The Pathos of Politics (2) Violence


Blood alone moves the wheels of history. ~ German friar Martin Luther

Despite pronounced capacities for language and empathy – the essentials of diplomacy – men remain violent creatures. This propensity for aggression is amplified by the highly materialistic and unbalanced societies which men have consistently constructed for themselves.

The availability of abundant resources lessens aggression in other primates. Human history has instead been enforced inequity in resource availability. This is economic violence. The beating heart of politics is coercion enforcing inequality.

Political order rests ultimately on violence. ~ Austrian-born American sociologist Peter Berger

All modern human societies are socioeconomically segregated, with the vast majority in an underclass that faces perpetual scarcity. This inequality is heightened by a sociopolitical system which esteems wealth and limits the means of the underclass to escape their predicament.

A strong determinant of intergroup relations is the power of possessing superior numbers: the ability to dominate. When natural foodstuffs are in short supply, aggressive primates organize themselves and prey upon weaker groups. If the neighboring territory of conspecifics offers a resource prize, war ensues if intimidation proves insufficient.

The skills and inclinations to exercise dominance are culturally transferred between generations. Group aggression becomes a cultural value unto itself. Conflict against out-groups, not cohesion within the in-group, defines what it means to be a tribe.

The emergence of states from tribes did not solve the problem of violence: quite the contrary. Statehood instead gave war surer footing, elevating violence.

There is prodigious emotional potency in shared stress as a vehicle for solidarity. Nothing is more stressful than war.

Almost all early societies developed a warrior class. With this class evolved the concept of honor: the willingness to risk one’s life for the respect of other warriors.

Historically, professional soldiers were typically loath to trade places with farmers or merchants, for reasons only partly owing to booty. The lives of peasants and traders were mundane compared to the thrill of danger and the comradery of fellow combatants. Nowadays, the warrior ethic, and its motivations, are readily found in police departments worldwide, where coercion, extortion, confiscation, and gratuitous violence are commonplace.

Human history is replete with savagery on whatever scale technology afforded. Since the times of the earliest clans to modern day, wars have been waged primarily to secure resources. Since human settlements became the norm over 8 millennia ago, hardly a decade has passed without a war somewhere.

Wars over ideology only came to the fore in the 20th century, instigated by states with overweening hubris and an itch to engage their military over nothing more than political philosophy. Ideological war represents an astonishing abandonment of self-interest as a guiding principle, replaced by myopic jockeying. If economic advantage is the ultimate aim, squandering resources in military adventure is antithetical.

No one engaged in thought about history and politics can remain unaware of the enormous role violence has always played in human affairs. ~ German political philosopher Hannah Arendt