(This week we're celebrating our first full year of blogging. Today we finish our review of Hannah Arendt's "On Violence." (Click here for part 1 of our review) Tomorrow we look back at our best posts from the last year. Finally, on Friday, Eric will blow your mind with ten of the most abused quotes in the blogosphere and the military.)
International terrorism is the gravest threat America has ever faced.
Is it? Is it really? When thousands of nuclear weapons were pointed at us by the Soviet Union, wasn't that significantly more dangerous? What about the German and Japanese armies marching through Europe and Asia? No, terrorism isn't the most dangerous threat we have ever faced, but it is the most dangerous right now. Because terrorism is currently our biggest concern, it feels like it was always our biggest concern.
If you are writing philosophy, the context of your times will shape your opinions. When I read Hannah Arendt's On Violence, I was struck by the fact that, no matter how hard I try, I am constrained by my times.
On Violence (Arendt) obsesses over nuclear weapons and their effect on warfare and human violence; On Violence (the blog) obsesses over counter-insurgency and its effect on warfare and human violence. So when it comes to our philosophy, Arendt and I use two entirely different sets of data: Arendt uses nuclear weapons, WWII and the student riots of the 1960s; I use Afghanistan, Iraq, and 9/11.
The first part of On Violence (book) deals almost exclusively with the historical and contemporary context of nuclear weapons. Referring to nuclear weapons, she states bluntly that, “technical developments of the implements of violence has now reached the point where no political goal could conceivably correspond to their destructive potential.” Arendt understands that the creation of nuclear weapons, and the creation of a “military-industrial-labor complex,” have altered the future of violence.
Her analysis of nuclear weapons makes sense. If violence is a result of politics, then Clausewitz’s famous aphorism about war (violence) as being the continuation of politics by other means would become a “means towards universal suicide.” The invention of thermonuclear weapons allows violence to be divorced from politics and economics--and all other causes--to stand on its own.
I appreciate that Arendt acknowledges how her culture influences her philosophy (and this is my only gripe with her book) but having to slog through a whole chapter of it (especially considering the length of the book) seems like too much. Read from a distance of forty years, a good twenty pages describing the rise of violent revolutionary fervor among students and Marxists comes across as dated. She also almost predicts the rise of insurgency and revolutionary war (she writes, “the more dubious and uncertain an instrument violence has become in international relations, the more it has gained in reputation and appeal in domestic affairs, specifically in the matter of revolution.” Sounds like political war defined.) but then gets stuck on the actions of student activists, who in hindsight evolved into yuppies instead of toppling the government.
So while Arendt is attempting to create a philosophy behind violence--that ideally should withstand the test of time or events--she is inexorably mired to her historical context. Here at On Violence (the blog) I have the same problem. I see political violence, insurgency and terrorism as the biggest foreign policy issues today. I think this is, partly, because the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq influence my everyday life. I can't divorce my philosophy from my personal experience.
Will Eric and I rise above our culture? We try to acknowledge our culture. That is why my blog is about my personal experience, counter-insurgency and foreign policy, while my true love is the philosophy of violence.