Violence in a Civilised Society (1)
Part one of a two part essay, by Mark Wegierski
Organized social violence is only one of a panoply of coercive controls which society uses to “keep people in line.” A distinction may be drawn here between the use of coercive instrumentalities mainly for the maintenance of civil order, as in some earlier forms of liberal democracy, and their employment for the promotion of a given “world‑outlook.”
In classical liberalism, coercive instrumentalities are most often used for the sake of the maintenance of civil order and this is usually their sole “legitimate” justification. Even today, in many liberal democratic societies, it is usually the normative instrumentalities which are used to “induct” people into various shades of liberalism (most especially through the mass-media, and the mass-education of the young). However, one increasingly sees in supposedly liberal democratic societies that coercive instrumentalities are being used against such things as “hate speech”. The IRS scandal during the Obama administration in the United States is another example of coercive instrumentalities used against dissenters. And, more recently, the “surveillance society” has been instantiated more concretely that at any point in American history.
From a sociological standpoint, every society – regardless of how professedly “democratic” it is — consists of ruling groups, dissident groups, and a broad mass of the population that gets drawn into the conflicts between “ruling” and “shadow” elites. These various factions are continually jostling to attract popular support for their conflicting sets of policies. However, assessments of which are the truly ruling groups, and which are the truly oppositional groups, may differ – and especially so in liberal democratic societies.
Internal threats to a society consist of four broad types:
(1) a challenge to the ruling ideology in the realm of ideas, usually non‑violent, at least at the beginning if only because holders of those ideas are weak vis‑à‑vis the society;
(2) a violent challenge to the ruling ideology, e.g., revolution, coup d’état, etc. -‑ almost always led by a small “vanguard”;
(3) violent challenges to civil order, e.g., crime, riots, terrorism, organized crime, etc.
(4) generalized social problems, e.g. drug abuse, delinquency, etc., which can become threats to the civil order;
The problem of organized social violence in any society is essentially a matter of tactics. There are several types of violence:
Firstly, there is organized violence between states, societies, or ruling groups of societies. This can sometimes extend to genocide, in the case of noxious ideologies.
Secondly, there is violence carried out by the state (or ruling group) to buttress or strengthen its positions or values in a given society.
Thirdly, there is violence carried out by “dissident groups” with the express purpose of weakening the position and values of the ruling group of a given society. Depending on the ideology of the “dissident group”, this can also involve mass-murder.
Fourthly, there is violence carried out by the state or ruling group which aims solely at maintaining “civil order.”
Fifthly, there is so-called “civil violence” i.e., murder, rape, etc., carried out by individuals.
Sixthly, there is violence of the vigilante type, whose aims are usually “restorative” but which exists outside the law. Some might argue that the distinctions between some types of “civil violence” and vigilantism are difficult to ascertain.
Seventhly, we could add (following Donald Atwell Zoll’s idea) that there is ritualized, “healthy” violence (e.g., competitive team sports) which sublimates the “violent drives”, especially of males, in a socially‑positive direction.
Eighthly, there is violence as part of a religious or social ritual, e.g., Aztec human sacrifices, the Hindu custom of suttee (although it was probably very rarely practiced),
Conservatives today want to define “violence” narrowly, precisely, and rigorously. One possible way of defining violence is where overwhelming physical aggression is explicitly involved. It could be argued, however, that since some speech is so transgressively noxious that it constitutes a sort of “violence” against society. One of the most vicious examples was the calumny about Lyndon Johnson and the body of John F. Kennedy on the flight of Air Force One.
The attempt by some conservatives to assert that abortion constitutes impermissible violence cuts no ice with liberals. The assertion that unrestricted abortion in the United States has resulted in over 54 million victims since 1973, is met with a disinterested shrug.
Those who advocate violence in politics, and/or the violent overthrow of liberalism and democracy, are deemed illegitimate. Yet, liberal democracy has been remarkably tolerant of violent extremists of the Far Left, as well as of today’s radical imams.
Here, as in other cases, ideological considerations enter into the picture. In current-day Western societies, an armed right‑wing insurgency would be suppressed with severity. Agents of the government would proceed with zeal and alacrity, and shoot-to-kill if necessary. One notes the glee with which some liberals anticipate what will happen to gun-owners in America who refuse to give up their guns.
There is a real tension in traditionalists’ or conservatives’ relations with “liberal democracy.” Much of this arises from the fact that liberals define “liberal democracy” increasingly expansively, not as a formal system allowing for popular choice among different belief-directions, but as an ideology that must be upheld and imposed on the population. Conservative and traditionalist parties within this kind of “liberal democracy” have found themselves described as “illiberal” and “undemocratic” — and therefore, all but “illegitimate.”
Indeed, all of the instrumentalities of left-liberalism (mass media, mass education, and consumerism) have been mobilised to extirpate of traditionalist or conservative ideas (particularly nationalism and traditional religion), under the rubric of attacking the fascist-tending “authoritarian personality.” In some Western societies, various forms of conservative dissent have been attacked as “hate-crimes,” subject to substantial fines and jail-terms. Traditionalists and conservatives are, of course, temperamentally unwilling to carry out violent struggle against “the liberal democracy”. One can imagine the rage of left-liberals if they were ever confronted with an armed right-wing uprising. What kind of monster could violently rebel against our most free, most democratic, most prosperous society?
Since traditionalists and conservatives respect the civil order, they will reject armed struggle for as long as “liberal democracy” prevails. They retain the hope of attracting the support of a significant proportion of the population for its policies.
There are many ways, however, whereby left-liberals have obtained advantages over conservatives. One is the promotion of mass, dissimilar immigration into Western countries, which typically leads to the creation of a large, permanently unassimilable bloc, which will almost always vote for left-liberal parties. Another strategy is the excision of serious conservative, traditionalist, or nationalist thought from the academy and circles of “serious opinion” — thus reducing it to a leaderless and untutored reflex, with possibly ugly manifestations, which can be easily dismissed and de-legitimated. Such categories as “history”, “tradition”, “human nature”, “spirit”, and “soul”, mean nothing to many left-liberals. A person is seen as a tabula rasa, upon which anything that the liberal controllers want to be written, can be written.
The courts as well as quasi-judicial human rights and similar tribunals of most Western countries serve as left-liberalism’s last line of defense against the will of the majority; as well as a powerful instrumentality for advancing those sets of values in law (and thereby social changes) that the majority may sometimes be highly reluctant to support. The operation of this top-down system of juridical legalism, based on expansive interpretations of ever more widely defined “human rights”, has been termed, by some conservative critics, a “judicial usurpation” of democracy.
Also, the mechanistic and excessively proceduralist legalism of the system attenuates the proper operation of justice — of real punishment for real crimes. (By contrast, in Victorian England, for example, there was public outrage when a murder trial, in what seemed like a highly obvious case, took more than a week!)
An example of how little conservative parties can achieve today, even when actually in power, is afforded by Mike Harris’ Progressive Conservative government in the Province of Ontario (elected with substantial legislative majorities in 1995 and 1999). While trying to carry out mostly “tidying-up” administrative reforms, the Harris government was confronted by some of the most overwrought opposition hitherto encountered by a government in Canada. The trade-unions, especially the civil service and teachers’ unions, most of the mass-media and feminist and minority interest groups, whipped up a frenzy of opposition from the day that Mike Harris was elected. He was described as “anti-human”, as “the closest thing to fascism ever seen in Ontario”, as a “thug”, as “mad”, and so forth. It was suggested that he submit to psychiatric counseling, as only a “crazy” person could carry out such policies.
Many liberals consider conservatives as a “dark threat” that often comes close to winning, but is always ultimately defeated. This paradoxical conception of conservatism as both powerful but almost certain to fail because of its “evil” nature, helps keep “the progressive forces” in a constant state of activism and vigilance. One is reminded of the pivotal role of “Goldsteinism” in upholding the regime, in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Sociologist Mark Wegierski writes from Toronto