"Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power's disappearance."Hannah Arendt (190675), German-born U.S. political philosopher. Crises of the Republic, "On Violence" (1972).
"A society that presumes a norm of violence and celebrates aggression, whether in the subway, on the football field, or in the conduct of its business, cannot help making celebrities of the people who would destroy it."
Lewis H. Lapham (b. 1935), U.S. essayist, editor. "Citizen Goetz," in Harper's (New York, March 1985).
"Under all conditions well-organized violence seems to him the shortest distance between two points."
Leon Trotsky (18791940), Russian revolutionary. Unfinished biography of Josef Stalin; Stalin, chapter 3 (1947).
They fear change. They fear those who are different from them, whether they worship the Divine differently (or not at all), have a different coloration to their skin, speak a different language, have different political views, a different sexual orientation, a different level of education, or even a different sex.
Conservatives also have a liking for guns looking on them as the great equalizer, or as they used to say in the Old West, "God made man, Colonel Colt made them equal." I think that they believe the very real and understandable fear which human beings have of guns, somehow equalizes and compensates for their own inadequacies and fear they have about the changing world around them.
Many conservatives are under the grave misapprehension that in the event of the Federal government becoming a full blown dictatorship, they will take to the streets, and the soldiers sent to put down their insurrection will join them, and then together they will overthrow the nascent dictatorship. I hate to tell them this, there is only one instance I can think of where the soldiers crossed over to join the revolutionaries--as opposed to the military fomenting the revolution--was Russia in 1917, and we all know how well that turned out.
These conservatives are expecting an easy time against a dictatorship that overthrows our Constitution, as the nation rises as one against the dictatorship. As any old Leftist from the Sixties can tell them, they are living in a fool's paradise. It took four years after the launching of an illegal war in Cambodia to throw Richard Nixon out of office. Even then, it was a third rate political burglary that forced Nixon's resignation, not his and Henry Kissinger's war crimes, including complicity in the overthrow and murder of Salvador Allende in Chile. Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned him, preventing an important object lesson for our nation, especially for certain Nixon subordinates, who went on to commit their own high crimes, including Iran-Contra and approving torture at Abu Ghraib.
The belief of so many conservatives in the effectiveness of torture as an interrogation technique mirrors their overall belief in the effectiveness of violence to resolve disputes or other problems. As Carl Jung observed concerning torture, "The healthy man does not torture others--generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers;" (DU magazine, volume 1; "Return to the Simple Life," Zurich, May 1941). Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in his 1973 Nobel Prize lecture, spoke of what is the ultimate weakness of violence as a means to resolve human problems; "Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence. Any man who has once proclaimed violence as his method is inevitably forced to take the lie as his principle." Or as Isaac Asimov so succinctly put it in his Foundation books, "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."
If we are to understand the conservatives', or any other groups need for violence, we must first understand where the violence comes from in the human psyche.
Non-psychopathic violence--which, on the face of it, may be an oxymoron--arises when an individual or a group feels that they lack power, or that somehow they have lost, or are in danger of losing what power that they once had, or (finally) from the conflict that can arise between two or more individuals or groups who are attempting to gain or regain power that they believe that they need or require to maintain or improve their current political, economic, social or cultural position.
When violence arises from a perceived lack of power, there can be two excuses given for the violence. The first is when an individual or group believing they have no power, attempts to illegitimately acquire power in some form from properly constituted, legitimate, authority; i.e., criminal acts up to and including treason. The second excuse is when an already constituted authority attempts to seize power beyond that which it has a legitimate right to hold. The acts of the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, the Silent Brotherhood (who killed Alan Berg), and Timothy McVeigh fall into the first category. The use of violence, including incarceration in concentration camps on questionable charges, by the Nazis in Germany to suppress their political opposition after the Reichstag fire, falls into the second.
When violence arises from a loss of power or the threat of a loss of power--real or imagined--it is a reaction by those who believed that they held that power (and its underlying authority) legitimately, whether or not they did at one time, against those whom they believe are usurping their power. Whether it is riot police with hoses and dogs against civil rights demonstrators, leg breakers and private detectives hired by owners against union organizers, the militia against antiwar protesters, or hired assassins against political figures; it is always the same: those who feel threatened by a loss of power do not react well to those they feel pose a threat to their power. Examples are (in order): Selma, Alabama in 1965, the United Auto Workers in the 1930's, Kent State in 1970, and President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Violence can also arise from a conflict over power and authority. This category can be two or more groups or individuals lacking power, who are struggling to obtain both power and authority in a period of anarchy. This category can also be a group or an individual lacking power, struggling to acquire power from a group or an individual that has power, but whom they perceive as beginning to lose their grip on that power. Finally, this category can also be one or more groups or individuals who have roughly equivalent power and authority, who then attempt to seize power and authority away from their competitors.
This brings us to one of the ideas that conservatives seem to have a very difficult time understanding. That idea is the difference between legitimate power and its concomitant authority, and a position of influence.
In many groups of human beings, but particularly among authoritarian conservatives, there is difficulty in understanding the difference between a position of influence--someone who is perceived as having a superior political, economic, social, or cultural position--and those who have legitimate power and authority, especially in our modern, media driven, liberal (i.e., representative) democracy.
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