Lily Laita "Democracy is a Foreign Power?"

Hannah Arendt’s Othering of Violence as Promotion of Institutional Power

Reading Hannah Arendt’s text, On Violence, one takes away that political as well as non-political faith in consequential violence exists as if it is a means of imposing order on the world. Truly faith in the media, on both the political right and the left, today imposes an order of violence as a consequential lecture of the derelict architecture of human affairs that is a promise of substandard growth or accelerated “progress” through means of violence-responses; unconditional and obtuse. Violence is Othered. Violence is always something that is in the hands of other people’s actions, never the responsibility of the individual in quest of violence. Arendt seeks to restore human affairs to political actions that do not employ failsafe violence, but, perhaps, an error is belief that such a political infrastructure could subsist on the power it accumulates and still retrain non-violence ideas. 

However, this very reading into Arendt is frustrated by her criticism of the non-violence class as harbording within its existence being just degrees away from the violence-employed classes. Arendt is an apologist for political superstructures while simultaneously a critic of its vices and temptations. For Arendt, answers lie in careerist organization as organic organization, even those grassroots entities attributed to non-violent means, are too engrossed in the patronization of violent inclusivity. What she is truly protesting is the threat of violence against the violence of law, which she readily admits relies of violence means towards an end of power and control. Therefore, for Arendt, the powerless are in no position to impose non-violence governing because it suffers from the same temptations and associations as those in power. But why then concede to embedded power entities as arbitrators of what power is and how it unifies international relationships? 

All this is not to take away from the depth of brilliance that is The Origins of Totalitarianism, which should be standard required reading for every student as a means of critical thinking studies (to use an umbrella term). Still, in On Violence, her critique of violence she does not seem to abandon power-shareholders in her observations of the relationships between power and violence. Perhaps, there is some relationship between her critique of “the masses” and her insinuation that government should be managed by careerists and emblematic shareholders whom she admits are not without fault. There can be no excuse for her criticism of scholarship, in the sciences or the humanities, as evidence of a myth of progress. Arendt seems to distance herself from John Stuart Mill, in addition to Max Weber and C. Wright Mills, on the relationship between power and violence, over Alexander Passerin d’Enterves, whom she claims “distinquish[es] between violence and power,’’ though what is more is that Arendt harshly condemns bureaucracy as a rule of “Nobody” seemingly more dangerous than what integration may lie at the footsteps of power and authority in the manifestation of violence as we know it (1970, 35-39).  Arendt states, “one of the most obvious distinctions between power and violence is that power always stands in need of numbers, whereas violence up to a point can manage without them because it relies on implements” (1970, 42). In a hard-hearted aristocratic function, Arendt rejects the similitude of power, authority, and violence.

George Kateb, in his article, “Arendt and Representative Democracy,” (1983) sees Arendt as arguing, “[t]he aim of politics is to perpetuate itself, to immortalize itself: not only in the sense that individuals aspire to say and do imperishable things, but in the enfolding sense that all who act act for the sake of preserving future possibilities of action. The common interest is the preservation of the frame of action. Those who act, in the proper way, are those who act with the feeling that others will come after them to take their place on the stage of action. She says, ‘If the world is to contain a public space, it cannot be erected for one generation and planned for the living only; it must transcend the life-span of mortal men’” (1983, 25). Arendt briefly mentions in On Violence that “participatory democracy […] derives from the best in the revolutionary tradition – the council system” (1980, 22). John Sitton draws out Hannah Arendt’s organized structure for councils in his article for Polity (1987) and locates two central problems with her “instrumental dimension of political action,” stating,

The first is her argument that “no one could be called either happy or free without participating” and its connection with her notion of positive freedom. This statement raises the spectre of “self-realization” conceptions of politics, examined by Berlin, that lead so easily to a “despotism of liberty,” i.e. that people must be forced to act in a certain way in order to achieve their higher natures. The second is that it is not obviously clear why council democracy would necessarily encourage the multiplicity of opinions. The common experience of small groups seems to indicate the opposite, that small groups are as likely to be narrow-minded on political issues as are the isolated citizens of representative democracy. That is, even if we accept Arendt’s argument that proper opinion formation cannot take place under representative democracy, that is no argument for how council democracy can avoid this difficulty. (1987, 86)

Arendt herself is subject to othering violence and through her means to organize and substrate the polemical identification of a proper form of organized power, she withholds the standard bearer of violence itself: that from all power violence is the motivator to the force of law from which it is entitled to follow or adhere to substandard impositions. Arendt is an institutionalist for formal power. It is possible her utopian vision of a shared consent for power elevation lacks the nuances and poignant articulations of Third Wave and Fourth Wave Feminisms, which are far more structured in their critique of power sharing that dispels the illusions of frank rule without the very bureaucracy that Arendt is critical of as being emblematic of both a symptom and instrument of oppression. To vote for institutional power is to side with the inevitability of violence.

It is the premise of this thesis to clearly mark there is the potential within our DNA to carry ourselves away from institutions that exist on the belief of such an inevitability. The old world philosophy that reigned in terror for so many centuries declined to evaluate what the symptoms of a world post-violence would mature to. Without an examination of those old world theories, we cannot break free from their logic or depose the articulated rhythms of how they have nurtured the very vibrancy of our creative dispositions and taken-for-granted soliloquies of time through discourse and deliberation. The parental nature within us understands a world post-violence has potential and with that reasoning the first matter of order is to withdraw from all impositions that violence is a guarantee in the world from which we must resist nomination of rule above and rule without. 

Painting: Lily Laita “Democracy is a Foreign Power?”