Monday, April 11, 2011

Art, Zen, and Insurrection: Finding Personal and Social Change In The Art of Life Part IV.1

This is the first section of Part IV of AZI. It has been a while since I posted a piece of it. I'm excited to be getting it out there. Here is the general introduction to Part IV, and all of Part IV.1. Also, here is a table of contents for IV.1:


IV.1. Politics And War

1. Politics And War, Power And Violence: Making Analytical Distinctions

2. Insurrection, Civil Disobedience, Satyagraha, And War Without Violence

3. On The Use Of Militaristic Metaphors: Concluding Part IV.1


PART IV: Art, Culture, And Politics

So the time has come for me to try and complete this project. Part IV is all that remains. I had initially planned to have five parts, but I decided that Part V could be collapsed into just a Part IV. It feels very interesting right now, because these final parts are shaping up to be substantially different than I had initially planned. The main thing that has changed is the key terms of the analysis. Insurrection will no longer suffice as an axis for the analysis. So the first thing I'd like to do is explain what I originally intended to do, why it changed, and what I now intend to do.


Part IV and V were originally going to be continuations of the work that I did in the “Society’s Implicit War” essays. Those essays were defined by the excessive use of militaristic metaphors. I was following Foucault’s lead from his work in Discipline & Punish, Society Must Be Defended, and a lot of his other work from the mid 1970’s. Foucault claimed that the work he was doing at that time constituted something like ‘an insurrection of knowledge against the institutions’. By this Foucault was saying that political power in his and our age was no longer maintained through physical violence, but rather through elaborate forms of knowledge that subtly coerced people’s behavior. Thus the knowledge that was created by our most prominent institutions (political, military, medical, educational, psychological) were, for Foucault, the government’s way of waging an ongoing war against their own population that had turned from a war of force into a war of knowledge/power. To create new forms of knowledge that go contrary to the institutions, therefore, constituted something like an ‘insurrection’ for Foucault. There is no denying that new forms of knowledge are needed to create revolutions. But if it is an intellectual exercise that doesn’t incite people to action, then it is merely a metaphorical or incorrect use of the word insurrection.


In “Society’s Implicit War”, however, I took Foucault’s analytical terms for granted and drew out their implications. I traced out his description of the transition from a government of physical force to a government of subtle coercion through knowledge, I drew on theory of mind to examine how that would work in individual minds, and the whole thing culminated in a section called ‘Becoming An Insurgent Of Power/Knowledge’. In that section I tried to understand how an individual could struggle within their own minds to restructure their relationships to things, others, and themselves. The point would be to overcome the dominant forms of knowledge and power that we have had access to based on our historical and cultural confinement. This undoubtedly is still an issue for me, as most of Part III should have made clear. But the problem is that I now believe the term insurrection to be wholly inadequate. War is one thing, the struggle of ideas is another. I have only come to this conclusion, however, by writing all of these other sections that have led me up to Part IV. So the change has to take place now. The project will still be called “Art, Zen, And Insurrection”, but the main task now is to refute the Foucaultian notion of intellectual insurrection and attain a more sober outlook on the relationship between intellectual work, cultural expression, and political change. Part IV, which was originally called “The Artist As Cultural/Political Insurgent” is, therefore, now called “Art, Culture, And Politics.” I had hoped that the work I had done with Foucault in SIW would translate to Collingwood’s world of aesthetic theory, that I would be able to conceptualize artistic work as an act of cultural or intellectual insurrection. But no, it no longer feels viable. Art is not insurrection. That doesn’t mean art isn’t political, but it isn’t appropriate to speak of it in terms of militaristic metaphors. So that is what happened to me over the course of this project. I grew tired of Foucault’s use of militaristic metaphors, and I have been struggling to come up with new and more realistic ways to talk about the same issues of knowledge, culture, and political power.


Part IV, therefore, is my attempt to make a more sober inquiry into the relationship between politics, culture, and art. I plan on doing this in four sub-sections. I’m going to begin with an inquiry into the nature of politics and war. I’ll be asking questions about the existence of politics, war, violence, and non-violence. Having hopefully acquired a clearer view on the nature of politics with IV.1, I’ll use IV.2 to examine the relationship between politics and culture. In that section I’ll hopefully be able to use my writing about art (in all the previous sections) to ascertain how art could potentially be political. Once I’ve explored the question of politics and its relationship to culture I’ll turn more closely to the issue of art and politics. That inquiry will be handled in both IV.3 and IV.4. IV.3 will handle the issue of art and ‘individual politics’. That section is intended to address Foucault and his claims about the individual mind being a matter of politics. I know that the individual, as a rational being, has to play some kind of role in politics, but I need to figure out exactly what politics, and what the individual can do. I do anticipate, however, that I will be abandoning definitions of politics that place too much emphasis on action within an individual mind for ideas about larger socio-political change. In the final section, part IV.4, I’ll be taking up the issue of art and large scale socio-political change. I don’t know how this stuff is going to work out. But that is the rough structure of this final part of Art, Zen, And Insurrection.


I want to say that I’m frustrated and confused to be at this part of the project. It isn’t an active or debilitating frustration. But rather the return of a feeling of inadequacy. I’m not educated enough to be writing on these issues. I feel like I felt when I was writing ‘Society’s Implicit War’: undereducated in history, irresponsibly wielding abstraction, and speaking of things that I don’t grasp. But that is okay. I am gonna try.


I think that one thing I haven’t come to terms with entirely is the personal element of the project, and especially this portion of the project. See, it has been a few weeks since I’ve written any of this, and I’ve really been reflecting on the whole project, what has been written, and what I have left. I want to know, what have I been doing to myself? What is the experiment in thought and behavior that I have been conducting with myself? I really do think of this writing as an experiment with myself. I realized that the first three Parts were really all about experiment with the idea of aestheticizing myself: I was trying to figure out what it means to be expressive and creative, how expressive I could be, and how much I could incorporate that expressiveness into my daily life. This final part is also about experimenting with myself. But I am doing something different this time. I am trying to politicize myself, and I’m trying to understand if my expressiveness can be politicized. So, that is what I’m trying to in Part IV. I’m trying to politicize myself and politicize my expression. This section is also my attempt to put myself back in touch with what I learned during my undergraduate work in military history.


I won’t, however, be able to write in this section in the same way that I wrote Part III, and especially Part III.2 and .3. In those sections I was able to venture out on my own quite a lot. Thinking about politics is not something that I am very good at. So I’ll be drawing on other writers in order to think about the relationship between art and politics. I think that Collingwood, Foucault, and other writers have given me grounds for asking these types of questions, for trying to think about the politics of expression. I will be relying heavily on other sources in this final section. Among them will be Clausewitz, Collingwood, Foucault, Carl Schmitt, John Gray, Slavoj Zizek, Hannah Arendt, Joan Bondurant, John Searle, Adorno, Benjamin, Marx, David Harvey, and hopefully some others. Here I go, Part IV.1.

IV.1. Politics And War

So in this section I’ll be focusing exclusively on the issue of politics and war. The idea is that in order to fully explore the relationship between art and politics I should begin by analyzing politics in their own right. I already examined art in all of the other sections, so politics now has to receive its own treatment. Once I have teased out the issues of politics and war I’ll hopefully have a clearer perspective that will allow me to speak more intelligently on the political implications of art, culture, and expression. So in this section I’ll be addressing several core ideas. I’ll be dealing with these issues in this order: politics, power, violence, war, insurrection, civil disobedience, Gandhian satyagraha, the possibility of war without violence, and the appropriateness of militaristic metaphors. After that I’ll move on to examine politics as it relates to culture, and from there the relationship between politics, culture, art and expression. I really don’t feel very confident to give all of these topics a interesting or adequate look. But I will try to give them some kind of look using the resources that I have.


1. Politics And War, Power And Violence: Making Analytical Distinctions

So in this section I’ll be addressing the issue of politics and its relationship to war, and power and its relationship to violence. What are these things? How are they related and how do they blend? Let me just come right out and say how it is that I ordinarily think of politics, what my hunch is. I think of politics as a collection of institutions and ideas that are meant to structure relationships among groups to prevent them from reaching the extreme point of war. In short, that politics is a means of addressing conflicts that avoids war. In our age the notion of politics has become associated with States and their attempts to care for their own people and deal with the international community. It seems that politics in many ways is not associated with war, but is thought of as a totally peaceful process where parties and individuals try to further their nation-state. What I suspect, however, is that politics, at its core, has much more to do with war, strategy, and battle than we typically represent. There are several thinkers who have pushed me to think that their is a fundamental relationship between politics and war: Clausewitz, Schmitt, Foucault, Gray, Searle, and Zizek. As for the issue of power and violence. I think that there is a close relationship between these two things. There is, however, a difference between them. Power seems to involve a greater amount of consent and ideological coercion. While violence, on the other hand, refers primarily to the actual destruction of bodies. Hannah Arendt seems to think that it is foolish to make violence and power synonymous. So I’ll be trying to parse them. In short, the operative question of the section is this: How is it that war and politics can both contain elements of violence and yet remain distinct phenomena? This will be very much grounded in other writers. Lets see what I can muster.

My thoughts on the relationship between war and politics began when I learned about Carl von Clausewitz’s book On War. Clausewitz has oodles and oodles to say in that book, but I won’t be going into his main arguments about theory right now. What is relevant for me is his thoughts on the relationship between war and politics. Clausewitz famously asserted that “war is simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means” (731). For Clausewitz war and peace are inseparable, they are both “the intercourse of governments and peoples” (731). The beginning of a war in no way involves the suspension of ordinary political intercourse; it merely modifies its intensity and its means. “The main lines along which military events progress, and to which they are restricted” Clausewitz argues, “are political lines that continue throughout the war into subsequent peace” (731). So how am I to reconcile this relationship between war and politics? I guess the problem for me is that there seems to be a clear difference between war and politics. Namely, that violent action typically ceases when peace is established. But I suppose that this is why Clausewitz notes that “We deliberately use the phrase ‘with the addition of other means’ because we also want to make it clear that war itself does not suspend political activity or change it into something entirely different” (731). Violence is the additional means, I suppose. But what happens when the war ends? Where does violence go? Or perhaps to put it more generally, where does coercion go? Does it disappear? Or does it maintain itself in someways? I am curious about this issue of coercion both domestically and internationally. And this question brings me to my good friend Mr. Michel Foucault.

Foucault, too, was willing to ask questions about the relationship between war and politics. He undertook these questions most notably in the mid 70’s in Discipline & Punish, The History Of Sexuality Volume I, and the Society Must Be Defended lectures. In Society Must Be Defended Foucault argues that “the principle that politics is a continuation of war by other means was a principle that existed long before Clausewitz, who simply inverted a sort of thesis that had been in circulation since the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries....” (48, my italics). Furthermore, Foucault asserts that the only reason “Clausewitz could say one day... that war was the continuation of politics by other means is that, in the seventeenth century, or at the beginning of the eighteenth century, someone was able to analyze politics, talk about politics, and demonstrate that politics is the continuation of war by other means” (165, my italics). Foucault and Clausewitz both regard politics and war as fundamentally related.

In addition to Clausewitz and Foucault, there are two other thinkers that believed that there was a fundamental relationship between politics and war: Carl Schmitt and John Gray. In his essay The Concept Of The Political Schmitt attempts to disentagle the notion of politics from its association with the State. Schmitt believed that his contemporaries embraced a cyclical definition of the state and politics in which “The state thus appears as something political, the political as something pertaining to the state...,” which he found “an unsatisfactory circle” (Schmitt, 20). Schmitt therefore wanted to understand the concept of the political at its core, without tying it necessarily to the State. Schmitt goes on to argue that politics is fundamentally about the distinction between friend and enemy. Schmitt believes that concepts are often defined by a distinction in this way. In aesthetics, he claims, the fundamental distinction is between beautiful and not beautiful, in economics it is profitable and unprofitable, in morality it is good vs. evil. Similarly, the political can only refer to the entity that is capable of making the distinction between friend and enemy. Schmitt makes this point quite clear: if a group of people does not have the capacity to decide between friend and enemy they “cease to exist politically” (49). Furthermore, the distinction between friend and enemy does not count unless we are talking about the reality of combat and death. There is no symbolic or metaphorical war or combat for Schmitt. “Just as the term enemy, the word combat, too, is to be understood in its original existential sense. It does not mean competition, nor does it mean pure intellectual controversy nor symbolic wrestlings in which, after all, every human being is somehow always involved, for it is a fact that the entire life of a human being is a struggled and every human being symbolically a combatant. The friend, enemy, and combat concepts receive their real meaning precisely because they refer to the real possibility of physical killing” (Schmitt, 33). Thus, for Schmitt, politics, at its core, is about an entity that is capable of who should be killed and who should be regarded as a friend.

John Gray is another thinker who believes that politics has to be thought of primarily in terms of war and struggle between groups. In Enlightenment’s Wake Gray accuses contemporary political philosophers of clinging to an overly-legal model of governmental organization that doesn’t do justice to genuine politics. He argues that after 1971 political philosophers clung to overly-abstract notions of ‘justice’ and ‘man’ that don’t do justice to the real complexities of the political world. He claims that they spend most of their time devising ideal models of governments and economic systems that have little use in the real world. He urges political thinkers to examine politics in their reality: as a struggle between different cultural groups that could erupt into war at anytime. Laws are not good enough, Gray argues. We can’t simply devise the perfect set of laws and expect everything to work out. He advocates, instead, a political pluralism that leaves room for many different types of political organization, and doesn’t value liberalism over any other form of government. Gray claims that “The most debilitating feature of these and other constitutive elements of the new liberalism is what they all betoken – namely, a rejection of the political enterprise itself, and of its animating value of peace” (Gray, 193). So what does Gray propose instead? And what is this ‘political enterprise’ that is being rejected? Gray argues that “For the pluralist, by contrast, the opacity of politics is vastly to be preferred... to the clarity of war;.... For the pluralist, the practice of politics is a noble engagement, precisely on account of the almost desperate humility of its purposes – which are to moderate the enmity of agonistic identities, and to generate conventions of peace among warring communities. The pluralist embrace of politics is, for these reasons, merely a recognition of the reality of political life, itself conceived as an abatement of war” (Gray, 194). Gray, therefore, seems to be in line with these other thinkers in how he conceives of politics. He believes it is a set of organizations that is meant to prevent conflicts from reaching the point of war and actual bloodshed.

Now that I have used these four thinkers to show that there is some kind of relationship between politics and war, I would like to ask some questions to try and clarify this relationship. I would first like to return to Foucault’s inversion of Clausewitz’s famous quotation. Foucault speculated, along with others, that politics was simply the continuation of war by other means. How could this be so? What does that mean? Well, Foucault posits that political institutions exist merely to perpetuate the order that was established by the last war. So that politics is merely a way to maintain the status quo that was established through the violence of the last war. I wonder if this is possible. It is interesting to think about the way that current political institutions seek to maintain what was established in the last great war: World War II. Do not institutions like NATO and the UN seek to maintain the world order that was established after WWII? Don’t they want to see America and its global capitalism succeed in the long run? Doesn’t it seem like politics in some ways do resemble war by other means?

But this prompts a troubling question, and one that Foucault addresses in Discipline & Punish and Society Must Be Defended. Foucault asks: what is the boundary between peace and war? If politics is the continuation of war, then does that mean that there is a war that is constantly being waged beneath the surface of peace? Is politics, and the State, a way of waging an ongoing war? Is the government constantly at war with their own people? If so, how is this war being waged? Clearly both war and politics contain an element of control and coercion that is meant to produce desirable outcomes (for political leaders). But is there a distinct difference between the way that control is achieved in war and politics? Or are they one in the same?Clausewitz defines war as “an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will” (Clausewitz, 83). Doesn’t peace contain acts of force that compel people do the will of the government? And doesn’t the government have certain domestic enemies, like criminals, and those who don’t conform to standards?

This question of the role of force and violence in peace and war brings me to the next distinction that I would like to examine: the difference between power and violence and how they each play a certain role in politics and war. What I want to do is to draw a rough line between these two things. I am hoping that this distinction will help me draw a clear line between war and peace.

The best place for me to start this discussion of the difference between power and violence is Hannah Arendt. In her essay “On Violence” Arendt attempts to draw a line between major political concepts. She wants to show that there is a difference between the notions of power, violence, and authority. She begins her essay by chastising her contemporaries, like Sartre , Mills, and Fanon, for glorifying violence in a symbolic and theoretical way that she regards as out of touch with the reality of physical violence. Furthermore, Arendt is deeply troubled that scholars from Marx to Weber to her time were willing to equate political power with the organization of violence. “The consensus is very strange; for to equate political power with ‘the organization of violence’,” she argues, “makes sense only if one follows Marx’s estimate of the state as an instrument of oppression in the hands of the ruling class” (Arendt, 1972, 135). It is against this consensus that Arendt was attempting to clarify the distinction between political power and violence. Let me explore these two points, of power and of violence, in turn.

For Arendt, political power is not simply a matter of organized violence. Power, on the contrary, is a matter of organization and authority. So the first step in Arendt’s attempt to disentangle the notions of political power and violence is to show that power is a distinct phenomenon. “Power,” Arendt claims, “corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert. Power is never the property of an individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together.... The moment the group, from which the power originated to begin with... disappears, [individual] power also vanishes” (Arendt, 143). It is because people are capable of working together towards unified goals that political organizations exist. Or, in other words, “All political institutions are manifestations and materializations of power; they petrify and decay as soon as the living power of the people ceases to uphold them” (140). But why is it that political power would be able to work in this way? How do people have this capacity for working together? Well, I suspect it has something to do with the way Arendt defines authority. She claims that authority’s “hallmark is unquestioning recognition by those who are asked to obey; neither coercion nor persuasion is needed.... To remain in authority requires respect for the person or the office. The greatest enemy of authority, therefore, is contempt, and the surest way to undermine it is laughter” (144). So for Arendt it seems that political power is more about humans organized in relationships of authority, and less about the organization of violence.

So, then what about the issue of violence? It is impossible to deny that government has something to do with the organization of violence. If it didn’t, then how could we possibly explain the ubiquity of militaries and police forces? Arendt resolves this problem by arguing that violence is always instrumental: it is never something that can create of sustain political power on its own, but is always a means to establishing a certain end. In fact, Arendt claims that “No government exclusively based on the means of violence has ever existed. Even the totalitarian ruler, whose chief instrument of rule is torture, needs a power basis–the secret police and its net of informers” (149). In its essence, government and power cannot simply be about violence, it must be about consent, about authority, and about people acting in concert. “Power,” she claims, “is indeed of the essence of all government, but violence is not. Violence is by nature instrumental; like all means, it always stands in need of guidance and justification through the end it pursues. And what needs justification by something else cannot be the essence of anything” (150). Arendt seems to draw a line between political power and violence. I’m not sure how I feel about it.

John Searle, however, seems to corroborate the claims made by Arendt. In Making The Social World Searle tries to explain how human institutional reality is sustained by the unique capacity of human language to create something simply by declaring it to exist. When a group of individuals declare that their government shall work in a certain way, for example, they can actually create that reality simply by declaring it to be so. To use a more mundane example, if I walk into a room and declare a chair to be my ‘spot’, I create certain deontic rules about that space, and if someone were to sit in it they run the risk of offending me. Or think of how stop lights work: they are a symbol, a piece of language, that forces certain types of obligations on us. In essence, social structure is maintained by the capacity of language to create certain realities that it declares to be so. Searle calls this use of language a status function declaration. A status function is something that functions only because it has been given a certain status. Stop lights work the way they do only because they have been declared to have a certain status.

Now, given that Searle believes that “all of human institutional reality is created and maintained in its existence by (representations that have the same logical form as ) SF Declarations,” his should has to be able to explain the existence and functioning of national governments. Indeed, Searle does claim that his work explains the functioning of governments. And, as I said, his analysis is largely in line with Arendt’s distinction between power and violence. Searle believes that at its core, government is an institution that is maintained through status functions– that is, through individuals speaking to one another and creating organizations by declaring them to be created. Searle also recognizes, however, that there is a strong relationship between government and violence. Violence, he claims, is not at the core of government, but is still inseparable from it. “The paradox of government,” he claims, “could be put as follows: governmental power is a system of status functions and thus rests on collective recognition or acceptance, but the collective recognition or acceptance, though typically not itself based on violence, can continue to function only if there is a permanent threat of violence in the form of the military and the police. Legitimation is crucial for the functioning of government because political power requires some degree of acceptance. But where government is concerned, legitimation by itself is never enough. Though military and police power are different from political power, in general there is no such thing as government, no such thing as political power, without police power and military power....” (Searle, 163, my italics). A long quotation that drives home a crucial point: while government is not essentially about violence, it cannot function without the implicit threat of violence.

Searle here anticipates one of the questions I have for Arendt. Perhaps you are right, Ms. Arendt, that power and violence are fundamentally distinct phenomena. But is it possible for there to be a stable source of political power without a stable source of violence? Searle’s answer here is a negative: there is no political power without a source of violence. To make this conclusion, however, throws a wrench into the clear distinction between war and politics.

Once I accept that there is no political power without the constant threat of violence, then I have to ask myself some questions that Clausewitz as already aware of. What, precisely, is war? The answer seems obvious until we remind ourselves that there have been many ‘wars’ that have never actually reached the point of real battle, but have rather been armed observations, or the gathering of troops at borders with the intention of preparing for battle. Was the Cold War not a war? Clausewitz overcomes this issue by claiming that whenever there is the genuine possibility for battle, there is a war going on. War, therefore, does not begin when battle begins, but when two opposing forces reach a point of tension in which battle becomes possible. Schmitt seems to agree with Clausewitz: “What matters is only the possibility of conflict” (Schmitt, 39).

Accepting this conclusion, however, prompts another problem: given the existence of police forces, at what point is there not the possibility for battle in our own backyard? If I am willing to get a gun and to start shooting people, there will always be people who are ready to pick up guns and do battle with me. In our culture, and in any organized governments, there is always the possibility of battle. It is not battle between nation-states, but it is still battle in its essence. Does this mean that the government is always at war with their own population? That is indeed the logical conclusion of these ideas. If war is defined by the possibility of battle, and political power must fundamentally be linked to the organization of violence that can be used both at home and abroad whenever necessary, then the government must in some ways be in a constant war with their people. I don’t know how I feel about this conclusion. But this is indeed what Foucault implies with his analysis in Discipline & Punish.

In Discipline & Punish: The Birth Of The Prison Foucault examines the transition from torture to modern prisons in France. He asks, How is it that the French monarchy made the transition from using excessive violence to locking their people up and labeling them criminals? Foucault argues that prior to the advent of prisons the monarchy regarded themselves to be at war with certain portions of the population. There were literal enemies within the kings territory, and the king was waging a personal war against them. But at some point at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century the French government stopped torturing individuals and instead started placing individuals in prisons and calling them criminals instead of enemies. Foucault gives this transition an extended look, but at the core of the book is the theme of the role of violence in society, and the centrality of war and strategy to the functioning of a government. (Please note that I gave this book a 140 page treatment in my Society’s Implicit War essays, and I don’t feel like quoting it a lot right now). I think that Foucault is trying to refute the notion of the social contract, and other notions on the origin of the state, by writing a history that shows that the development of the state can be framed in terms of the French government as waging an ongoing war against their own population. The thing to note is the way that the government’s ‘war’ against their own people gradually transitions from a war of explicit violence to a war that is implicitly waged through the creation of certain forms of knowledge. I put the point this way at the end of July 2010: “Foucault's main purpose in Discipline & Punish is to show how this monarchical, explicit war, has been transformed into an implicit war that is waged through the production of elaborate forms of knowledge about bodies. Contemporary nation-states also seek to control their populations, and violence is often the key factor. Knowledge, however, has become a far more important factor in society's implicit war.” This is why by the end of the nineteenth century criminality is an idea that is capable of justifying the incarceration of thousands of people.

In any case, I am not doing a very good job explicating D&P right now, but it is a very challenging book that I haven’t studied in quite a while. I will say, however, that the biggest lesson I take from it is that just as the French monarch was waging a war through torture, modern states might be waging a war through the prison systems and the forms of knowledge that make the prison system palatable for the bulk of society. Foucault argues that the rise of stable military forces does not matter just in the international sense, but that it also has implications for domestic politics: “The classical age saw the birth of the great political and military strategy by which nations confronted each other’s economic and demographic forces; but it also saw the birth of meticulous military and political tactics by which the control of bodies and individual forces was exercised within states.... Historians of ideas usually attribute the dream of a perfect society to the philosophers and jurists of the eighteenth century; but there was also a military dream of society; its fundamental reference was not to the state of nature, but to the meticulously subordinated cogs of a machine, not to the primal social contract, but to permanent coercions, not to fundamental rights, but to indefinitely progressive forms of trainings, not to the general will but to automatic docility” (Foucault, 169). Foucault believes that military discipline gradually infiltrated society both abroad and at home. The result is the implication that what the government is doing is enforcing forms of discipline that amount to a war being waged against their own population. The major difference is that the war at home is no longer being waged with physical violence, but with forms of knowledge that normalize and coerce people into behaving in certain ways. I dubbed this ‘society’s implicit war’: that behind every social order there is a war that is being tacitly waged through symbols and discursive apparatuses. This is what Foucault means when he says "it is no longer the body, with the ritual play of excessive pains, spectacular brandlings in the ritual of the public execution; it is the mind or rather a play of representation and signs circulating discreetly but necessarily and evidently in the minds of all" (101, Italics Added). In any case, Foucault believed that it was possible for the state to be waging a ‘war’ and exerting ‘violence’ by circulating certain forms of knowledge.

The next thing I would like to note is Foucault’s definition of power. He regarded the notion of power as central to his analysis. First of all, he believed that power and knowledge were inseparable, and that it was the creation of certain types of knowledge that allowed the government to exercise specific types of power. Furthermore, Foucault believed that power was never the property of an individual, but a way of talking about relationships and their dynamics. This definition of power seems to align nicely with Arendt’s claims that power is about humans acting in concert based on relationships of authority. Foucault, too, thought that power was about organizations of people and the way that knowledge created certain types of authority and obligations. Moreover, the connection between knowledge and power seems to rhyme with Searle’s analysis of power as being based on status function declarations. What is a status function declaration but a the statement of a certain type of knowledge that brings certain types of power relations into existence? So, it seems to Foucault’s notion of power is in these ways compatible with Arendt and Searle.

There is, however, one major difference in the way they talk about power: while Arendt and Searle treat violence as separate from power, Foucault implies that governmental power retains an element of violence even when it is operating primarily at the level of knowledge and authority. In other words, while Arendt and Searle speak of violence strictly in terms of the physical destruction of bodies, Foucault is willing to speak of legal regulation and epistemic coercion (as in the control of what it is possible to think and know) as a symbolic violence. It is largely because Foucault is willing to speak of violence and war metaphorically that he is able to speak of government as waging a war against their own people. While it is true that the government always has military and police forces lying in wait, their first line of defense, according to Foucault, is their elaborate forms of disciplinary knowledge. The next step for me, therefore, is to ask whether or not it is appropriate or sound to speak of war and violence in symbolic or metaphorical ways. By asking this question I am chasing the bigger question: If we are able to argue against the use of metaphorical usage of the word violence, can we still reasonably think of politics as the continuation of war by other means? Or is it only possible to think of politics as the continuation of war if we embrace violence as a symbolic reality? In short, the problem is that Foucault sees power as a continuation of war and ‘violence’, while Arendt is careful to claim that power and violence are distinct phenomena. In order to parse this issue I would now like to engage in a brief discussion of Zizek’s notions of symbolic and systemic violence.

Slavoj Zizek is another philosopher that I have been trying to grapple with lately. There are many things about him that stand out and that excite me. But here I would like to note two of his ideas that seem to give him an affinity with Foucault’s claims about the symbolic violence. Both of these ideas can be found in Zizek’s Violence: Six Sideways Reflections, and are then further elaborated in his In Defense Of Lost Causes. In Violence Zizek attempts to enhance our understand of violence by distinguishing between subjective and objective violence. Zizek defines subjective violence as “violence performed by a clearly identifiable agent” (Zizek, 1). Examples of subjective violence are robberies, terrorist acts, international war, et cetera. In addition to subjective violence Zizek posits two forms of ‘objective’ violence: “First, there is a ‘symbolic’ violence embodied in language and its forms.... Second, there is what I call ‘systemic’ violence, or the often catastrophic consequences of the smooth functioning of our economic and political systems” (Zizek, 1-2). The major problem that Zizek is trying to solve is that we often experience subjective violence as a disturbance of a normal state of things, that we regard peace as an undisturbed space that is suddenly made tumultuous by an act of subjective violence. On the contrary, Zizek asserts that “objective violence is precisely the violence inherent to this ‘normal’ state of things. Objective violence is invisible since it sustains the very zero-level standard against which we perceive something as subjectively violent” (Zizek, 2). And as I said, Zizek says the two major forms of objective violence are systemic and symbolic violence. I would now like to discuss those two points in turn.

Zizek defines systemic violence as a form of violence that has to exist for certain types of life to be possible: it is a back drop of violence that makes us able to perceive ‘peace’ or ‘normality’. “We’re talking here,” he argues, “of the violence inherent in a system: not only direct physical force, but also the more subtle forms of coercion that sustain relations of domination and exploitation, including the threat of violence” (Zizek, 9, Italics and Bold Added). Here I would immediately like to note the affinity with Foucault’s analysis in Discipline & Punish. Foucault goes to great lengths to make it clear that social order depends on an implicit threat of violence and subtle forms of epistemological coercion. Zizek here seems to agree, although Foucault is not one of his major sources for this claim, and is in fact, not cited anywhere in Violence. But in any case, Zizek here seems to agree with Foucault’s claim that democratic capitalism possesses underlying forms of violence and coercion. Zizek, however is able to talk about them in much clearer terms. Zizek explains how capitalism, with its inherent inequalities creates an intense form of systemic violence that is often ignored. Indeed, Zizek thinks that our focus on subjective violence is distracting us from these larger forms of violence, simply because “subjective violence is the most visible.” Zizek asserts that our task is “to change the topic, to move from the desperate humanitarian SOS call to stop violence to the analysis of that other SOS, the complex interaction of the three modes of violence: subjective, objective, and symbolic” (Zizek, 11, italics in original). Zizek’s discussion of systemic violence adds a lot of validity to Foucault’s claims about the constituent role of violence in peace and social order.

Zizek’s discussion of symbolic violence also corroborates Foucault’s claims. In order for Foucault’s claims about violence in social order to be correct, then it must be possible for knowledge itself to contain an element of violence. And this, in fact, is what Zizek contends. He addresses what he calls “the violence of language.” He takes on the common claim that humans can attain peace be cause we possess language, because we can “debate, exchange words, and such an exchange, even when it is aggressive, presupposes a minimal recognition of the other party” (60). But Zizek is willing to ask, on the contrary, “What if... humans exceed animals in their capacity for violence because they speak?” (61, italics in original). Zizek believes this to be the case because language inherently “simplifies the designated things, reducing it to a single feature. It dismembers the thing, destroying its organic unity, treating its parts and properties as autonomous. It inserts the thing into a field of meaning which is ultimately external to it. When we name gold ‘gold,’ we violently extract a metal from its natural texture investing into it our dreams of wealth, power, spiritual purity and so on, which have nothing whatsoever to do with the immediate reality of gold” (61). Indeed, Zizek cites Heidegger to advance the claim that it is language itself that creates the essence of a thing. “Reality in itself,” he argues, “in its stupid existence, is never intolerable: it is language, it is symbolisation, which makes it such” (67). This aligns quite well with Searle’s notion of the status function declaration: both of them believe that reality is partially constituted by the labeling of things. Zizek, however, takes the notion of the status function one step further and explains the violence of it.

These are the two major types of objective violence that Zizek perceives: he believes that there is a violence inherent in certain types of social organization, which he calls systemic violence; and he believes that language itself possesses an element of violence, which he calls symbolic violence. But how are we to consider these things to be considered forms of ‘violence’ when they are not the actual things destroying people’s bodies or lives? How are we to consider these objective forms of ‘violence’ truly violent, when true violence seems to be the destruction of bodies that Zizek calls subjective violence. Well, the question that Zizek raises is the relationship between these three types of violence. It is not as if subjective violence exists in a vacuum, it must have causes, it must have conditions that are making it possible. And this is precisely Zizek’s concern: we are focusing on preventing this subjective violence without asking ourselves about the objective forms of violence that sustain them. Foucault and Zizek’s clims are now seeming more legitimate to me.


Now that I have clarified these issues of power and violence, I would now like to venture a new definition of war and peace. Peace undoubtedly contains an element of violence. Peace is a state in which the two forms of objective violence are able to maintain an order in which subjective violence is kept at a minimum. Peace is therefore the reign of objective forms of violence. Peace is a time in which systemic and symbolic violence are able to keep subjective violence at a minimum: as something that is implicitly threatened by the police and as something that erupts every now and then. War, on the other hand, is a time in which new and intensified forms of objective violence are used to ensure that proper amounts of subjective violence are available for the purposes of the war.

One way I would like to clarify this distinction is to highlight that during wartime there is an amplified amount of objective violence that is used, namely in the form of domestic deception and propaganda. During war time governments go to great length to control the type and quality of information that reaches the population. In Zizekian terms, the government takes measures to control the types of objective (systemic and symbolic) violence that circulate among the population so as to control the way that subjective violence functions in both the domestic and the international scene. Jon Sumida’s phrase that “with respect to intellectual and moral demands, war is like peace, only much more so” (Sumida, 2008, 192). Similarly, it could be said that with regard to the relationship between objective and subjective forms of violence, war is like peace, only much more so. Meaning that in peacetime there are always objective forms of violence that are meant to control and limit the way that subjective violence is used. There are always certain (objectively violent) forms of social organization and certain types of language that control people’s thoughts to ensure peace. But with war, new types of objective violence are used to ensure that subjective violence is controlled to meet the demands of the war. The line between peace and war, therefore, is about the way that objective forms of violence are used to regulate the amount of subjective violence that is possible. The bottom line is that there is no subjective violence without corresponding forms of objective violence. War and peace are therefore two sides of the same violent coin: it is just a matter of whether or not the forms of objective violence currently functioning allow (or demand) the outbreak of large scale subjective violence or not. In short, knowledge can indeed be violent. In fact, knowledge is the form of objective violence that is necessary to regulate the use of subjective violence. This reminds me of Kanye West’s revised verse from the song “Power” that he performed on SNL: “When you prayin’ for freedom ’cause your mind been in prison. ‘Cause they tryin’ to control every single big decision. You ain’t effin’ the system, then why the eff is you livin’?” (Kanye West, ‘Power’, on SNL). Our minds are indeed limited, controlled, ‘placed in prison’ by the forms of objective violence that circulate in our society. And it is indeed our task, as Zizek says, to analyze and break down these forms of objective violence, this systemic and symbolic violence that is all around us.

These things don’t seem entirely out of line with Arendt and Searle’s conclusions. It does indeed remain consistent with Arendt’s claim that violence has to be an instrumental phenomenon. Her definition, however, has to be qualified to accommodate Zizek’s distinction between objective and subjective violence. Same with Searle. It seems that both of them are only speaking of violence in terms of subjective violence. If they were to recognize that systemic and symbolic violence indeed exist, then they would perhaps perceive that government is violent in itself. Government is not subjectively violent in itself. But it does seem to be objectively violent in itself. In that there could not be any government unless there were symbolically violent status functions that were capable of creating the power and authority that Arendt defines. Government, therefore, is a collection of objectively violent statements and organizations that are buttressed by the possibility for subjective violence. It seems that Arendt approaches this idea of an objectively violent government with her discussion of bureaucracy. Arendt explains how bureaucracy is a form of government that dominates people’s lives and gives them no way to address their concerns: “bureaucracy or the rule of an intricate system of bureaus in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few nor the many, can be help responsible, and which could properly be called rule by Nobody” (137). Does this not approach Zizek’s notion of objective violence in some ways? Zizek, Foucault, Arendt, and Searle, do become consistent if we are able to embrace Zizek’s distinction between subjective and objective violence. It seems that Arendt and Searle have not been able to think of violence beyond its subjective manifestations, this ignoring what makes that violence possible in the first place. This is not a wholly adequate criticism, but this is challenging stuff.

At the very least, I have to admit that there are forms of objective violence that sustain what we call peace. There are certain things about this section that are unclear. I know I had ideas about paragraphs to add, and then I forgot. But I do think I settled a very important question with this chapter. The main question was: How is it that war and peace can both contain elements of violence and still remain distinct phenomena? In other words, if peace also contains elements of violence and coercion, ‘acts of force to compel enemies’, then how are we to understand war and peace as distinct things? Do they not just collapse into some sort of explicit and implicit wars? But I think Zizek’s distinction between objective and subjective violence makes it possible to distinguish between the violence of peace and the violence of war. As I said above, the line between peace and war lies with the use of subjective violence. War is a state in which objective forms of violence allow subjective violence to be used by the government in an organized way against international enemies. Peace, therefore, is a time in which objective forms of violence keep subjective violence at a minimum. It makes sense, then, that war and peace both contain forms of (objective) violence, but are distinguishable in the ways that that objective violence regulates the amount of subjective violence being used. In war objective violence demands the use of subjective violence. In peace objective violence demands that subjective violence be used in a much more restricted way.

Now that I have taken these steps towards clarifying the issues of peace, war, power, and violence, I would like to turn to the issues of insurrection, civil disobedience, and Gandhian Satyagraha.


2. Insurrection, Civil Disobedience, Satyagraha, And War Without Violence

Now that I have finished my rough inquiry into the relationship between war and politics I want to turn to the issue of insurrection and other forms of civil disobedience. Seeing as how the word insurrection runs throughout this entire project I should probably give it a close look. After looking at this notion of insurrection I’ll turn generally to civil disobedience, followed by an analysis of Gandhi’s non-violent method, finally addressing the question of whether there can be a ‘war without violence’.

The reason I feel like I need to look closely into this notion of insurrection is because it was a crucial concept for me during the SIW essays and at the beginning of this project. Foucault willingly refers to his work as ‘an insurrection of knowledge’. Especially in Society Must Be Defended, Foucault lays on the military metaphors thick. He says that he has adjusted the lecture time to make sure that certain people show up. “In legal terms, I cannot lay down any formal conditions as to who has access to this room. I’ve therefore adopted the guerilla method of moving the lecture to nine-thirty in the morning in the belief that, as my correspondent was telling me yesterday, students are no longer capable of getting up at nine-thirty” (3). It seems as though Foucault is treating any act that subverts formal regulations as a possible ‘insurrection’. When Foucault then tries to define his notion of ‘genealogy’ (his preferred term for his historico-philosophical method), he claims that they are “antisciences....They are about the insurrection of knowledges. Not so much against the contents, methods, or concepts of a science; this is above all, primarily, an insurrection against the centralizing power-effects that are bound up with the institutionalization and workings of any scientific discourse organized in a society such as ours” (9). This notion of an insurrection of knowledge follows logically from Foucault’s analysis of society as an ongoing war that is waged through (violent) knowledge rather than actual violence. I now need to ask the question: If Foucault had had access to Zizek’s distinction between objective and subjective violence, would he still be able to speak of peace and scholarship in terms of war?

I have reached my own conclusion: If Foucault had taken into account these distinctions between subjective and objective violence then it would have become clear that peace and war cannot be the same thing. As I explained above, it is possible that war and peace can both contain forms of violence and be distinct phenomena. It just depends on us distinguishing between the different possible constellations of objective and subjective violence. Foucault’s notion of a genealogy as an ‘insurrection’ is therefore no longer tenable. The term insurrection must only be used in instances that involve general segments of the population engaging in large scale subjective violence for the purpose systemic political change. Insurrection can only be what Clausewitz called ‘people’s war’: small groups of individuals violently antagonizing a large enemy force. In short, insurrection can only be about large scale subjective violence that is carried out with the intention of winning a war through attrition. It is never to be a metaphor that is meant to describe intellectual or academic work: it is a harsh reality of people killing other people over ideas and beliefs, it is a unique form of subjective violence that is supported by equally unique forms of objective violence.

So then what about civil disobedience? What is this phenomenon? And is it in any way related to war? Well I ask this question because my immediate inclination is to say that civil disobedience is not an act of war. Howard Zinn describes civil disobedience as something that always takes place in relation to the law. It is not something that stands entirely outside of the law, as war often does. It is instead a struggle for justice when a law is inadequate: “The principle I am suggesting for civil disobedience is not that we must tolerate all disobedience to law, but that we refuse an absolute obedience to law. The ultimate test is not law, but justice” (Zinn, 2003, 128). Civil disobedience therefore seems to not be an act of war, but a subversive act that always stands in relation to law, and as an attempt to bring law and justice into closer alignment.

But does that mean that civil disobedience is not a violent phenomenon? It should be obvious that civil disobedience is typically, or ideally, not something that involves subjective violence. It should be about destruction of property, destruction of ideas, or the destruction of systemic order, and not about the destruction of bodies. Civil disobedience therefore is something that is aimed purely at objective violence without recourse to subjective violence. In other words, civil disobedience is aimed at using language in new ways, and about interrupting the normal flow of a society: it is about achieving objective violence without using subjective violence. Seems straightforward enough for me.

Now Gandhian satyagraha is a slightly different story, is a different method. The same conclusions, however, should hold. Gandhian Satyagraha is a method of non-violent action that is meant to enact meaningful social change. In Conquest Of Violence: The Gandhian Philosophy Of Conflict Joan Bondurant argues that Gandhi developed a method of non-violent action that is far more complex than civil disobedience. Despite the emphasis on non-violence, Bondurant asserts that just like “all techniques of action for effecting change, it employs force.” “The character and the result of the force of satyagraha,” however, “are essentially different from those of conventional–violent–techniques of action during conflict” (Bondurant, 36). The main reason that I wanted to discuss Gandhi in this section was to examine this question of whether non-violent action can constitute a war. This question is raised because there is in fact a book written about Gandhi’s method called War Without Violence. Unfortunately, I have not yet acquired a copy of this book. But I still find the premise doubtful.

At some point later in this essay I’ll be giving Gandhi’s notion of satyagraha a much closer look. It deserves it. But that inquiry doesn’t belong in this section. The purpose of this section was to draw a line between peace and war. And at this point it has already become obvious that Gandhi’s method does not constitute a war. That does not mean, however, that it does not employ violence. Just like civil disobedience, satyagraha employs forms of objective violence to achieve systemic change. It using language and action against systems to enact objective violence. But it is not war.

I was maybe thinking this section would be longer. But given how lengthy the first section was, it isn’t surprising that I negated the need for this to be a long inquiry. Foucaultian ‘insurrection’, civil disobedience, and satyagraha are not forms of war. They employ forms of violence, but they do not constitute war. This is an obvious conclusion of the work that I did above. I hope that later on I can get to a point in which I can discuss Gandhi’s method at greater length. I undoubtedly will. There are two more sections in this essay where I plan to write about Gandhi. But right now just doesn’t feel like the appropriate moment to be going into his methods.


3. On The Use Of Militaristic Metaphors: Concluding Part IV.1

That is really all I want to write for this section. The section was called ‘war and politics’, and that is what I wanted to clarify. As I said above, the main task was to make war and peace analytically distinct despite the presence of violence in both. Zizek ultimately provided me with the crucial concepts that I needed to make this distinction. His distinction between subjective and objective violence gives me a new ways of dividing the violence present in war and the violent present in peace. Zizek claims that subjective violence is always supported by different forms of objective violence that form the ‘zero-point of violence’ that make them possible. This does indeed seem to be the case. This allows me to distinguish war and peace based on what type of subjective violence is possible based on what types of objective violence are operating. War exists when forms of objective violence organize and manifest large scale subjective violence. Peace, on the other hand, is when objective forms of violence are supreme and are merely augmented by forms of subjective violence. I think this is what Arendt and Searle mean when they talk about violence as being present in peace, but in the form of power. ‘Power’ as Arendt and Searle describe it, is when objective forms of violence are sufficient to maintain order and only have to be slightly augmented at times. When this objective violence breaks down, when power ceases to suffice, large scale subjective violence has to be enacted, and this is what we call war. War is what happens when objective forms of violence break down, and large scale subjective violence has to be introduced.

The main reason that I wanted to undertake this inquiry was Foucault. He is an author I admire, and one that deeply frustrates me. In this section I was trying to refute one of his most irritating tendencies: to use militaristic metaphors, to speak of scholarship in turns of insurrection and war. I think I have convinced myself that such militaristic metaphors are intellectually indefensible. There is a clear difference between scholarship, intellectual struggle, peace, and war. Because of the foregoing analysis, I have concluded that it is not okay to use militaristic metaphors. War is an intense eruption of subjective violence. It involves the intense death of large numbers of people. This does not mean that scholarship cannot be ‘violent’. It can be objectively violent, it can lead to systemic violence, and can be symbolically violent. But it is not war or insurrection.

A final note. I just recalled that Clausewitz says that we are at war if there is the genuine possibility for battle. Does this remain consistent with my analysis? I am saying that war is a about a constellation of objective violence that makes large scale subjective violence possible. I think that this definition remains consistent with Clausewitz’s claim about the possibility for battle. If a nation is massing troops at its borders to prepare for battle, but doesn’t actually go to battle, there was still a war because the forms of objective violence allowed those people to amass at the borders and to prepare for battle. In other words, in order for those people to prepare for battle there had to be objective forms of violence that got them there.

In the next section I’ll begin my analysis of the relationship between politics and culture. After that I’ll hopefully be able to link art and politics more easily.

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