Violence has many definitions, and there are many types of violence. For some, violence is physical harm; others include psychological harm as well. At times it is defined as deviation from a norm, and at others it is said that any action—whether a deviation or not—is something which produces violence. Some of these latter definitions are why people like Žižek can say that Gandhi is, in a way, more violent than Hitler, for the former destabilized an entire system whereas the latter’s violence was simply reactionary.
Walter Benjamin wrote one of the most influential texts on this topic, called “Critique of Violence.” He makes a distinction between mythic violence that is law-making and associated with the state, and divine violence that is the law-destroying power of the Gods. We should be wary of both and avoid conflating the two. When we normalize the former and only condemn the latter, we give the state great power to cause harm in pursuit of the enforcement of laws. Violence is dangerous no matter who uses it or what purpose it serves. Yet it is not necessarily removable, and we may forever need to live with its presence. For this reason we must constantly reflect on its presence and the role it occupies in society, so that we can ensure it is well used and serves healthy ends. Here are some papers that do just that.
- Alexandra Pârvan, “A Philosophical Concept of Deprivation and Its Use in the Attachment-Focused Treatment of Violence,” International Journal of Applied Philosophy, Fall 2014.
- Cristian Ciocan, “Violence, Animality, and Territoriality,” Research in Phenomenology, 2018.
- Paul George Neiman, “Camus on Authenticity in Political Violence,” European Journal of Philosophy, December 2017.
- Amy Shuffelton, “Theorizing Gun Violence in Schools: Philosophy, Not Silver Bullets,” Educational Theory, August 2015.
- Avram Alpert, “Philosophy against and in Praise of Violence: Kant, Thoreau and the Revolutionary Spectator,” Theory, Culture & Society, November 2016.
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