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ON VIOLENCE by Hannah Arendt


by Hannah Arendt

Pub Date: March 11th, 1970
ISBN: 0156695006
Publisher: Harcourt, Brace & World

A short and, for Miss Arendt, less stylish essay on political violence. The topical elements revolve around student protest--disruptive practice and the glorification of violence which have, as she says, come to dominate revolutionary theory, for reasons she scarcely begins to explore. Her treatment of military violence overstates the view that "war itself is the basic social system," without seriously developing it; and she observes that the technical development of the means of destruction has reached a level where the weaponmakers' "aim, namely warfare, is on the point of disappearing altogether by virtue of the means at its disposal"--as if there had never been a Vietnam, not to mention all the other sub-nuclear clashes under our noses. There is a rather Berlesque (Adolf on Power, 1969) stab at definitions (power, strength, force, authority, etc.) which she hasn't the heart to apply very earnestly, an undistinguished passage on the psychology of violence, and a general effect of pontification. . . for every worthy aphorism ("Violence can destroy power; it is utterly incapable of creating it") there is a commonplace. Arendt's sounder historical asides ("In a contest of violence" government has absolute superiority, but only "as long as commands are obeyed and the army or police forces are prepared to use their weapons. . . . ") remain undeveloped. Many potential readers will already have seen the New York Review of Books version of this essay. In any case it is slight by comparison with both her Eichmann journalism and her work in philosophy and intellectual history.