Wednesday, March 19, 2014

On the Nature of Violence/ Power

In order to grasp this parallax nature of violence, one should focus on the short-circuits between different levels, between, say, power and social violence: an economic crisis which causes devastation is experienced as uncontrollable quasi-natural power, but it should be experienced as violence. The same goes for authority: the elementary form of the critique of ideology is precisely to unmask authority as violence. For feminism, male authority is violence. I am referring here to Hannah Arendt who, in her "On Violence," elaborated a series of distinctions between "power," "strength," "force," "violence," and "authority." Force should be reserved for the "forces of nature" or the "force of circumstance": it indicates the energy released by physical or social movements. It should never be used interchangeably with power in the study of politics: force refers to movements in nature, or to other humanly uncontrollable circumstances, whereas power is a function of human relations. Power in social relations results from the human ability to act in concert to persuade or coerce others, while strength is the individual capacity to do the same. Authority is a specific source of power. It represents power vested in persons be virtue of their offices, or of their "authoritativeness" where relevant information and knowledge is concerned. There is such a thing as personal authority, such as, for instance, in the relation between parent and child, between teacher and pupil -- or it can be vested in offices (a priest can grant valid absolution even though he is drunk). Its hallmark is unquestioning recognition by those who are asked to obey: neither coercion nor persuasion is needed. Authority thus does not stem merely from the attributes of the individual. Its exercise depends upon a willingness on the part of others to grant respect and legitimacy, rather than on one's personal ability to persuade or coerce.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Living in the End Times"

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