This article examines the concept of violence in contemporary political theory focusing in particular on the possibility of rethinking the relationship between violence and democracy. Rather than seeing democracy and violence as contrasting concepts, it argues that democratic societies have always been founded on the basis of violent engagement at some level. And, of course, the modern state has always claimed the legitimate use of force as a key ingredient in its authority. The article contends that many contemporary democratic discourses have lost sight of the integral relationship between democracy and violence. Indeed it is frequently the case that discourses of democracy are couched in ethical terms as the obverse of violence. Ironically, this trend is often most apparent where societies are either making a transition to democracy or where a process of conflict transformation is taking place. The limitations of these approaches for our understanding of violence and democracy will be outlined in this article through an examination of contemporary political developments in Northern Ireland.
The Case of Northern Ireland
Everyday Ethnic Identity in Bosnia-Herzegovina
Structurally inspired anthropological analyses of war and violence tend to claim that conflicts have an inherent potential to create unambiguous identities. Based on ethnographic data from everyday life among the Muslim population of Stolac in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina the article shows that this is not necessarily the case. Instead of resorting to the politically created dichotomous categories of ethnic exclusion, the Muslims of Stolac favored ambiguous identifications highlighting coexistence and interethnic respect. In this way of refraining from exclusive ethnic antagonistic identifications they experimented with ways of inhabiting the world together with the ethnic others; mainly the Croat population of Stolac.
Sartre and the Ethics of Need
Beginning with a study of need and its relationship to violence in Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason, this paper argues that need, in the midst of scarcity, can both be a catalyst for violence and a force in the service of love. It warns against an antagonistic view of need and of ethics that emerges in Sartre’s Critique, drawing on Sartre’s own ongoing commitments to existentialism and also on the work of Primo Levi. In particular, it warns against the danger of reducing an ethics of need to one of Manichean violence. It also introduces the concept of ‘second-person needs’, which include (but are not limited to) needs of one’s own for the needs of others to be met. This concept is resonant with the idea of authentic love introduced in Sartre’s earlier, unfinished Notebooks for an Ethics, with the suggestions concerning a concrete, material ethics offered in Sartre’s Rome Lecture of 1964, as well as with Sartre’s concept of the fused group in the Critique itself.
Matthew C. Eshleman and Ronald E. Santoni
Can violence ever be justified or is violence necessarily oppressive? Is self-defensive counter-violence or “revolutionary violence” aimed at human liberation, which Sartre defended, necessarily in bad faith? These questions form the crux of the debate between Matt Eshleman and Ronald Santoni. Is violence by nature Manichean, making the Other into an “object” and evil antagonist, and thus dehumanizing and oppressing the Other? Or can violence be liberatory when it is directed at oppressors? Both authors—but especially Eshleman, and Santoni reluctantly—agree that some forms of violence (such as self-defense) do not involve bad faith, but disagree about whether or when revolutionary violence can be justified.
Narratives of Resilient Latino Male Youth
Adrian H. Huerta
Latino boys and young men often carry the debt of violence into different spaces. This invisible trauma manifests into disruptive behaviors in schools. It is well documented that violence in urban communities and schools has received significant attention from researchers, but little attention has been paid to Latino male youth as individuals and the various forms of violence they have experienced, and how that impacts educational persistence. This qualitative study focuses on 26 Latino male middle and high school students who are attending two continuation schools to understand the types of violence they have experienced and their educational aspirations after high school.
Is Liberation without Freedom Possible?
One of the biggest threats in the contemporary world is the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism, which is increasingly becoming a facet of everyday life in Europe. In this article, I question whether it is possible to define Islamic terrorism as a form of counter-violence, according to how Jean-Paul Sartre presented this concept in Notebooks for an Ethics, and, as a consequence, whether it can be legitimized or justified. According to this argument, the freedoms that perceive themselves as oppressed can try to liberate themselves through violence, given certain conditions. However, with terrorism we do not simply face the paradox inherent to counter-violence. The key point, which clearly distinguishes Islamic terrorism from counter-violence, is the fact that behind this nihilistic fury there is no concept of freedom to be liberated.
My aim in this article is to move the problematic of violence and its role in politics to a historico-ontological plane. I propose a perspective that breaks with the dominant subjectivist concept of human violence and its metaphysical foundations, which fail to distinguish this concept from that of aggression. According to this perspective, we are already in the field of violence in our everyday social existence, regardless of our personal choices or intentions, the sources of which are systemic. The ontological essence of this systemic violence lies in the fact that it is not external to human subjects but is engraved in their very social being by penetrating into the discourses, practices and frames of mind that make up their historical disposition, which makes it in many instances harder to escape than subjective violence. What I call from this ontological perspective the 'violence of closure' has the effect ultimately of suppressing the possibilities of social being open to human beings in their given historical situation, by normalising the existing way of social and political existence, and closing them off to alternatives. I argue that to this violence of closure must be opposed the violence of dis-closure, which, in its various particular intellectual and practical forms, can open up human social existence to its repressed possibilities.
Interpreting five homicides in the South African lowveld
This article points to the limitations of utilitarian theories of violence, as evident in the works of anthropologists who insist that all acts of violence either serve instrumental purposes (such as advancing one's own position) or expressive purposes (such as communicating key social ideas). Against the totalizing claims of such theories, the article observes that most homicides that occurred in the South African lowveld village where I conducted fieldwork research were the unanticipated consequence of men striking out in moments of anger. Although not the purposeful outcome of calculated conduct, these homicides were not however random. The high incidence of homicide can be explained in terms of Sahlins's concept of conjunctive agency, and by the co-presence of structural conditions of deprivation, ideologies of masculine domination, the wide prevalence of firearms, and the social enactment of rage.
In the 1980s, Guatemala's state-sponsored violence reached genocidal proportions and led to community ruptures, endemic fear, deepened distrust, and unprecedented levels of daily violence that have continued into the post-war period. Tragically, the war's resolution has not ended the country's volatility and insecurity. Reconciliation is challenging and requires a much deeper structural overhaul. It is problematical for a society that has been created on a rigid, ethnic-based, and highly divisive foundation now to take steps toward reclaiming a non-existent pre-war period of concord. An inclusive and just society, which respects the fundamental human rights of all, is essential yet sorely lacking. Moving in this direction is hindered by the historic impunity enjoyed by the military and the powerful, as well as a dysfunctional judicial system in need of reform.
Eliza Guyol-Meinrath Echeverry
For decades, Canadian-based corporate development projects have been linked to acts of violence in countries all over the world. These acts include sexual violence, destruction of property, community displacement, the use of forced labor, and other forms of violence. While Canada has repeatedly failed to pass legislation holding Canadian-based corporations accountable for human rights abuses committed abroad, Canadian courts are increasingly asserting their jurisdiction over cases of development-related violence. Analyzing two ongoing court cases—Caal v. Hudbay, regarding sexual violence in Guatemala, and Araya v. Nevsun, regarding forced labor in Eritrea— this article examines the potential and limits of law to address the bureaucratic mechanisms and grounded experiences of corporate-development-related violence, and the changing relationship between states, corporations, law, and human rights in the modern global era.