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Hannah Arendt

A quote from the opening passage of her 1961 book, ON REVOLUTION.

"Justifications of wars, even on a theoretical level, are quite old although, of course, not as old as organized warfare. Among their obvious prerequisites is the conviction that political relations in the normal course do not fall under the sway of violence, and this conviction we find for the first time in Greek antiquity, in so far as the Greek polis, the city-state, defined itself explicitly as a way of life that was based exclusively upon persuasion and not upon violence."

Like many thinkers before and some since, Arendt tended to romanticize the Greek polis. I believe this passage exhibits that fact. Surely the slaves within the walls of Athens could have told stories about the use of violence against their persons to keep them in their status as beasts of burden. I doubt "persuasion" in a contrary sense had much to do with that.

Still, I see her point. Before anybody would have thought to justify violence, there must have come into the world some expectation that violence, in some sphere, is something other than the natural state of affairs. One does not justify gravity, after all. One simply observes that it is.


  1. Christopher,

    Your second paragraph makes me think of the efforts of some Northerners to avert the violence of the Civil War by offering to capitulate to the Southerner states' demand to allow slavery to expand into the territories. These Northerners (unlike John Brown) apparently did not recognize that slavery itself was an ongoing "war." Lincoln would not capitulate, not only because of his opposition to slavery, but because the Southern states were, in effect, holding the nation hostage. Their demands were analogous to those of kidnappers, or those of ISIS today, and raise the question of whether to negotiate with kidnappers. In addition, opposition to the expansion of slavery was a fundamental precept of the Republican Party, and support for such opposition was the fundamental reason that Lincoln had been elected. Therefore, capitulation would have split and perhaps destroyed the party.


  2. I'm always happy to see that my posts can set your associative train chugging down such tracks.


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