challenges facing public actors is to find the right balance between the use of force to maintain order and respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens. Excessive use of force can not only violate these rights, but also provoke further discontent and resistance from the population. Moreover, state violence can also generate a cycle of violence: acts of violence committed by the state can lead to violent reprisals or acts of resistance by those who feel oppressed, which in turn can lead to an escalation of violence. So while violence may appear to be an effective tool for maintaining order in the short term, it can also be counter-productive and destabilising in the long term. This is why it is crucial that public actors always seek to use non-violent means to resolve conflicts and tensions whenever possible.

The symbolic question is how far it is possible to go. The impact of a "blunder" - an excessive, illegitimate or cruel action, generally carried out by the forces of law and order - which can have serious consequences not only for the person directly concerned, but also on a symbolic and socio-political level.

The concept of "blunder" highlights the boundary between the justified use of force by the state in the exercise of its functions and what is perceived as a transgression of that legitimacy. The consequences of such a transgression can be far-reaching and manifold:

  1. On an individual level, the victims of blunders can suffer serious physical and psychological harm, and in the most extreme cases, these incidents can result in death.
  2. At a symbolic level, a blunder can erode public confidence in the institutions of the State and perceptions of their legitimacy. This can engender feelings of mistrust and fear, but also anger and revolt, potentially leading to protests or civil unrest.
  3. On a socio-political level, blunders can provoke intense public debate about governance, human rights, the rule of law, and the accountability of institutions and individuals. They can also lead to calls for structural reform.

Consequently, 'blunders' are far from isolated incidents: they are deeply embedded in the socio-political fabric and can have important implications for the stability and legitimacy of the state.

The use of violence by political power requires justification, often formulated through public discourse. This rationalisation is essential to maintain the legitimacy of the state in the eyes of the population. It is generally based on the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality.

  1. Legality: Violent action must comply with the law in force. This is the basic principle justifying the use of violence by the state. However, it should be noted that legality alone is not always sufficient to ensure legitimacy, particularly if the laws in question are perceived as unjust or abusive.
  2. Necessity: The use of violence must be presented as necessary to achieve some objective, usually related to the preservation of public order, national security, or the general welfare of the population. The concept of necessity is often invoked in situations of crisis or imminent threat.
  3. Proportionality: The violence used must be proportional to the threat or offence. This principle aims to avoid excessive and arbitrary repression.

In addition to these principles, the State must also be transparent and accountable in its use of violence. This means clearly communicating the reasons for the use of violence, and putting in place control and accountability mechanisms to prevent abuses. That said, it is important to remember that even with a well-constructed rationalisation, the use of violence by the state can still give rise to contestation and debate, particularly if it is perceived to be disproportionate, unjust or discriminatory.

In some cases, violence can be seen as serving a just cause, particularly when it is used to resist oppression, defend human rights or protect the vulnerable. This is often referred to as the "just war" or "justified violence" theory. This approach is based on the idea that violence can be morally acceptable if it is aimed at achieving a more important objective, such as social justice, freedom or peace. For example, many consider that the use of violence by resistance movements during the Second World War was justified in the face of Nazi oppression. However, this perspective is also controversial. On the one hand, there is the risk that the concept of 'justified violence' could be used to legitimise abusive or disproportionate acts of violence. On the other hand, some philosophers and political thinkers maintain that violence, even in the service of a just cause, remains fundamentally immoral and destructive.

The "right to intervene" is a concept that emerged in the 1980s and refers to the idea that the international community has the right - indeed the duty - to intervene in the internal affairs of a state to protect human rights and prevent humanitarian disasters. This constitutes a departure from the traditional principle of non-interference, which makes state sovereignty an absolute norm of international law. This development is mainly due to a growing awareness of the human suffering caused by internal conflicts and oppressive regimes. However, like the notion of "just violence", the right to intervene is also a controversial concept. Some argue that it can be used as a pretext for military intervention motivated by geopolitical interests rather than humanitarian considerations. Others argue that international intervention can sometimes aggravate the conflicts it seeks to resolve. Despite these debates, the right to intervene has influenced the international community's approach to humanitarian crises and contributed to the creation of the concept of the "responsibility to protect", adopted by the United Nations in 2005, which states that if a state is unable or unwilling to protect its population from mass atrocities, it is up to the international community to do so.

The right of humanitarian intervention represents a significant change in the philosophy of international law. Traditionally, international law has been based on respect for the sovereignty of states, which means that each state has the right to control its own internal affairs without outside interference. However, the right of humanitarian interference challenges this idea, asserting that the international community has the right and even the duty to intervene in the internal affairs of a State when human rights are seriously violated, such as in cases of genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity. It is therefore a controversial concept. On the one hand, it is praised for its ability to protect individuals from massive human rights violations. On the other, it is criticised for its potential to be used as a pretext for military intervention motivated by geopolitical interests rather than genuine humanitarian concerns. In addition, there is a fear that humanitarian intervention may aggravate the conflicts it seeks to resolve. Finally, the application of the right to humanitarian intervention poses practical challenges. Who decides when intervention is necessary? How can we ensure that intervention is carried out ethically and effectively? These questions continue to be debated by lawyers, political scientists and international actors.

The concept of infrapolitical violence[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Infrapolitical violence generally refers to violence that takes place outside the traditional structures of state power. It is often linked to non-state actors, such as armed groups, criminal organisations or private militias, who exercise their own form of power and control, sometimes within the borders of a nation state, but outside the direct control of the latter. This form of violence can manifest itself in different ways, ranging from organised crime and drug trafficking to political and ethnic violence. It is often linked to situations of state weakness or failure, where state power is insufficient to maintain order and guarantee security. Sub-political violence is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that poses many challenges in terms of security, governance and human rights. Taking it into account is essential if we are to understand the contemporary dynamics of violence and power. In the 1980s and beyond, with globalisation and economic and political change, there has been an increase in sub-political violence in many contexts, as non-state actors have gained increasing influence. This trend has raised new questions about how we understand violence, power and the role of the state.

Sub-political violence can blur the boundaries between what is considered political and what is considered criminal. In many cases, the actors who carry out this violence can navigate between legality and illegality, sometimes using political mechanisms to strengthen their power while at the same time engaging in illegal activities. These actors may, for example, participate in elections or formal political processes while using violence to consolidate their power. They may also engage in legal economic activities while profiting from illicit markets. In addition, they may use tactics of violence and intimidation to control local populations, while claiming to offer some form of 'governance' or protection. This complexity often makes it difficult to distinguish between political violence and organised crime. It can also make it more difficult for states and international institutions to respond effectively to these forms of violence, as traditional approaches to policing or conflict resolution may not be sufficiently adapted to these challenges.

In some regions where the nation state is weak or absent, various groups may engage in sub-political forms of violence to control resources and establish their own authority. These groups may engage in a range of activities, from controlling drug trafficking or other illegal markets to providing social services in areas neglected by the state. Sometimes these groups may even create parallel forms of governance, performing functions normally carried out by the state, such as enforcing the law and arbitrating disputes. These forms of governance may be based on a combination of force, corruption, intimidation, economic control and sometimes social legitimacy. While these groups may sometimes offer some stability or services in the regions where they operate, they often contribute to long-term instability by undermining the nation state and perpetuating cycles of violence and crime. In addition, they can exploit and oppress local populations, creating difficult living conditions for many.

Concept of metapolitical violence[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The concept of metapolitical violence refers to violence that goes beyond the traditional boundaries of the political, that is no longer linked solely (or mainly) to the nation-state, but is embedded in global, transnational and transcultural dynamics. These forms of violence can be motivated by a variety of causes, ranging from radical religious or political ideologies to reactions to globalisation and the desire to establish a new form of social or political order. They are often extreme acts of violence committed in the name of a wider cause, such as the defence of religious or cultural identity, the fight against perceived injustice or the promotion of a particular vision of social or political justice. International terrorist groups, for example, could be seen as actors of metapolitical violence. This poses major challenges in terms of governance and security, as these forms of violence are often beyond the control of nation states and require a coordinated international response.

Several factors have been identified as possible sources of metapolitical violence.

  1. Criticism of the over-modernity of advanced societies: This can include reactions to the speed of technological change, the alienation and disillusionment caused by globalisation and the breakdown of traditional social ties. Metapolitical violence can be a way for some groups to oppose what they see as the negative aspects of modernity and to assert their own cultural, social or religious identity.
  2. Criticism of political secularisation and loss of connection with the spiritual: Secularisation and the erosion of religious faith in many modern societies can be perceived by some as a threat to their identity and values. In this context, metapolitical violence can be used as a means of defending and reaffirming the importance of religion and the spiritual in public and personal life.
  3. All the frustrations born of modernity: This can include feelings of economic insecurity, social injustice, political exclusion or cultural marginalisation. These frustrations can be exacerbated by the perception that the benefits of modernity are unevenly distributed, which can lead to forms of metapolitical violence aimed at drawing attention to and combating these inequalities.

These factors are often interconnected and can reinforce each other, creating fertile ground for forms of violence that go beyond the traditional boundaries of the nation-state and politics.

Extreme violence vs. barbarism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Extreme violence is a form of violence that escapes all control, social norms, laws or generally accepted moral principles. It is often perceived as being "gratuitous" in nature, i.e. committed for no apparent reason, without prior provocation, and going far beyond what would be necessary to achieve a given objective. It is violence that seems to go beyond any rational justification or explanation. Barbarism" is a term that is often used to describe such extreme forms of violence. It is a term that has a strong negative connotation, and is often used to describe acts of violence that are perceived to be of exceptional cruelty, brutality or inhumanity. It is often used to describe acts of violence that are committed in flagrant violation of generally accepted social, moral or legal norms. The terms "extreme violence" and "barbarism" are often emotionally charged and can be used in a polemical or partisan manner. It is also important to note that perceptions of what constitutes "extreme violence" or "barbarism" may vary according to cultural, historical or individual context.

Extreme violence and barbarism are often manifest in armed conflicts and wars. It can take many forms, including sexual violence, genocide or ethnic cleansing, and massacres of civilians, among others. Sexual violence, including rape, is often used as a weapon of war to humiliate, terrify and dominate the enemy population. It has devastating consequences for the victims and for society as a whole, causing lasting stigmatisation and deep-seated trauma. Ethnic cleansing or wars of ethnic purification are another form of extreme violence. They are characterised by acts committed with the aim of completely eliminating a specific ethnic, religious or racial group from a geographical area. These acts may include murder, forced displacement, destruction of property and other forms of physical violence. These forms of extreme violence are not only gross violations of human rights, they also constitute war crimes and/or crimes against humanity under international law. Such behaviour is condemned by the international community and can be prosecuted by international courts such as the International Criminal Court.

This means the disruption of traditional forms of violence. This violence is qualified as extreme because it is qualified as violence beyond violence, it is a violence that no longer has any ritual and that is extreme cruelty.

  • The "exponentiality of physical violence against people" means an unprecedented escalation of violence against individuals. This can include a drastic increase in murder, sexual violence, torture and other acts of physical violence.
  • The process of regression from the civilisational process is a return to brutal and primitive behaviours and attitudes, in contrast to the norms and values that underpin a civilised society. This can manifest itself in the abandonment of principles such as respect for human rights, justice and equity.
  • Deregulation of the laws and principles of war" means abandoning the rules that have been established to limit the destructive effects of war. This includes non-compliance with the Geneva Conventions, which set minimum standards for the treatment of people caught up in armed conflict.
  • The de-institutionalisation of violence is the absence of any institutional or legal framework to control or regulate violence. This means that violence is no longer limited or controlled by institutional structures, such as government or justice, and can manifest itself in anarchic and unpredictable ways.

All these elements contribute to the devastating nature of extreme violence and its impact on individuals and societies.

Determining the threshold at which violence becomes "extreme" is subjective and may vary according to different perspectives. However, we can generally agree that violence becomes 'extreme' when it exceeds certain limits accepted by society. In the context of extreme violence, the shift from rationality to irrationality can be seen as a key factor. Violence is generally considered rational when it has a specific purpose, such as self-defence or the achievement of a political objective. When violence becomes gratuitous, disproportionate or out of proportion to its original purpose, it can be said to be irrational. In the case of extreme violence, acts of violence are no longer linked to tangible objectives, but are often motivated by hatred, a desire for destruction or other irrational motives. This violence can be chaotic, unpredictable and often without any respect for human life or dignity. It is in these circumstances that violence is generally described as extreme. It is a subject of ongoing research in many disciplines, including philosophy, sociology, psychology and conflict studies, among others.

Extreme violence differs significantly from the classical conceptions of violence and war that we find in the works of Machiavelli and Clausewitz. Machiavelli and Clausewitz saw war and violence as tools of politics, used to achieve specific political objectives. They presented war as a rational act that serves the interests of a state or a leader. In their theories, war is framed by rules and conventions, such as respect for non-combatants and proportionality in the use of force. Extreme violence, on the other hand, represents a break with these ideas. It is often devoid of any clear political objective, with no respect for the conventions of war or human rights. It is characterised by gratuitousness, excess and a lack of distinction between combatants and non-combatants. In these circumstances, violence is used irrationally and indiscriminately, often to inspire terror or to destroy the adversary. It is therefore true that extreme violence challenges conventional theories of war and political violence, showing that violence can go beyond rationality and become an end in itself, an act of pure barbarism. This represents a major challenge for researchers, policy-makers and humanitarian actors seeking to understand and prevent this type of violence.

Michel Henry, a French philosopher, wrote a book entitled "La Barbarie" in 1987. In it, he focused on the concept of barbarism, what it means and how it manifests itself in modern society. For Henry, barbarism is not simply an act of extreme violence, but a system that denies and dehumanises the individual. He sees barbarism as a consequence of modernity and the rationalisation of society, which leads to depersonalisation and dehumanisation. He distinguishes two forms of barbarism. The first is "external barbarism", characterised by acts of violence and physical brutality. The second, more subtle but just as devastating, is 'inner barbarism', which manifests itself in the dehumanisation and alienation of the individual in modern society. For Henry, the modern system, with its emphasis on technology, science and rationality, tends to neglect and despise the subjective and emotional aspects of human existence. This leads to an 'inner barbarism' in which the individual is reduced to an object, a cog in a larger machine. In his work, he therefore emphasises the importance of recognising and valuing the subjectivity and inner experience of the individual in order to counteract this barbaric tendency of modernity.

Hannah Arendt (1906 - 1975) : Radical evil and political violence[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Extract from a German stamp printed in 1988 bearing the effigy of Hannah Arendt.

Hannah Arendt is a leading figure in twentieth-century political philosophy. She was born in Germany in 1906 and was strongly influenced by her teacher and lover, Martin Heidegger. A Jew, she was forced to flee Germany for France in 1933 because of the rise of Nazism. Then, in 1941, she moved to the United States, where she remained until her death in 1975. Arendt made significant contributions to our understanding of politics, authority, totalitarianism and violence. Among her best-known works are "The Origins of Totalitarianism" (1951), "The Condition of Modern Man" (1958) and "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil" (1963). In "The Origins of Totalitarianism", she seeks to understand how totalitarian regimes such as those of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union could emerge. She analyses the elements that contributed to the advent of these regimes, in particular anti-Semitism, imperialism and totalitarianism itself. In "Eichmann in Jerusalem", she examines the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi official responsible for organising the logistics of the Holocaust. She introduces the controversial concept of the "banality of evil", suggesting that atrocious acts can be committed by ordinary people who simply follow orders without question. His work has had a significant influence on a variety of disciplines, from political philosophy to critical theory and gender studies. Her thought continues to be relevant to many contemporary issues, including questions of power, authority and violence.

Hannah Arendt's work is largely informed by the tragic and turbulent events of the twentieth century, notably the two world wars and the emergence of totalitarian regimes. Her concept of 'radical evil', developed partly in response to her reflections on Nazism and the Holocaust, is a particularly important notion in her thinking. According to Arendt, radical evil does not necessarily manifest itself in exceptionally violent or heinous acts of cruelty, but can occur in banal and routine ways, an idea she develops in her account of Adolf Eichmann's trial, "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil". For Arendt, 'radical evil' is an evil that transcends the traditional human understanding of good and evil, in the sense that it is committed by people who do not perceive themselves as evil and who, in fact, may regard their actions as normal or even necessary. It is an evil which, she argues, has been made possible by the structures and systems of modernity, and which represents a break with traditional models of morality and responsibility.

Hannah Arendt's conception of 'radical evil' is partly influenced by the thought of the philosopher Immanuel Kant. However, Arendt's approach is distinct from Kant's in important respects. Kant introduces the notion of 'radical evil' into his Religion beyond the realm of reason alone. For Kant, radical evil is a potential inherent in human nature, i.e. a natural propensity to prioritise our own desires and interests above the requirements of the moral law. However, he also emphasised the ability of human beings to overcome this propensity through the exercise of freedom and rationality. On the other hand, Arendt takes up the notion of radical evil in a completely different context, that of the mass crimes and totalitarianism of the twentieth century. For Arendt, radical evil becomes manifest when inhuman and destructive actions become normalised to the point of losing their exceptional character. Radical evil manifests itself in the banality of its perpetrators, who commit horrific acts not out of evil intent but out of indifference, conformity or an inability to think for themselves. These two conceptions, though related, differ in their understanding of the nature and manifestation of radical evil. Kant sees evil as an inherent human potential that can be overcome, whereas Arendt sees evil as a manifestation of a social and political system that transcends individuality and manifests itself in standardised structures and behaviour.

For Hannah Arendt, the concept of 'radical evil' represents a fundamental shift in our traditional understanding of evil. It is an attempt to conceptualise the mass atrocities perpetrated during the Second World War and totalitarianism. These events represented, for her, a type of evil that was different from what traditional philosophy and morality were equipped to understand. According to Arendt, radical evil was linked to the banality of evil, a phrase she used to describe the fact that ordinary people could commit terrible acts under the influence of a totalitarian regime or when conforming to authority. She developed this idea in particular in her book "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil", where she studied the case of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi bureaucrat who played a key role in the implementation of the Holocaust. Arendt emphasised that Eichmann was not a monster, but an ordinary individual who did not think for himself and simply followed orders. Thus, for Arendt, the radical evil of the twentieth century was deeply linked to dehumanisation, the normalisation of inhumanity and the abdication of personal thought and moral responsibility.

Arendt examined the Holocaust and the persecution of Jews under the Nazi regime not as an example of a scapegoating mechanism, but rather as a manifestation of what she called the 'banality of evil'. Nazi anti-Semitism, according to Arendt, was not simply a matter of shifting guilt or evil onto another group. Instead, it was deeply rooted in Nazi ideology and was carried out by ordinary individuals who committed terrible acts not out of personal hatred or a desire to do harm, but simply because they were following the orders and logic of the totalitarian system. According to Arendt, the Holocaust was the product of a totalitarian power structure that stripped individuals of their ability to think for themselves and to exercise moral judgement. Jews were targeted not because they were scapegoats bearing the guilt of others, but rather because they were seen by the Nazi regime as a threat to their vision of a racially pure, homogeneous society.

René Girard's theory of the scapegoat is based on the idea that collective violence is generated by mimetic tensions within a community, which are then displaced onto a sacrificial victim - the 'scapegoat'. This victim is accused of causing the disorder and is punished or expelled in order to restore harmony within the community. However, Hannah Arendt challenged this idea in the context of the Holocaust. For Arendt, the Jews were not simply scapegoats bearing the brunt of collective guilt or violence. On the contrary, they were the victims of a hateful ideology and a totalitarian system that specifically targeted them for extermination. Their persecution and murder were not the result of mimetic tensions within the German community, but rather of a systematic plan of extermination carried out by the Nazi regime. In this sense, Arendt challenges the idea that evil can simply be displaced or projected onto a sacrificial victim. Instead, she argues that evil is a manifestation of human action and power structures, and can be perpetrated by ordinary individuals under certain conditions. This is what she called the 'banality of evil'.

Hannah Arendt, in her reflections on totalitarianism and specifically on the genocide perpetrated by the Nazi regime, introduced the idea of human "superfluity". For Arendt, 'superfluity' refers to the condition of being in excess, of having no place or utility in a given society or system. In the context of the Holocaust, this idea of superfluity was evident in the way Jews were viewed by the Nazi regime. They were seen as worthless beings who could be exterminated without consequence. This idea of superfluity is an essential element of Arendt's radical evil, in that it suggests that the ability to treat others as superfluous, to dehumanise them to such an extent that they can be massively exterminated, is a form of evil that goes beyond our traditional conceptions of what evil is. Arendt suggests that this form of radical evil is not only the work of psychopaths or monsters, but can be perpetrated by ordinary people who are integrated into totalitarian systems and who, for various reasons, are unable or unwilling to question the orders they receive or the ideologies they are presented with. This is what she calls the "banality of evil".

In her analysis of totalitarianism and concentration camps, Hannah Arendt distinguished three types of camp, corresponding to three different functions of the totalitarian system.

  1. The "Hades" camps were designed to deal with stateless people, asocials and all those considered undesirable or superfluous in society. These camps were intended to contain, control and isolate these people, rather than to re-educate or exterminate them.
  2. Purgatory" camps were re-education camps for those who were considered potential threats to the regime, but who were also considered reformable. The aim of these camps was to force individuals to adopt the ideology and behaviour approved by the regime.
  3. Finally, the "Hell" camps were extermination camps, where people deemed undesirable were systematically killed. These camps represented the most extreme and appalling form of totalitarian violence, where human life was systematically destroyed on an industrial scale.

In "Hell"-type camps, such as the Nazi concentration and extermination camps, Hannah Arendt described a process of systematic dehumanisation and depersonalisation.

  1. Legal dispossession: Camp inmates were stripped of their legal rights, reduced to a state of extreme vulnerability by being excluded from the protection of the law. They were no longer considered subjects of the law, but objects to be disposed of at the will of the regime.
  2. Abandonment to all regulation: The camps were areas of lawlessness where the law was not applied, and where violence and brutality were the norm. It was here that prisoners were often left at the mercy of the "kapos" or camp guards, who were often criminals.
  3. Destruction of personality and individuality: Prisoners were systematically stripped of their personal identity and reduced to a number or category. The Nazis sought to destroy everything that made each prisoner unique, including their name, personal history, beliefs and aspirations.
  4. Reduction to an animal state: The extremely harsh living conditions in the camps, marked by hunger, thirst, cold, forced labour, disease and omnipresent violence, often reduced prisoners to a state close to animality. The Nazi regime intentionally created conditions in which prisoners were forced to fight for survival in the most basic of ways, often at the expense of their humanity.

The ultimate aim of this process of dehumanisation was to facilitate and rationalise mass murder. By reducing the prisoners to a less-than-human state, the perpetrators of the Shoah sought to justify and conceal their crimes.

Jorge Semprún was a Spanish writer and politician who survived the horror of the Buchenwald concentration camp during the Second World War. He recounted his experiences as a Holocaust survivor in several of his works, including his book "Writing or Life". In his memoirs, he describes how he found some form of comfort and hope by looking up at a tree from the camp grounds. This tree, which he could see but could not access, became for him a symbol of freedom, resistance and life in the face of the horror and death that were omnipresent in the camp. He used this image as a mental escape and a source of hope, enabling him to maintain a certain form of humanity and resilience in the face of the inhumanity of his situation. It is an example of how, even in the most desperate situations, human beings can find ways to resist and preserve their humanity. The strength of the human spirit can be extraordinary, and it is stories like this that remind us of that.

The tactics used in the concentration camps were aimed not only at inflicting physical suffering, but also at destroying the humanity of those imprisoned there. As well as cruel and inhuman treatment, prisoners were also deprived of their personal identity and individuality. This psychological degradation was an integral part of the strategy of terror and control. The idea of reducing prisoners to a state of "animality" was clearly evident in many aspects of camp life. The squalid living conditions, lack of food, absence of hygiene and constant violence were designed to dehumanise the prisoners and deprive them of their dignity. In addition, the lack of a time perspective, the constant uncertainty and the lack of information about the outside world also contributed to this dehumanising effect. By depriving the prisoners of the possibility of planning or even imagining a future, the torturers sought to keep them in a constant state of anguish and despair. Finally, the destruction of solidarity and moral conscience was also an essential part of this strategy. By creating an environment in which individual survival became the primary objective, the executioners sought to break the bonds of solidarity and empathy that might help the inmates to resist or maintain their humanity. All these tactics were aimed at completely dehumanising the prisoners and transforming them into "inferior beings", in order to justify and facilitate their extermination. This dehumanisation was an essential component of the horror of the concentration camps, and is now widely recognised as a characteristic of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Hannah Arendt and the banality of evil[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Adolf Eichmann in April 1961 during his trial in Jerusalem.

Hannah Arendt, in her report on the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961, introduced the concept of the "banality of evil". Eichmann, a high-ranking bureaucrat in the Nazi regime, was one of the main organisers of the Holocaust. Yet during his trial, he claimed that he had only followed orders and had not acted out of hatred or personal malice.

For Arendt, Eichmann's case embodied a form of evil that was not rooted in personal monstrosity or perversity, but rather stemmed from superficial thinking and blind adherence to a system of command. She described it as "terribly and frighteningly normal", implying that anyone, under certain conditions, could become an actor of evil. The "banality of evil", for Arendt, does not minimise the horror of the actions committed, but rather highlights the way in which systemic structures and social pressures can lead ordinary individuals to participate in acts of extreme violence. This theory provoked much controversy and intense philosophical debate, and remains one of the most debated aspects of Arendt's thought today.

Adolf Eichmann was not just a "minor civil servant" but a senior Nazi official responsible for the logistical organisation of the deportation and extermination of Jews during the Second World War. Eichmann was captured in Argentina by the Israeli secret service (Mossad) in 1960 and taken to Israel to stand trial. What particularly interested Hannah Arendt about Eichmann's trial was his statement that he had only "followed orders" and was therefore not directly responsible for the atrocities committed. It was this position, combined with his apparent normality, that led Arendt to formulate her theory of the 'banality of evil'. According to Arendt, Eichmann was not a monster in the traditional sense, but rather an ordinary individual who had allowed himself to be drawn into the Nazi bureaucratic system and had abstracted himself from the reality and humanity of the victims. Arendt pointed out that this kind of evil, committed by ordinary people who dissociate themselves from their actions, is perhaps the most terrifying of all.

The Wannsee Conference, held on 20 January 1942 in Berlin, is generally regarded as the moment when the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question", i.e. the systematic extermination of the Jews, was formally decided by the Nazi leadership. Although most of the conference documents were destroyed by the Nazis at the end of the Second World War, a copy of the minutes of the meeting was discovered in 1947. This document provided concrete proof of the Nazis' intention to exterminate the Jews.

In Eichmann's case, his guilt was not really in question at his trial. He had already admitted his role in organising the deportation of Jews to the concentration and extermination camps. The question was rather to what extent he was responsible for his actions, given his claim that he had only followed orders. This is where Arendt's theory of the "banality of evil" came into play. Eichmann was convicted of crimes against humanity, war crimes and other charges, and executed in 1962. His trial highlighted the personal responsibility of individuals for their actions, even when acting within a bureaucratic system or following orders.

Hannah Arendt was struck by Eichmann's apparent normality, what she called the "banality of evil". In her view, Eichmann was not a bloodthirsty monster or an ideological fanatic, but rather an average bureaucrat who was content to do his job without questioning the morality of his actions. For Arendt, this represented a new kind of evil, one committed by ordinary people who simply conformed to the system in place without thinking about the consequences of their actions. She argued that this was partly possible because the Nazi bureaucracy had dehumanised the act of extermination, turning it into a mere administrative task. This is not to say that Eichmann was not guilty of his crimes. On the contrary, Arendt pointed out that, even in a bureaucratic system, individuals still bear moral responsibility for their actions. However, this shows that evil can occur in ordinary circumstances and be perpetrated by ordinary people. It was this idea that gave rise to the concept of the "banality of evil".

The term "banality of evil" that Hannah Arendt coined to describe Adolf Eichmann and similar Nazi war criminals refers precisely to this paradox. Eichmann was not a demonic psychopath or a deranged sadist, but rather a civil servant obsessed with the efficiency of his work. Arendt argued that evil, far from being the prerogative of inhuman monsters, can be perpetrated by quite ordinary people who accept the system as it is and do not question the orders they are given. She described Eichmann as a man who was, in her words, "terribly and terrifyingly normal". This 'banality of evil' is based on the idea that people can commit atrocious acts not because they are intrinsically evil or hateful, but simply because they do not think about the consequences of their actions. It is important to note that Arendt does not condone Eichmann's actions, but rather seeks to understand how such crimes can occur. It is an invitation to vigilance and moral awakening for all to prevent such acts from happening again.

"We expected to meet a human monster, but what we got was an ordinary man who was not so much a monster as a clown". This quotation from Hannah Arendt aptly reflects the concept of the "banality of evil" that she developed. For her, Eichmann and others responsible for mass crimes were not monstrous, inhuman figures, but ordinary people, who in Eichmann's case sometimes seemed derisory, even ridiculous ("a clown"). Arendt suggests here that the true nature of horror lies not so much in exceptional monstrosity as in the ordinary, the everyday, the habitual, the routine. In Eichmann's case, he was not motivated by fervent racial hatred, but simply performed his bureaucratic duties efficiently and zealously, without questioning the devastating consequences of his actions. This conception of the 'banality of evil' challenges our traditional perception of evil and individual responsibility for mass crimes, emphasising the role of critical thinking and personal ethics in preventing such acts.

Hannah Arendt's theory of the 'banality of evil' confronts us with the ordinary and the habitual, which can lead to extremes under certain conditions. Arendt highlights the capacity of an apparently 'normal' individual to commit unimaginable acts of cruelty and injustice when inserted into a system that not only permits but encourages such actions. By dehumanising their victims and refusing to acknowledge their own role in the evil committed, individuals like Eichmann were able to detach themselves from the reality of their actions and justify them as simply carrying out orders or obeying the law. This reveals a disturbing and deeply worrying truth: evil is not always committed by deeply disturbed or intrinsically evil individuals. Sometimes it can be perpetrated by ordinary people who, in certain circumstances, are capable of extraordinarily horrific acts. This underlines the importance of moral vigilance, education and the capacity for individual judgement in preventing the recurrence of such events in the future.

Hannah Arendt's theory of the "banality of evil" derives its meaning precisely from this observation: individuals, like Adolf Eichmann, can participate in acts of extreme evil without fully integrating or recognising the reality of what they are doing. In Eichmann's case, he saw himself as a mere civil servant "doing his job". Arendt emphasises that Eichmann was not a psychopath or a fanatic, but rather someone who had disconnected himself from his capacity for moral judgement, allowing his sense of morality to be defined entirely by the system within which he worked. He followed orders and regulations without ever questioning the ethics or consequences of his actions. For him, the victims of the Holocaust were not real individuals with their own lives and experiences, but rather numbers and statistics in his logistical system. As a result, Eichmann failed to recognise the reality of his actions and their devastating impact on real people. It is this disconnection from reality, this inability to see the moral and human implications of his actions, that embodies Arendt's 'banality of evil'. She reminds us that it is possible for ordinary people to commit acts of extreme evil when they are cut off from empathy and understanding of the reality of their actions.

According to Arendt, the ability to think is essential for moral judgement. Thinking, in this context, means more than simply reflecting or having thoughts - it is an activity that requires reflection, questioning, consideration of different perspectives and empathy. It's a kind of internal conversation where you consider the moral implications of your actions and make informed, ethical decisions. In the case of Eichmann and many others who participated in large-scale acts, Arendt suggests that their inability to think in this way made their participation possible. They simply followed orders, without taking the time to reflect on the moral implications or human consequences of their actions. Consequently, the absence of thought - in the sense of moral reflection and empathy - can lead to immoral actions. Individuals can then dissociate themselves from the reality of their actions and avoid moral responsibility. This is what makes evil so "banal" or ordinary, according to Arendt - it does not require inherent wickedness, but simply an absence of reflective thought.

"We expected to meet a human monster, but we are dealing with an ordinary man... less a monster than a clown... The evil man would therefore be each one of us... If he allows himself to be insensitively dragged along, he manages in historical and political circumstances to commit the greatest crimes. There is no more genius in evil than in good, but only ordinary men, in whom the spirit of evil keeps watch and waits only for the right moment to breathe and drive them to radical evil, so that there is a disproportion between the evil committed and the ordinary appearance of the human being who did it".

It's a powerful quote that sums up Hannah Arendt's thesis on the 'banality of evil'. The quote refers to her coverage of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi official who played a key role in organising the Holocaust. Eichmann was not a particularly cruel or sadistic man by nature, but a zealous civil servant who was content to carry out the orders of his superiors without thinking about the moral consequences of his actions. It is this absence of thought, this inability to consider the ethical implications of his actions, that Arendt describes as the "banality of evil". The quotation underlines the idea that evil is not necessarily the work of 'monsters', but can be committed by ordinary people who detach themselves from their own moral responsibility. It is an important reminder that ethics and personal responsibility are essential, even (and especially) in situations where we are driven to act contrary to our conscience.

Professor Rémi Baudoui states that there is no action without thought. This statement underlines a fundamental conclusion of Hannah Arendt's philosophy: action and thought are intimately linked. For Arendt, the ability to think is fundamental to human morality and ethical responsibility. In the case of Eichmann, Arendt argues that he was able to participate in acts of unspeakable cruelty precisely because he did not reflect on the moral implications of his actions. He simply 'followed orders', detaching himself from personal responsibility. This absence of thought is, for Arendt, what makes evil 'banal' and frightening, because it suggests that anyone can become capable of committing terrible acts if they give up thinking and exercising moral judgement. That's why Baudoui's statement is so important: it underlines the need for reflection and ethical commitment in everything we do. Without thought, we risk being drawn into actions that we might otherwise recognise as immoral or unjust.

Reconsidering the concept of violence[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Hannah Arendt's vision of violence is complex. She distinguishes between violence, power, authority and force, arguing that these are distinct concepts that are often confused. According to Arendt, power is a collective capacity that emerges when people come together and act in concert. It is founded on mutual consent and cooperation, and is the basis of all political government. Violence, on the other hand, is an action that destroys, injures or kills. It can be used to defend power, or to destroy it, but it cannot create it. It is an instrumental form of action, often used as a means to an end, such as domination or coercion. Authority is a particular type of power that derives from respect or esteem for a person or an institution. It is based on legitimacy and consent. Force, on the other hand, is a physical or material capacity that can be used to exert constraint or domination. For Arendt, then, violence and power are in fact opposites. Power comes from the people and their consent to be governed, while violence is an act of destruction or coercion. It is used when power is absent or has failed. In this, Arendt reminds us that violence can overthrow power, but it cannot replace or create it. This is a crucial distinction in her political philosophy.

Hannah Arendt challenged Max Weber's concept of legitimate violence. According to Weber, the state has a monopoly on legitimate violence, i.e. the exclusive right to use physical force to maintain order and enforce the law. This notion is fundamental to Weber's definition of the state and to his more general theory of political power. However, Arendt challenged this idea. In her view, violence and power are distinct and often opposed concepts. Power, as she defined it, derives from consent and collective action, while violence is a form of coercive and destructive action. She argues that violence can be used to defend or destroy power, but cannot create it. Arendt questions the legitimacy of the state's use of violence, arguing that any use of violence is potentially illegitimate because it contradicts the nature of political power, which is based on consent and collective action. She warns of the dangers of the use of violence by the state, particularly in situations where the state uses violence to maintain its power in the absence of popular consent or support. This is not to say that Arendt does not recognise the legitimacy of the state's use of violence - for example, to maintain order or defend the community against external aggression. However, she stresses that such violence must be justified by ethical and moral principles, and not simply by the fact that the state has a monopoly on force.

Hannah Arendt suggests that violence can be used as an instrument by governments, but that no government can rely exclusively on violence to maintain its power. The idea here is that violence may be a method used by government to achieve certain goals, but it is not the source of power itself. In her book On Violence, Arendt explores this idea in more detail. She argues that violence and power are distinct and often opposing concepts. Power, she argues, comes from consensus and cooperation between people; it is a collective attribute that emanates from people's buy-in and support. Violence, on the other hand, is coercive and destructive. It can be used to defend or destroy power, but it cannot create it. A regime that relies solely on violence to maintain control is inherently unstable, because violence often provokes resistance and opposition. The idea of "instrumental violence" refers to the use of violence as a means to achieve certain ends. For example, a government may use violence to enforce laws or to suppress dissent. However, Arendt argues that the use of violence in this way is fundamentally different from the exercise of power, which relies on the consent and cooperation of citizens.

From Hannah Arendt's perspective, a government's repeated use of violence can be seen as a sign of weakness rather than strength. If a government has to resort constantly to violence to enforce its directives, this indicates that the government has difficulty in obtaining the consent and support of its citizens, and is therefore in a position of weakness. Violence is a tool of coercion, not persuasion. It may force people to comply out of fear of the consequences, but it does not win their consent or voluntary support. A government that can persuade its citizens to voluntarily support its policies is much stronger and more stable than one that has to resort to violence to enforce its decisions. This is why Arendt stressed that power and violence are distinct concepts. Power, she argued, comes from consent and cooperation between individuals. Violence, on the other hand, is a method of coercion that can be used to defend or destroy power, but cannot create it. In this context, the repeated use of violence is therefore an indicator of political weakness. It suggests that the government is unable to persuade its citizens to voluntarily support its policies and must therefore resort to force to enforce its directives.

When a government or regime resorts only to violence to maintain order, it can be said that it has ceased to engage in politics in the true sense of the term. For Arendt, politics implies dialogue, persuasion and consensus. When violence becomes the main tool of government, it is no longer politics but tyranny or dictatorship. The Terror during the French Revolution is an example of this concept. Robespierre and the Jacobins used violence and fear to suppress opposition and maintain control, justifying their actions in the name of the Revolution and republican "virtue". They resorted to mass executions, notably by guillotine, to eliminate those they considered enemies of the Revolution. However, this regime of terror was not sustainable. It created widespread fear and instability, and eventually led to the fall of Robespierre and the end of the Terror. This example illustrates Arendt's point that violence can destroy power, but it cannot create or sustain it.

Arendt believed that violence was an ineffective tool of control in the long term and that it could not create true power. For Arendt, power is based on legitimacy and mutual consent, which is totally absent in regimes that use violence as a means of control. Indeed, she argues that violence can destroy existing power, but it does not have the capacity to create it. Violence can frighten people into obedience, but it cannot establish the true legitimacy or respect necessary for the long-term functioning of a government. It also warns against the danger of violence becoming an end in itself. This happens when regimes become increasingly dependent on violence to maintain control, and violence becomes not just a means, but an end in itself. According to Arendt, this marks the end of true politics, which should be based on dialogue, persuasion and consensus rather than coercion and force.

"To sum up, it is not enough to say that, in the political sphere, power and violence must not be confused. Power and violence are opposed by their very nature; when one of the two predominates absolutely, the other is eliminated. Violence manifests itself when power is threatened, but if it is allowed to develop, it will eventually lead to the disappearance of power. It follows that non-violence should not be considered the opposite of violence. To speak of non-violent power is in fact a tautology. Violence can destroy power, it is perfectly incapable of creating it."

It's a powerful quote that sums up Hannah Arendt's views on power, violence and non-violence. According to Arendt, power is intrinsically non-violent. When we talk about power, we are really talking about the ability to work together, to achieve common goals and to create mutually beneficial conditions. From this perspective, violence is contrary to the nature of power because it divides, destroys and forces rather than brings together, creates and persuades. The importance of Arendt's vision is clear, especially when we consider political or social contexts in which violence is often seen as a necessary tool to obtain or maintain power. Arendt rejects this idea, asserting that violence can destroy power, but it cannot create it. Her reference to non-violence as a tautology for power reinforces this idea. In other words, power by its very nature is non-violent - it requires consent, commitment and cooperation, and cannot be maintained by force or coercion. This perspective has important implications for the way we think about politics, leadership and social relations.

Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]