Violence is Politics as Usual
Another old college paper rewrite…
I figured I’d write up another rewrite of an old college paper. This one is from a Political Science class I took in February 2011. It’s on the normalcy of political violence. Looking back on it, I find it a little boring, but that doesn’t mean I can’t spiff it up a little. I think I may rework some parts of this into something more presently interesting at some point. A lot has happened in America since 2011, and working through this paper again has me wondering how I’d connect some of these dots to moments in the past decade.
Many observers see violence as a breakdown in normal political processes.
However, in his book Politics: Who Gets What, When, and How, political scientist Harold Laswell suggests that violence and the threat of violence are integral to all politics. This is especially the case when successfully coordinated with what he describes as “organization, propaganda, and information.” According to Laswell, violence, whether “in war, secession or rebellion,” is “a major means of elite attack and defense.”
Laswell’s analysis echoes that of Max Weber’s assertions around the state’s “monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a certain territory” and Von Clausewitz’s “war [as] the continuation of politics by other means.”
But Laswell’s framework is much broader in that it considers the use of violence by and between elites and counter-elite s.
The threat of violence is a critical factor here. Sun Tzu noted over two and a half millennia ago, “to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” It is mainly without fighting that the institutions of the military and police hinder and restrict the capacity for would-be American dissidents and rebels to flourish in any meaningful way.
Bluntly: No sane American would realistically consider conducting a militant campaign of violence against the most powerful force for violence on the planet.
This is partly down to the pervasive association of Military force and military life with American life and culture promoted through popular media for decades. There is indeed frequently an almost spiritual nature to supporting the military in the united states. This was highly pronounced in the years immediately following the September 11th attacks in 2001.
If one were inclined to oppose the American state violently, there would still be its behemoth police and prison system to contend with.
The Prison-industrial complex has successfully insinuated itself into the American people’s lives like no other force in history. From America’s more than 1800 police departments to its massive prison labor system to the ever-expanding surveillance industry, police and prisons are today an outstanding feature of the American landscape. One need only look at the prison and jail population of the United States 30 years ago (under 500,000 or 0.2% in 1980) as compared with today (2.3 million or 0.7%). Our prison and jail population has reached the highest in the world over the past 30 years. Our political leaders promote public fears by continually pushing “tough on crime” narratives.
As put by UCSC professor Angela Davis, “Homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the human beings contending with them are relegated to cages… Considering the structural similarities of business-government linkages in military production and public punishment, the expanding penal system can now be characterized as a ‘prison industrial complex.”
The hypocrisy of any society which prides itself on freedom having the world’s largest prison population should be apparent. What is less obvious is the degree to which the pervasive acceptance of the expectation of public scrutiny in the name of law and order degrades the freedom of a people. Through instilling widespread fear, the pervasiveness of the prison-industrial complex in American culture makes it a bulwark against rebellion.
Taken together, the message sent by society (especially to working poor communities) is simple. As a member of the American underclass, you can and should fight for your country, but if you step out of line, you may lose the very power of your full citizenship in it.
Your ability to redress this grievance can and will be openly derided and publicly ignored. Violence and the threat of violence are what make the state strong. You may use it for the state, but should you challenge it or even present the remotest danger of using it against the state, it may be used against you.
[Original] Works Cited
- Clausewitz, Carl Von, Michael Howard, and Peter Paret. On War. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1984.
- Davis, Angela. “Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex.” ColorLines 1998.
- Eisenhower, Dwight D. “Dwight David Eisenhower, Farewell Address (1961).” Panarchy.org : Index. <http://www.panarchy.org/eisenhower/farewelladdress.html>.
- Guérin, Daniel. Fascism and Big Business. New York: Published by Monad for the Anchor Foundation]; Distributed by Pathfinder, 1973.
- Lasswell, Harold Dwight. “3 Violence.” Politics: Who Gets What, When, How. New York: Meridian, 1958. 46–61.
- SIPRI. “Chapter 5. Military Expenditure — Www.sipri.org." Welcome to SIPRI — Www.sipri.org. <http://www.sipri.org/yearbook/2010/05>.
- Sun. The Art of War. New York: Columbia UP, 2007.
- USDOD. “Department of Defense 2009 Budget.” <http://www.gpoaccess.gov/usbudget/fy09/pdf/budget/defense.pdf>.
- Weber, Max. “Politics as a Vocation.” Www.ne.jp. <http://www.ne.jp/asahi/moriyuki/abukuma/weber/lecture/politics_vocation.html>.
Originally published at https://davidnwaeze.substack.com on July 24, 2022.