Violence in a Civilised Society, part 2
by Mark Wegierski
Concerning the question of violence against the state or its ruling groups, some would argue that “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.” However, are there in fact any right‑wing terrorist groups in the West today, apart from some miniscule fringes? Apropos the “right-wing threat,” many of the incidents of swastika‑daubing in the former West Germany were staged by the Soviet intelligence services and Far Left activists. Some liberals have portrayed the vicious terrorist attacks in Oklahoma City and in Norway as typical of a generalized right-wing and tried to link the Arizona shootings to the Tea Party.
There are a large number of criteria by which a terrorist can be distinguished from a legitimate fighter for national self‑determination or other cultural goals. Especially during the Cold War era, liberals tended to see many groups employing terror as “freedom‑fighters,” while at the same time seeing many quite restrained oppositionists as “terrorists.”
Liberals appear to be less concerned about threats to “social order” and even “civil order” when the threat is posed by the Far Left (e.g. the Red Army Faction) or by criminal elements. But any possible crimes that can be attributed to an unfairly generalized “right-wing,” such as the bombing of abortion clinics or shootings of doctors who provide abortion services (which are clearly carried out by obviously disturbed individuals), are met with the strictest severity, and by attempts to extend permanent blame onto the entire right-wing.
Interestingly enough, all the regimes which could be called Leninist have tended to call their armed opponents “bandits,” — i.e., to have seen them as criminals, pure and simple, implying that they are a threat not to the “social regime,” but to the “civil order” itself. For example, RENAMO in Mozambique were called “bandits” by the Mozambique Marxists (and also by much of the Canadian press). Some Canadian reporters claimed that RENAMO could not be genuine partisans because they murdered their own people. Accepting the Marxist government’s appraisal of the actions of RENAMO, — the Canadian press forgot that virtually every left-wing revolutionary movement had been far more murderous towards the societies and nations in which it had existed – but had nevertheless been enthusiastically supported by most Western left-liberals. Witness an article in the Toronto Star complaining that a “terrorist leader” of RENAMO had been allowed refugee status in Canada ‑- a good example of liberal “resolve” -‑ in the face of a generalized “right-wing.” This characterization of armed opponents as “bandits” was also a standard Nazi tactic, as exemplified by the sign, “Achtung! Banditten!”, often seen by the railways of German-occupied Poland.
Organized state or social violence within a given society is a “tactical problem” for every ruling group. It is part of the panoply of normative, utilitarian, and lesser coercive instrumentalities it has at its disposal. The amount of violence to be carried out by the ruling group in traditionalist as well as liberal democratic societies could be optimally defined as that which most effectively maintains (or does the least damage to) the prevailing world‑view of that society. When a regime too vociferously embraces violence, it can sow the seeds of its own destruction – as most of the rest of the world is thrown into an alliance against it. The most obvious example of this was Nazi Germany.
When violence occurs as defined in sense eight (see above, violence as part of a religious or social ritual) it may actually strengthen the society. Both violence which serves a “sacred” purpose (point eight) and violence qua organised sport (point seven, above) are unusual in terms of the putative maintenance of the outlook of a given society and/or ruling group ‑- since they usually do not directly involve the suppression of dissidence. Young males evidently have high levels of energy and aggression. Participation in sports of various kinds, as well as military or police service, constitute a healthy outlet for such males’ violent tendencies, and help to steer them in more socially-positive directions. While wars are often part of the terrain of human history, this does not mean that military or police service, particularly in late modern Western liberal democratic regimes, does not have a positive effect on strong, physically-oriented males.
One can posit an “optimal point” at which there would be enough violence exercised by the regime or ruling group to keep the society “cohesive,” but not so much that it would “dis-integrate” the society. The crucial point to be made is that the measures which a “healthy society” can take to defend itself from challenges to its moral code, are only those that strengthen or maintain, not weaken the society.
Let us supppose that the health of the society is the criterion by which the application of violence on behalf of or against that society should be measured — theoretically-speaking, “the goal is always a healthy society.” Coincidentally enough, one of the characteristics of a healthy society, as defined by traditionalists, is its willingness to use violence (force) to defend itself. However, this is clearly only one-‑ not the only sign of health. The mass-violence and mass-slaughter perpetrated by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union is utterly reprehensible from a traditionalist standpoint. On the other hand, a liberal democratic society has problems with defending itself through coercive measures – at least in regard to some types of opponents. However, it does all-too-readily defend itself against what it perceives as a generalized “right-wing.”
What then is the attitude to the employment of organized social violence of those who cherish social health and who wish to maintain or to restore it? Is not their attitude “tactical” or “realistic”? Realistically-speaking, they understand that some actions can result in violence ‑- but they clearly abjure indiscriminate violence. And they know that at some point, a state or society must apply coercive sanctions.
In fact, this position could be said to form a middle ground between two other positions ‑- the tendency of the liberal to become supine when faced with threats from Far Left groups, as well as a frequent failure and unwillingness to uphold the maintenance of civil order against crime ‑- and the ideological ferocity of the typical Leninist (or fascist). The latter is a power‑mad ideologue, a Robespierre, a Stalin, a Hitler, who recognizes no limits on violence.
The conservative believes that because his philosophy is one which has a realistic assessment of human nature, and which recognizes limits, that he falls neither into the extremity of the liberal or Leninist/fascist positions. The conservative is said to be the best at applying prudential (phronesis— practical wisdom) limits to the exercise of violence.
But does history bear this out? Unfortunately, the historical evidence is weak. Contrary to the notion expressed in James Burnham’s otherwise pessimistic Suicide of the West, conservatives are not necessarily better than liberals at exercising power. The progressive drive of the last three hundred or so years of Western history is evidence enough (among other things) of the failure of conservative politics. Conservatives have been inept at applying the appropriate mix of coercive, utilitarian, and normative instrumentalities to maintain their world-view.
In fact, it can be argued that conservatives possess a “talent” for maladroit political maneuvering ‑- as, for example, the dogmatic proclamation of the Syllabus of Errors by Pope Pius IX, an example of how to bring excessive attention to the ideas of one’s ideological opponents; the censuring of Galileo ‑- thus making him a martyr of modern science ‑- and at the same time in no way being able to suppress the resultant intellectual revolution; and a general, stubborn, pig‑headed refusal to yield on some issues in order to win the over‑all battle. King James II of England provides an example of this politically clumsy, conservative “style.” And then, of course, this lack of political tactics was matched, at times, by a “blunderbuss” approach, i.e., condemning the advance of modernity’s trends holus-bolus, without bothering to discern which of these might be usefully turned against the general drift.
Concerning the activities of the Inquisition, the burning of witches, the Thirty Years War, all done in the name of religion, one obvious indictment of these endeavours — apart from their viciousness and cruelty — is their manifest failure to achieve their professed goal of the maintenance of traditional society. They were just the sort of acts that turned an entire civilization (and especially its intellectual leaders) against traditional religion
Contra Burnham, it is liberals who are past masters of politics. Liberalism, which professes tolerance, peace, and love, has always used violence when it was needed most (e.g., to “digest” large groups of traditionalist resistance). In the twentieth century, Leninist regimes have been a boon to liberalism. They were somehow able to “digest” traditional societies (such as Russia, China, and those of East-Central Europe) that would have clearly long remained traditionally-oriented by democratic choice. By the time “liberal freedoms” had come to East-Central Europe and Russia, traditionalist leaderships (notably the nationalist intelligentsias) had been virtually annihilated. It is forgotten today that the comparatively brief but savage period of Nazism in Europe proved highly deadly to many of the East-Central European nationalist intelligentsias, notably the Polish.
While the typical “liberal freedoms” are certainly to be appreciated by those who enjoy them, some might cynically argue that liberals do not permit the operation of such freedoms when their regimes are going through periods of truly serious challenge or such earlier defining struggles as the English Civil War, the French Revolution, or the American Civil War. Indeed, “liberal freedoms” almost never occur co-terminously with a period or a country when a significant challenge to liberalism from traditionalist or conservative opponents is mounted.
America also embraced “illiberal” policies during the war with Nazi Germany, but in that case, the Nazis were so evil that militant measures were eminently justifiable. However, it can be seen today, that the anti-conservative, anti-traditionalist revolutionary surge that began in America mostly in the 1960s – which certainly sometimes expresses itself in “illiberal” rhetoric and methods — shows no sign of abating.
In late modernity, with the managerial-therapeutic regime in place, the population can be effectively controlled through mass-media, mass-education, and consumerism. The result is “soft-totalitarianism”. In such a situation, there is little need to ostentatiously crack down on “liberal freedoms”.
“Soft-totalitarianism” poses a virtually insoluble dilemma, as far as current-day traditionalist dissent goes. With so many avenues of communication blocked, traditionalists (of which ever fewer remain) are at a loss what to do. Any recourse to violence by more extreme elements would be instantly harnessed to further intensify the managerial-therapeutic regime. Since “soft-totalitarianism” ostensibly does not practice violence, it is difficult for resisters to elicit the same kind of sympathy for dissidence as operated in the former East Bloc. Indeed, any meaningful, conscious opposition to the prevalent system – or, sometimes, just some form of “political incorrectness” — is invariably followed by accusations of “racism”, “sexism”, etc. Those accused are frequently written off by most of the general public – and sometimes even by their own family and friends — as justifiably censured “hate-mongers.” And such accusations can have very concrete, highly negative repercussions on the lives of those so accused.
If conservative and traditionalist regimes have been guilty of “killing the body,” left-liberalism can be accused of “killing the soul.” Left-liberalism, in the twentieth century, has relied on Leninist regimes to do the actual removal of “inconvenient” people for them. And these Leninist regimes killed proportionately far greater numbers of people than any conservative or traditionalist regimes. It has been calculated that more people died in one dayof Stalin’s regime, than had been executed over the entire, 800-year existence of the Spanish Inquisition.
Note also that traditionalists and conservatives wholeheartedly repudiated Nazism, whereas liberal apologists for the Leninist regimes are still quite frequently encountered. Considering how far traditionalists and conservatives appear to be from ever holding significant power in most Western societies, the question of the use of violence and force must for them be largely academic. However, the fact is that all societies ultimately employ coercive instrumentalities; that liberalism has advanced historically through the use of violence (e.g., in the English Civil Wars and suppression of the Jacobite rebellions, the French Revolution, and the American Civil War); and that conservatives may be more understanding of the issues around the employment of violence in a civilized society.
An ideal outcome would be a symbiosis of traditionalism and liberal democracy, which has sometimes been called “ordered liberty”, but could also be called “organic democracy” – and which corresponds to what Aristotle considered the optimal polity.
Sociologist Mark Wegierski writes from Toronto