Violence “The practice of violence, like all action, changes the world, but the most probable change is to a more violent world” (Arendt pg 80). Violence is contagious, like a disease, which will destroy nations and our morals as human beings. Each individual has his or her own definition of violence and when it is acceptable or ethical to use it. Martin Luther King Jr. , Walter Benjamin, and Hannah Arendt are among the many that wrote about the different facets of violence, in what cases it is ethical, the role we as individuals play in this violent society and the political aspects behind our violence.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a brilliant man who preached non-violence to his followers during the fight of equality in deeply embedded Jim Crow south. “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored” (King, Letter from a Birmingham Jail). Dr King’s message was clear; non-violence will force people to address the issue at hand.
He preached to love your enemies by looking into ones self and figure out the reason that “arouse the tragic hate response in the other individual” (King, Loving Your Enemies). He continues by saying that a person must find the good in their enemy. In the speech given on November 7, 1957 about loving your enemy, King exposes why he is so opposed to violence when he says, “When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it….. “That hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe.
King clearly preaches non-violence because he knows that it will lead to tragedy every time and instead, one must love their enemies and stand down when they are presented with the opportunity to defeat their opponent. Walter Benjamin had a different approach to violence than Dr. King as displayed in “Critique of Violence”. Benjamin did believe that non-violence can exist and says, “Non violent agreement is possible wherever a civilized outlook allows the use of unalloyed means of agreement” (Critique of Violence p289). Although he did agree with Dr.
King, violence was the means to a specific end for Benjamin and whether it was a just or unjust end was the question. He believed that an individual has the right to determine when, where, and in what means to use violence, which he called natural law. Positive law, Benjamin says, “can judge all evolving law only in criticizing its means” (278) and ties them together when he says, “natural law attempts, by justness of the ends, to “justify” the means, positive law to “guarantee” the justness of the ends through the justification of the means. (278) He also states that violence and the law are codependent; with two categories in mind. Law making is the result of violence. All it takes in one violent act for a law to be enacted, which is where he brings up law preserving. Law preserving violence is the result of the breaking the law. An example would be a riot in the streets downtown where citizens are bashing in store windows and stealing merchandise. The individuals are breaking the law and stealing in a violent way, which goes against the law making. We saw this in the 1992 riots in downtown Los Angeles.
The law preserving violence, then is set in motion by use of police, who with batons, shields, and guns, are trying to threaten the lawbreaker with use of force or violence. Law preservers protect the law makers. Hannah Arendt’s book, On Violence, discusses a more political side to violence and power and how it relates to the population living in the world. She talks about power of the masses, stating that power is not attainable by the individual but only by masses. Arendt opens her book by directly saying we are the most violent century known to man, always trying to be bigger and better than another country in this arms race.
She talks about the ways in which our society views violence and says humans are naturally violent. Arendt is clearly against war in this book as being unjustifiable and says that war, and violence regarding to politics, is not a means to an end because if we look back in our history we have been fighting war after war with no end. The end will never come; so how then, can one justify the violence of war? In the book, she argues that many of the traits we see in ourselves regarding violence, we see in animals, except animals do not have the ability to reason.
Arendt states that, “violence is neither beastly nor irrational- whether we understand these terms in ordinary language of the humanists or in accordance with scientific theories” (62). The author makes is very clear that when we fail to use our ability to reason and instead introduce violence, we are only repeating our past of being a violent being in which the means to our end keeps getting further and further away. Dr. King, Walter Benjamin, and Hannah Arendt all speak of violence in terms of gaining social and political change, Dr.
King preaches non violence and loving your enemy while Benjamin says that in order to justify violence, you must first look at the ends to determine if they are just. Arendt, I believe is more on the side of Dr. King, saying that we are a violent society that is only repeating the past and not learning from it because the violence is supposed to be justifiable by the ends, but the end never comes. I can agree with all three of these points of view but feel as though I think about violence the way Benjamin does.
I do not condone violence as a way for a society as a whole or an individual to achieve a greater purpose, but do feel violence is necessary in terms of law making, lawbreaking, and law preserving. For example, if someone broke into my house in order to rob me, or do worse, my first instinct would be to get my gun and protect myself. I’m not preaching the second amendment, however, if an individual took Dr. King’s, acknowledging this intruder is now an enemy and tried to love him while practicing non violence, that individual would be beaten, raped, or dead.
I justify violence when my own life or the lives of those I love are threatened and in danger. Violence has to be justified by a justifiable end, but I am not saying shooting someone is justifiable in most cases unless you are in eminent danger. In terms of war and violence for political gain, I do not agree with it. War is only a way for government to make money but there is not end. When countries go to war, its like little boys fighting over a shovel in a sandbox, there is no end until someone gets hurt.