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Monday, September 24, 2012

Non-Violent Politics and the Democratization of the State

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, longtime and stubborn sparring partner "Summerspeaker" asks:
If you support structures that distribute violence, in what way are you nonviolent? How is nonviolence a meaningful concept in this context? Does nonviolence just mean opposition to nonstate violence and state violence deem illegitimate?
I respond:
If you support structures that distribute violence, in what way are you nonviolent?
I deny the facile formulation of "support" you are implying. Does one "support" gravity in recognizing it? Does one "support" the murderer who deploys a scalpel in advocating the usefulness of a scalpel in surgery?

When you leap on my apparent concession that "state structures distribute violence" you fail to see that for me the phrase might just as well be that "state structures distribute nonviolence." That the furniture of state has been an instrument of violence is obvious, I have never said otherwise, indeed I say so incessantly. But what matters to me is that this obviousness not be mistaken for a mis-identification of the state WITH violence, since the state is indispensable to nonviolent politics.

EVERY fact, every value, every norm, every custom, every infrastructural affordance is susceptible to violent misuse, is susceptible to futural refiguration as a violence where now it might not seem to be, the furniture of governance included.

Again, it would be nonsensical to deny either the conspicuous history of war, expropriation, enslavement, tyranny organized through the state form, or the permanent susceptibility to violence, corruption, injustice in every facet of governance devoted to the contrary.

But (I say it again and again and again), violence both precedes and exceeds the state, and the state form is indispensable to the struggle to overcome, circumvent and heal violence, even as it is true that historical states have enabled and exacerbated violence, even as the furniture of states are permanently susceptible to violence and violent misuse. My whole point, stated at the outset and repeated over and over and over and over again, is that democratization of the state is the struggle to provide alternatives to violence, to overcome violence, to circumvent violence, to provide recourse for the violated, to facilitate the open negotiation of the terms on which violence is legible as such.

Violence inheres as a permanent susceptibility in the condition of human plurality. Quite apart from the fact that there can be no smashing of "The State" as such, since "The State" has always been a complex, dynamic, multilateral constellation of ritual and artifice, norm and form, it is crucial to grasp that the smashing of a particular state would not be an overcoming of violence even were it to succeed, since it would not be an overcoming of the plurality in which violence and nonviolence inhere in potentia. Nonviolence is a commitment and a struggle, but one cannot ever claim it as a secure accomplishment (although one can still distinguish the comparative violence of an unjust law or a perpetrator as against the comparative nonviolence of resistance to that injustice or a victim in suffering a violation).

You ask in what way am I nonviolent? Well, for one thing I am not in the habit of making immodest declarations of such accomplishments having had ample experience of my proneness to ignorance and error, and so I would prefer to declare myself earnestly committed to nonviolence and strongly opposed to those, especially those who deem themselves democrats, Democrats, or radicals of the left, who are not also so committed to non-violence. Still, I will add that I was literally trained in nonviolent civil disobedience by the King Center in Atlanta when I was a co-ordinator for Queer Nation Atlanta. I regularly teach the theory of nonviolent resistance and revolution, as well as rhetorical strategies for reconciliation, mediation, and peacemaking. And as I have said, I am committed to the ongoing democratization of the state. Part of this requires a commitment as well to arguing with those who would smash the state out of a hasty mis-identification of the state with the violences it has been historically instrumental to and remains structurally permanently susceptible to.

Those who foolishly pine to demolish rather than to democratize it are paranoiacally misapprehending essential, exhaustive, ubiquitous violence in even those comparatively democratic state forms which
1. provide for comparatively peaceful changes in leadership,

2. provide for comparative accountability of governance to the people governed,

3. provide for comparative amelioration of tendencies to corruption, violation, and abuse in the state form through separation, federation, and subsidiarity of their powers,

4. provide for comparative equity in recourse to law and its nonviolent alternatives for the adjudication of interpersonal disputes or disputes of citizens with duly constituted authorities,

5. provide for comparative protection of minorities from majorities through the rite of rights culture,

6. provide the general welfare (education, healthcare, income) through which a scene of informed, nonduressed consent to the terms of everyday interpersonal commerce is comparatively secured, a scene of consent the substance of which is paid for by

7. the provisions of a comparatively progressive taxation

a. that circumvents anti-democratizing concentrations of wealth that skew communication of fact and merit and hence corrupt accountability of governance,

b. that yokes the maintenance of government to the people governed through the principle of no taxation without representation,

c. that creates no initial barrier to accomplishment but functions as an a posterior filter ensuring that to those to whom more is given more is required,
8. comparatively accountably administer common and public goods in the public interest and hence circumvents the structural violences involved in the externalization of social costs, the misappropriation of the common inheritance and commonwealth of civilization, the violation of the planetary resources on which we all depend for our survival and flourishing,

9. and provide comparatively open occasion for the ongoing contestation and collaboration over the terms on which violence is legible as such through the comparative championing of rights to free expression, press, and assembly, comparative generality of the franchise and right to run for elective office, comparative equity of recourse to law, comparative celebration of diversity secured through comparative equity of the scene of consent.
Needless to say, all these "comparatives" name for me sites of ongoing democratizing reform and struggle, while no doubt for others they function as alibis and rationalizations for complacency in the face of ongoing inequities, exploitation, abuses, and parochial privileges.

You ask, "Does nonviolence just mean opposition to nonstate violence and state violence deem[ed] illegitimate?" Well, depending on what you mean by "deemed" (by whom? as registered how? with what consequences to whom?), I think maybe my answer is "yes," although it seems to me anybody who wants to put "just" before that "mean" there almost certainly is not grasping what I mean at all.

Having argued with you so often, for so long I must confess that I suspect you are looking to dismiss the force of my commitment to nonviolence on these terms the better to engage in a vision of "radical politics" that amounts to a profoundly superficial, irresponsible, self-congratulatory disavowal of the political altogether. Again, I say that because we have been arguing on these topics now for years and there is nothing I say here that I have not said to you before, and often, and painstakingly, and yet it seems as if for you none of these endless careful delineations remain in your memory at all, there is nothing but your eagerness to seize on one word or phrase that gives you the longed-for evidence to expose the secret authoritarian in me and the longed-for permission to get on with the eating of the cake and having it too that is what your dance party anti-politics peddling itself as revolutionary politics finally amounts to. I'm glad to have an occasion to rehearse some basic propositions on democratic governance and democratizating struggle from my perspective as an advocate of nonviolence, but it is getting really hard for me to continue to treat you as a serious good-faith interlocutor or reliable ally in democratization given the eternal recurrence of these facile interventions of yours and airy declarations (both in the Moot and on your blog) of my dastardly deep-seated reactionary authoritarianism and all the rest of that nonsense.


Summerspeaker said...

For clarity, I don't claim to be any of the things you suspect I'm not. We may be allies in specific cases - such as against the likes of Mark Plus - but our dreams and clash. I'm crusading against nonviolence as much as statism, because I now consider it a deeply misleading if not truly meaningless term. I don't understand - yes, even after all that explanation - how you can describe governance as always in the business distributing violence but still seek to combine the practice with nonviolence. I grasp the argument for the necessity of counterviolence just fine, but you seem reluctant to occupy that framework.

While I don't view you in the binaries you attribute to me, I don't need this argument in order to critique your politics. There's nothing secret - for example - about your regular invocation of age hierarchy to demean your adversaries. Your final paragraph misinterprets the dynamic at play here.

Conceptually - and this won't surprise you - I consider your description of violence as an inherent risk accurate but evasive. Violence isn't some abstract force of nature but a often premeditated and well-organized human social practice. Of course abolishing any one particular violent organization won't end violence. Even obliterating the nation-state form altogether wouldn't do that. For the goal of a strictly nonviolent world, smashing the state is necessary but not sufficient.

Dale Carrico said...

I'm crusading against nonviolence

Your great "progressive" crusade for more violence is duly noted.

I don't understand... how you can describe governance as always in the business distributing violence but still seek to combine the practice with nonviolence.

Your lack of understanding may result from your lack of reading ability. I NEVER described governance as ALWAYS violent, in fact I cannot count how many times I have denied precisely this claim, denying violence is ubiquitous in the state, denying violence is exhaustive of the state, denying violence is essential to the state. But never mind all that, as I said you don't seem a good faith interlocutor, you seem to me to ignore everything I say while looking forever to seize on an opportunity to dismiss what I am saying. There you go again.

There's nothing secret - for example - about your regular invocation of age hierarchy to demean your adversaries.

You're so full of shit. I apologize to all those who defecate and who feel demeaned by my invocation of the shit hierarchy here. Will all the children in the world who are more likely to be exploited or abused because I have sometimes called uninformed and narcissistic political views as "childish" please stand up? Yeah, I thought so.

I consider your description of violence as an inherent risk accurate but evasive

And what is it I am supposed to be evading? Oh, never mind.

Violence isn't some abstract force of nature

Show where I said it was. Oh, you can't, because, oh, I didn't.

smashing the state is necessary but not sufficient

I've said why I disagree. Assert the contrary all you want. Party on.

Summerspeaker said...

So I guess I'm imaging the following quotation in which you quote and respond to i:

"'I know that you know that systems of governance will also always be in the business of distributing violence in some way.' Yes, of course. I think this goes without saying but I do repeatedly also say it."

I acknowledge that this conflicts with other statements of yours on the matter.

Dale Carrico said...

You are not imagining but misreading it. Part of what governments will do will be the policing of the violent who don't want to be so policed. Duh. But this still doesn't make violence ubiquitous, exhaustive, or essential to the state form as such. My position is exactly the same as always and I grant no whiff of inconsistency in it. Stop wasting my time.

Seth Mooney said...

i've been suspicious of the insistence that non-violence is the only legitimate form of resistance since reading Ward Churchill on the matter, and i am all the more critical when such insistence spouts from liberals in the direction of colonized and otherwise marginalized communities. that suspicion hardly requires me, though, to think that non-violence is itself somehow illegitimate as a position and practice.

i don't think the dispute in this thread hinges on a disagreement about the theoretical and practical presence of violence inhering in the state, but rather on distinct levels of preoccupation with violence between the parties.

one need not be fixedly preoccupied with violence to accept it, or even to be prepared to resist it. but one need not dream of violence in order to be so prepared. and there's no good reason one mayn't as well disavow violence altogether as make plans or be prepared to practice violence.

"Walk. Chew gum. Same time."

to accept only one tool or the is to be myopic no matter how you slice it. but to deny the legitimacy and efficacy of non-violence as a tactic is to lack historical memory, at best. at worst, such denial is about the "activist's" experience of catharsis in his "activism," likely as not.

that's just a hunch, but i gotta wonder when i read a formulation like, "crusade against nonviolence." sure, maintain a level of criticism of how it's used, like with anything. but a crusade against non-violence seems wholly wrong focused. to say the least.

Dale Carrico said...

i don't think the dispute in this thread hinges on a disagreement about the theoretical and practical presence of violence inhering in the state

For me, it really is the key matter, especially to the extent that a mis-identification of the state-form with violence provides the/ a rationale for some anarchists. For me, to democratize the state and not to smash it is an indispensable aspiration.

suspicious of the insistence that non-violence is the only legitimate form of resistance

I'd amplify your point even further and say that it is curious that one who would resist deep/ structural injustice would imagine that all such resistance is susceptible to legitimacy at all.

Looking at earlier writings of mine on non-violence (an understanding indebted to Fanon and Arendt as much as King and the usual suspects) you will notice that in my view non-violent resistance always risks the result that it will not accepted as non-violent at all. Also, of course, it is worth remembering that theorizing the state and theorizing resistance are two different (related, sure) efforts.

Good to hear from you Seth -- it's been a while!

Seth Mooney said...

i fully agree that that's the conversation you're trying to have, i just don't think it's the conversation that's happening, because s/he consistently fails or refuses to meet you on those terms.

not that you don't already know that, but i wanted to try to articulate it a little differently given that i've caught myself (when i was younger and more foolish, tee-hee) taking similar, to me, catharsis-based positions that pleased my id and made me feel like i knew better.

i feel like Summerspeaker's consistently mistaking your commitment to non-violence as a requirement for non-violence, and then lumping you in with the liberal colonialist types who condescendingly require pacifism-or-nothing of the marginalized communities whose constituent bodies are most likely to suffer institutional violence (not all of which comes from the state, just as the use of violence is not the only business the state assumes).

that's kinda why i quoted the "walk. chew gum. same time," which was the first response i got from you to my first comment here at Amormundi. and i fully deserved it.

the most interesting thing to me about this kinda sorta exchange is how much it's similar, both structurally and in its kinds sorta exchanginess, with your discursive attempts with the "the future will save us" crowd. (i only say 'attempts' because it takes two to tango, and your would be interlocutors don't generally seem to know the steps).

fantasizing about the political efficacy of violence by more-radical-than thou "activists" on the "left" is not political activism in the same way that fantasizing about the "future" and/or "technology" by those who won't or can't distinguish science from science fiction is not science in practice.

Seth Mooney said...

"it is curious that one who would resist deep/ structural injustice would imagine that all such resistance is susceptible to legitimacy at all."

i have to admit, with a wee bit of embarrassment, that this statement hurts my brain. but it also makes total sense given where that broadly legible legitimation comes from above, in the hierarchical sense, of course, not the god/robot-god sense.

Dale Carrico said...

first response i got from you to my first comment

My blogging ethos seems way crueler than my teaching ethos.

Seth Mooney said...

but both are fun.

jimf said...

> . . .i feel like Summerspeaker's consistently mistaking
> your commitment to non-violence as a requirement for non-violence. . .

Can we have NV "most of the time, but not necessarily always"
(and without necessarily always knowing where the line is
crossed)? Or is that too ideologically impure? ;->

I dunno, I just feel like referring the whole matter to Bertrand
Russell. ;->

WOODROW WYATT: If you're not enthusiastic, you don't get
things done, but if you're over-enthusiastic, you
run the danger of becoming fanatical. Well, now, how
do you make certain that what you're doing is all
right, and that you haven't become, uh, in a fanatical

BERTRAND RUSSELL: Certainty is not ascertainable. But what
you can do, I think, is this: you can make it a
principle that you will only act upon what you think
is **probably** true... if it would be utterly disastrous
if you were mistaken, then it is better to withhold
action. I should apply that, for instance, to burning
people at the stake. I think, uh, if the received
theology of the Ages of Persecution had been **completely**
true, it would've been a good act to burn heretics
at the stake. But if there's the slightest little
chance that it's not true, then you're doing a bad
thing. And so, I think that's the sort of principle
on which you've got to go.

WYATT: Would this apply to political parties and

RUSSELL: Oh, certainly it would. I mean, everybody who
belongs to a political party thinks the other party's
in the wrong. But, uh, he wouldn't say "therefore,
you have a right to go and assassinate them". You, uh...
there are certain things you **may** do when you think a
party's in the wrong, and certain things you mayn't.

WYATT: But what do you think of the limits of toleration?
I mean, you can get into a situation where you have
complete license and chaos.

RUSSELL: Well, the general principle **there** is,
that, uh, people should be allowed to advocate any change
in the law that they like. But in **general** --
though I don't say this always, by any means -- in
**general**, you should not permit the agitation for a
definitely illegal action prior to a change in the law.
You may advocate a change in the law, but you shouldn't
advocate an act which is illegal while the law stands
as it is. I don't say this as an absolute principle,
but usually.

"Bertrand Russell Speaking" 1959 52 min.
Woodrow Wyatt Interviews
Published in _Bertrand Russell Speaks His Mind_

Summerspeaker said...

Hi Seth. I indeed embody the negative attributes you ascribe to me. I'm irrational and juvenile, yes. That's the point. Unlike wine, I'm not going to improve with time. I haven't chewed gum in years and don't plan on starting again.

As you would expect, I disagree with your characterization of the debate. Our argument does center on opposing theorizations of the state. Though I respect for the Bash Back! approach, I'm not yet in that camp and still find emphasis on inflicting pain as a primary means of struggle troubling. That's not at all what this argument is about. As noted earlier, I appreciate strict nonviolence but consider many invocations of the concept politically pernicious. In Dale's case, the reference to nonviolence that started this comes alongside a warning against anarchism. This ain't rocket science. Anarchists and statists disagree. I imagine we'll keep on arguing until one or both groups go extinct. It's a matter of different dreams and experiences as much as or more than different conceptual frameworks, though the two are of course connected.

Dale Carrico said...

As against Summer's anarchism I am a "statist," you know, like Lincoln or Hitler. Der, what's the diff? Statists all, am I right? I'm irrational and juvenile, yes. That's the point. Where'd you get that line from, Summer, Miley Cyrus? Stay golden, pony-rad!

Seth Mooney said...

anarchist/ism. you keep using that word. i do not think it means what you think it means.

you set it up in opposition to the state as if the state were the only preoccupation of anarchist thought. isn't anarchist thought definitionally concerned with authority? you know, the whole, 'no gods, no masters' thing?

i see anarchist thought as having some real value, but what it has to offer seems shortchanged by pegging it to "the state."

state or no state, there's gonna be authority, right? i mean, even if you were to succeed in tearing down the state, it's not gonna be all balloons and ice cream and fun times. some authority would emerge, likely the one that smashed the state, and have precisely the same potentials for abuse. at that point, it might as well be called the state, no? a rose by any other name, and all?

getting rid of authority structures that abuse doesn't get us out of the hard work of democratizing or maintaining as democratic the new authority structures so that they don't fail to avoid the ills to which they're inherently susceptible.

from there, why not just democratize the structures you've got? i mean, sure, know how to resist, even know how to use force in resistance, in case a moment appears when there's no other reasonable choice.

but it still seems to me you're looking for such moments, like you want them, and that creeps me out a bit.

Summerspeaker said...

Left anarchism has historically focused on three forms of authority: state, capital, and clergy. Dale and I agree enough about opposing capitalism that I put emphasis on struggle against the state in my comments.

I don't endorse your conflation of organization, authority, and the state. The forms of social organization we anarchists desire differ overwhelming from the actually existing state structures. If nothing else, we reject the systematic coercion at the rotten heart of state society. Anarchists dream of voluntary association and believe systematic coercion and inability to opt out makes this impossible. You can call anarchist voluntary association a form of authority, but if so it differs enough from state authority to make equation incoherent.

Certain federalisms and other decentralized state forms do potentially blur with the more organization-orient tendencies of anarchism; I'll grant that much.

jimf said...

> you know, the whole, 'no gods, no masters' thing?

How is that supposed to come about, though, short of
drugging everybody on the planet?

There are congenital bullies in the world, I believe.
Maybe you think there's a magical kind of potty
training that will turn everybody into an Elf (the
good kind, you know, not like those nasty Feanorians.
;-> ).

> it still seems to me you're looking for such moments,
> like you want them,

Maybe you should take a page from Tony Danza's playbook, and spend
some time as a teacher. ;->

Then get back to us and let us know whether anybody has
to "look for such moments", or whether they're all around
us, like mushrooms.

Dale Carrico said...

Just to be clear, I think it may be useful for us all to be clear in the attribution of the pronoun "you" and "us" to me, to Summer, to Seth, to the imaginary community of sympathetic readership in the Moot and so on, because I am not always entirely clear about it myself, and so sometimes I am a little miffed at being included or excluded in ways that don't might not jibe with my own sense of these assignments.

That's just a general point. Beyond that, let me add:

As an atheist who is also a democrat, I see no way of abolishing faith without abolishing style, and so I see the democratic struggle instead as the secular struggle for an ever more perfect separation of church and state from which the faithful and freethinkers benefit alike.

As a person who believes equity-in-diversity is facilitated by fact-based harm-reduction policy advocate but who is also a democrat, I see no way to accomplish progressive (meaning here equitable-and-diversifying) outcomes without requiring some defer under certain circumstances to the authority of expertise (expertise in the sense of invoking relevant disciplinary knowledge, in the sense of actually representing stakeholder perspectives, in the sense of functioning as agents in legitimate accountable governance, and so on), and so I see the democratic struggle instead as the struggle to widen participation in the constitution of such authorities to all their stakeholders and to deepen accountability over the exercise of such authorities to those who are affected by it.

Again, as a atheist and a democrat I won't deny an affinity for the slogan "no gods, no masters," but the pedant and rhetorician in me can't long leave such slogans well enough alone.

jimf said...

> Just to be clear. . .

What you mean 'we', kemosabe? ;->

Uh oh, I feel like a participant in an encounter
group who has just been reprimanded for not using
the prescribed "I" speak.

Perhaps I should add a disclaimer that "the opinions
expressed by this commenter do not necessarily represent
those of the blog owner or any other commenters. Or of
Google, for that matter." ;->

Some boys kiss me, some boys hug me
I think they're O.K.
If they give me unearned credit
I just walk away. . .

Living in a solipsistic world
And I am a solipsistic girl
I know that I am living in a solipsistic world
And I am a solipsistic girl. . .

Dale Carrico said...

So sensitive! Actually the immediate prompt for my wee disclaimer was the thought that Seth's you meaning Summer might be construed in quotation as a you meaning me in a way that might make Seth seem to advocate a position I doubt he actually would. I could be completely wrong to worry about that, but it just seemed worth saying, cuz I'm so sensitive too! But definitely I warn't meaning to reprimand you here, just so's ya know.