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Running Head: Race, Class and Gender

A 2 pages term paper on Hannah Arendt: On Violence

Relationship with Race, Class and Gender

Hannah Arendt, wrote On Violence in 1970. Arendt analyzes the distinction between power--the force on which states are founded--and violence, the means by which people sometimes seek to assume or to keep power. "To substitute violence for power can bring victory, but the price is very high; for it is not only paid by the vanquished, it is also paid by the victor..." (On Violence)

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Arendt confounds ideological categories with insight at once profound and provocative. She demonstrates the importance of thinking about political phenomena, in dialogue with the whole Western tradition, and perhaps most importantly suggested to me that such thinking could believe as a vocation. Its instrumental character distinguishes violence. Phenomenologically, it is close to strength, since the implements of violence, like all other tools, are designed and used for the purpose of multiplying natural strength until, in the last stage of their development, they can substitute for it. Power is indeed of the essence of all government, but violence is not it always stands in need of guidance and justification through the end it pursues. To sum up; politically speaking, it is insufficient to say that power and violence are not the same. Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Hannah Arendt wrote in On Violence that we all too often fail to distinguish between terms such as power, authority, and violence. She defines power as "the human ability not just to act but to act in concert." Authority is based on "respect for the person or the office. The greatest enemy of authority is therefore contempt..." Violence simply has "an instrumental character". She quotes Madison: "All governments rest on opinion". If power and violence are synonymous, then there is no greater power than that which grows out of the barrel of a gun, and it would be difficult to say in 'which way the order given by a policeman is different than that given by a gunman'

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Arendt was a liberal political theorist. This extract was written around 1970, when she was about 64. The 1960s had been a time of political upheaval, with a lot of student protest about the Vietnam war in Europe and the USA, protests about civil rights in the USA, and workers' rights in Europe. Some protest had been violent, and protesters had been killed. In Europe at least, many communists hoped that Governments would fall and the workers would take over. At the same time, many European communists were very disenchanted with Soviet communism, because of the way Stalin had used terror to rule the Soviet Union, and the use of power by the Soviet Union to quash movements towards democracy in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the USA and Western Europe was at its height. Many previously colonized countries had been claiming their independence from European countries. Finally, the Second World War was still relatively fresh in many people's minds. It is important  to keep this background in mind when reading Arendt's book, because she makes open references to all these events.

She seems to be against the use of violence, for the most part, and she says that it is tempting for those losing power to resort to violence. To understand her, you have to ask yourself what she considers a positive use of power. She has used the term ‘power’ in her own way, and part of your task is to understand what she means when she uses the word. She seems to be saying that the use of power in a society is inevitable, so the question is not whether power should be used, but rather, how it should be used. She says that power is the opposite of violence, and her view of power seems to be something like a process of empowerment of people. In the 1960s there was a lot of optimism that the world could be a better place, and that it was worth trying to change the world.

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Arendt uses the term power to designate the action of a group. It is that which keeps the public realm and the space of appearance in existence, corresponding to the human condition of plurality. Power is a potential, which exists only when it is actualized in the coming together of a collective, and disappears when the group disperses. As such it is in constant need of actualization if it is to remain. It needs no material, only the existence of people coming together to form a group. Power also has no physical limitations, it is boundless since group actions can always begin something new. And finally, it is the opposite of violence, and distinct from strength, force and authority.

This book addresses contemporary representations and constructions of violence. It focuses upon violence that emerges out of the construction of difference, particularly violence that is related to gender, race or sexuality. Key concepts include serial killing, racist violence, rape, and homophobic violence. Key concepts, which bring about these case studies that is, risk, hatred, fear, consent, victim, difference, power. In this way she explores not only particular problems of violence but also the broader things that violence might tell us about identity, difference and power.

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References

         Retrieved from the World Wide Web:

  • www.migs.org/Data/papers/JSemelin
  • www.lacnet.org/srilanka/politics/devolution/item879
  • www.nybooks.com/articles
  • www.luc.edu/news/releases/sourcebook/experts
  • www.westga.edu


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