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Some Questions on Politics and Violence

Author(s): Etienne Balibar


Source: Assemblage, No. 20, Violence, Space (Apr., 1993), pp. 12-13
Published by: The MIT Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3181676
Accessed: 11-08-2016 04:45 UTC
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Some Questions on Politics and Violence

Derrida once wrote that "non-violence in a sense is the worse


form of violence," He did not say that they were equivalent, or
synonymous, he said in a sense, which also means: in some circumstances. But then it may prove worse and more violent than
open, or crude violence itself. I agree with this idea, which doesn't
seem to me to take us back to some pessimistic view of human
nature, but rather to warn us against the illusion that there would
exist absolute ways out of the condition of violence, or absolute

means to master it. The question becomes, then: how to manage


with violence under its different forms, how to choose among
them and counter them.
I want to confront this question with the experiences and discourses of politics. It seems that violence, be it "private" or "public," "domestic" or "international," has been reaching a degree
such that the very idea of politics is destabilized, since this idea
was always associated with an overcoming (Aufhebung) of vio-

lence. So had said Hobbes and Kant: "we must find a way out of
it" (be it called Power, Law, or Civilization). It seems that the
ambivalency of violence (not only the difficulty of identifying victims and oppressors, but the difficulty of separating the positive

and the negative sides of violence) has reached such a degree that
the traditional negations of violence (what we may call the strategy
of non-violence and the strategy of counter-violence) have lost the

references they need to be meaningful (some would say: "rational") political strategies.
But were these traditional strategies ever safe? Each of them
could be presented as an absolute only by proving how inefficient
and/or unjust the other was; and this typical "antinomy of politics" was displayed as well by State-politics and by the politics of
Revolution. In both cases it culminated precisely in the definition

Etienne

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and use of an "antinomic" concept of politics. So the Leviathan


was presented as the concentration of violence in one point, outside "society" and above it, which took all the evil for itself in order
to free the social life from it. So as well the Revolutionary upsurge

was imagined as the last violence, the one which by its very
radicality destroys for ever (the conditions of any) violence.
Structuralist analyses of the conditions of violence could not completely free themselves, and free us from these sacred mysteries, al-

though they approached a finite vision of the connection between


violence and politics, which supposes not only recognizing that
there are material conditions on which the production of violence

depends, and consequently the development of liberation movements which have always already begun in the very experience of
oppression, but also that there is an excess, or a supplementary effect of violence on these conditions themselves. Marx provided
this structural analysis for the economic conditions of class vio-

lence. Spinoza earlier had provided it for the ideological conditions


of symbolic violence (which is the one at stake, notably, in ethnicreligious conflicts). Although neither of them, it seems to me, was
really able to describe the "overdetermined effects" of economy
and ideology, which lay at the core of the unpredictability and apparent irrationality of violence from a political point of view, both

can contribute to the emergence of an hypothetic third strategy (or


third "negation"), which I would call anti-violence, i.e., the set of
practices which become necessary when it appears that the "civil
state" has become more violent than any "state of nature."
This seems to be all the more necessary to think further in an era
when institutional violence, preventive repression, and the cycle of
military and humanitarian interventions has reached an unprecedented level.

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Balibar

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