Category Archive 'Violence'

08 Jan 2018

Better Than the NFL

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Elizabeth Lambert of the University of New Mexico Lobos (despite being suspended) has won a lot of fans nationally with her hard-hitting style of soccer, seen here against the Brigham Young Cougars.

10 Mar 2017

Civilization and Barbarism

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Greek Bronze Helmet, Northwest Greece, late 6th to 5th Centuries B.C.

Pascal Bruckner, in City Journal, contemplates Western Civilization’s contradictory attitudes toward Barbarism and violence.

For two centuries, the bourgeois has been a reviled figure, a kind of abstract prototype of ignominy. The whole history of antibourgeois mythology is a series of anathemas. Violently rejected by the nobility because of his prosaic nature, by the working class for his cupidity, by the artist who despises his enslavement to calculation and utility, the bourgeois is characterized by an ontological baseness. The only fault lacking from his catalog of negative traits was criminality, and since Hannah Arendt, we have known about the very normal bourgeois who ran the Nazi murder machine.

One must be either a monk or a soldier, Joseph de Maistre exclaimed, summing up the grandeur of an Old Regime driven by a few fundamental passions. …

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries responded to the bourgeois flattening-out of ideals and behavior with dreams of shattering catastrophe, a revolution or war that would interrupt the monotonous course of time. “Rather barbarity than boredom,” the French romantic Théophile Gautier cried in 1850. His exclamation would illuminate an entire period of rancor and disgust. Since life under the gray skies of the bourgeois order suffers from the most fetid lethargy, the predatory morality of the aristocrat or the freedom of the savage, proud of his body and his desires, is preferable to it. The conflagration of war took on for many the attraction of the new and sensational, especially after the long period of peace that Europe experienced before 1914 (in the same way that some youths today, bored with life in affluent Europe and America, travel to Syria to join the jihad). Tired of the uniformity and boredom of their lives, Europeans embraced the idea of a thrilling apocalypse—and then made it a horrifying reality.

As a young thinker put it in 1913, “War: why not? It would be amusing.” For many Europeans of the time, war was more than amusing; it represented the most beautiful of syntheses, a combination of barbarian energy with feudal courage. In 1915, the sociologist Werner Sombart contrasted the shop-keeping mentality of the British with the heroism of the Germans, the descendants of the brave Teutonic knights. Adolf Hitler got down on his knees in 1914 and thanked God that war had broken out. He saw it as man’s natural fatherland, a supreme test that would make the trenches a “monastery with walls of fire.”

To the vulgarity of Nietzsche’s “last man,” the bourgeois devoted to his little pleasures, the whole twentieth century—from T. E. Lawrence to the Red Brigades, via the Futurists and the Freikorps—counterposed a Romanticism of volcanic spirits, impatient to lose themselves in “storms of steel,” in Ernst Junger’s formulation. So many modern intellectuals, from Robert Brasillach on the right to Alain Badiou on the left, revealed a fascination with violence. “I want to live only in extreme situations. Everything that is mediocre exasperates me so much I could scream,” exclaimed the French collaborationist Drieu la Rochelle in 1935, on his way to Moscow after visiting Nuremberg and Dachau. Nine years later, in 1944, he noted in his journal, before committing suicide, how much he admired Stalin, the new master of the world, proven stronger than Hitler. Better to be a terrorist or criminal, it seems, than a little bureaucrat or petty stockholder. …

We do our best these days to raise our kids properly. We educate them, teaching them good manners, politeness, and benevolence. We cherish democracy, law, peace, and the great works of Western culture. But many of us nevertheless feel that our way of life, if it were generalized on a global scale overnight, would bring a soul-deadening dullness. To put it otherwise, we need monsters to fight against; we invoke what lies beneath in order to defeat it; our mind is shadowed by darkness. The civilized man must constantly look barbarism in the face, to remember where he comes from, what he has escaped—and what he could become again.

Europe and America have been home to opposed attitudes in this context. Since 1945, Europe has been haunted by the specter of “explosions of collective bestiality,” as Stefan Zweig termed them: a new Auschwitz, a new Gulag. Europe remembers Diderot’s observation that it is easier for an enlightened people to return to barbarity than for a barbarous people to take a single step toward civilization. Violence has become Europe’s most powerful taboo. Some observers even suggest that national anthems should no longer be played before soccer matches, to avoid arousing chauvinistic feelings. Yet how can one fail to see that soccer fields are substitutes for battlefields, or that scuffles among fans—or even postgame riots—are preferable to the conflicts of infantry and tanks?

America, by contrast, displays its violence with a candor that forces us to indulge it, offering at times a savagery in the service of justice. What is fascinating in America for an older European is the nation’s combination of violence and sentimentality, symbolized by those ambiguous American characters—the cowboy, the sheriff, and the vigilante—all on the brink of breaking away, of plunging everything into chaos in order to reorganize the law on juster lines. Order is never simply order in the United States, as it is in Europe; it always seems to be on the verge of disorder, of being carried away by uncontrollable violence.

Two dreams confront each other in our Western democracies. One, European, wants to eradicate human malice solely by means of dialogue, tolerance, and constant reminders of past horrors. The other, American, wants to put the darker powers of human nature in the service of social perfectibility—a creative barbarism, analogous to Greek catharsis. An angelism of niceness on the one hand; the channeling and sublimation of violence, on the other. Such is our predicament. We are urged to defend the law, civilization, and decency against savagery, while knowing perfectly well that we need savagery to awaken us. We want to defeat the barbarian and also preserve him, so as to preserve the energy he instills in us. He is both detestable and desirable.

A must read.

11 Apr 2015

Boys Will Be Boys

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16 Mar 2011

Watch Out, America, Professor Leiter Is Starting to Get Angry

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Brian Leiter

Brian Leiter, the University of Chicago’s John P. Wilson Professor of Law and Director of its Center for Law, Philosophy, and Human Values, was so moved by recent events in Wisconsin that he predicted on his personal blog that the time is rapidly approaching when it will be necessary to contemplate terrorist violence.

[T]he Republican criminals in Wisconsin forced through their attack on workers’ rights. … At some point these acts of brazen viciousness are going to lead to a renewed philosophical interest in the question of when acts of political violence are morally justified, an issue that has, oddly, not been widely addressed in political philosophy since Locke. … [T]he attack [sic] on fundamental rights of collective bargaining, assuming they stand, are going to raise hard issues about civil disobedience and other forms of unlawful resistance on which philosophers might make a contribution. [emphasis added]


How quickly the lefty mind turns toward violence.

observes the divine Miss Althouse.


James Taranto, in the Wall Street Journal, was deservedly derisive about the intimidation value of the philosophical threat.

Having long viewed academia with a jaundiced eye, we’re inclined to view the Leiter post more with amusement than disgust. Just imagine if a Wisconsin businessman got a letter from a philosopher:

    Please be informed that I have recently completed an article arguing that acts of political violence are morally justified when businessmen fail to support the dedicated public employees who serve our communities. As soon as the peer-review process is complete, I expect it to be published in the prestigious journal Terrorism & Political Violence.

Really strikes fear into you, doesn’t it? Leiter seems more like a character from Monty Python than “On the Waterfront.”


Kenneth Anderson, at the Volokh Conspiracy, began contemplating whether or not the good professor’s Gedankendrohung (“thought threat”) should be humorously compared to an article from The Onion.

I humbly tug my academic forelock before Professor Leiter, whose greater brains and greater virtue I’ll cheerfully concede upfront. Still, the rapidity with which Professor Leiter reaches, however coyly or indirectly or teasingly or hintingly, to justifications, or thinking this suddenly would be a good moment for talking about justifications, for political violence did put me in mind of this news item from the Onion of several years ago.

    In Retrospect, I Guess We Might Have Resorted To Cannibalism A Bit Early

    I have no idea how long we’d been marooned when we started edging toward Jerry. Twenty, thirty minutes, time has little meaning when you’re in a situation like that. It wasn’t a spoken decision, either. We just all looked at each other and knew something had to be done. …

I feel somewhat the same about Professor Leiter’s call (purely in the philosophical abstract, you understand) to reconsider political violence — you know, this might be an appeal just a tad early in the saga of criminal and illegitimate and unjust oppression. I leave it to Professor Leiter to say definitively, but I wonder if Locke might not also agree.


Adam Freedman, at Ricochet, took Brian Leiter a bit more seriously.

[I]t is clear that Leiter thinks that Walker’s move to limit — not eliminate — collective bargaining rights for public employees is literally something that might justify, say, killing a bunch of Republicans. In an update to his blog, here’s how this philosopher-king explains his rationale:

“1. Collective bargaining is, per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a human right.

2. There are circumstances in which violations of human rights call for unlawful actions, including violence.”

And that’s it. Because the elected representatives of the People of Wisconsin want to pass a law that may conflict with some charter passed by a bunch of unelected UN windbags (but never enshrined in US law), Leiter wants blood.


On his return from the Very Important Conference on metaethics and legal philosophy which he had been attending, Professor Leiter rapidly retreated from the barricades, placing the bottle with a suspicious-looking rag at its mouth deep in his pocket, endeavored to look innocent, and explained in an update:

[I]t is quite natural for philosophers to ask (this is, after all, a blog aimed at philosophy teachers and students) whether the current circumstances–in which Wisconsin and other states are launching an attack on the human rights of organized workers–are ones in which unlawful resistance, violent or not, to the violation of human rights could be morally justified. Contrary to Professor Althouse’s invention of an answer, which she then attributes to me, I in fact do not know what the answer is to that question.

He also assured Mr. Freedman over at Ricochet.

I do not advocate violence in Wisconsin. … I expect most philosophers are likely to conclude, even if they think Wisconsin’s attack on collecting bargaining rights wrong, that violent civil disobedience would not be justified.

To which one can only respond:

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