No one engaged in thought about history and politics can remain unaware of the enormous role violence has always played in human affairs.
—Hannah Arendt, On Violence
Arendt’s dismissal of African histories, literatures, and languages as nonexistent subjects is troubling. [...] She presents Blacks as trapped in a dream world of escapism and suffering from irrational rage, while desribing a "potentially" violent backlash from the white community as perfectly rational. And as with her analysis of the violence of imperialism/colonialism and the violence of decolonisation, Arendt is far less condemning ofthe oppressors' offensive violence than she is of the defensive violence of the oppressed.
—Kathryn T. Gines, Hannah Arendt and the Negro Question
Hannah Arendt's On Violence (1970) is a short but multifaceted text. Pitched as a direct response to the events and debates of the 1960s, Arendt's reflections set out to critique the escalating civil rights and anti-Vietnam protest movements, Sartre's and Fanon's theorisations of violence, and the question of natural human behaviour and "aggressiveness". Importantly, Arendt's intervention articulates a central idea: violence and power are opposites. While violence can be justifiable as a self-defensive act, Arendt says, it is not a "legitimate" act of politics. Violence is only a means to an end, a tool, an instrument, rather than a political event of acting in concert. For this discussion we are particularly interested in situating Arendt's theory of violence within her broader understanding of action, and we also want to think specifically about what Kathryn T. Gines calls Arendt's "dismissal" of African American activists.
Where? LHRI, Seminar room 1
When? Thursday, 16th February, 5-7pm
Primary reading: Excerpts from On Violence, pp. 1-31, 43-56. PDF here.
Secondary reading: Kathryn T. Gines, Hannah Arendt and the Negro Question (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014), pp. 93-122. PDF here.