Arendt on power, etc.

I thought this might be of interest.

>From "On Violence", Hannah Arendt. In
collection Crises of the Republic: Lying in
Politics, Civil Disobedience, On Violence,
Thoughts on Politics and Revolution. New York:
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1972 (pp 142-145)

It is, I think, a rather sad reflection on the
present state of political science that our
terminology does not distinguish among such key
words as "power," "strength," force,"
"authority," and, finally, "violence"--all of
which refer to distinct, different phenomena
and would hardly exist unless they did. (In the
words of d'Entreves, "might, power, authority:
these are all words to whose exact implications
no great weight is attached in current speech;
even the greatest thinkers sometimes use them
at random. Yet it is fair to presume that they
refer to different properties, and their
meaning should therefore be carefully assessed
and examined....The correct use of these words
is a question not only of logical grammar, but
of historical perspective.") To use them as
synonyms not only indicates a certain deafness
to linguistic meanings, which would be serious
enough, but it has also resulted in a kind of
blindness to the realities they correspond to.
In such a situation it is always tempting to
introduce new definitions, but--though I shall
briefly yield to temptation what is involved is
not simply a matter of careless speech. Behind
the apparent confusion is a firm conviction in
whose light all distinctions would be, at best,
of minor importance: the conviction that the
most crucial political is, and always has been,
the question of Who rules Whom? Power,
strength, force, authority, violence--these are
but words to indicate the means by which man
rules over man; they are held to be synonyms
because they have the same function. It is only
after one ceases to reduce public affairs to
the business of dominion that the original data
in the realm of human affairs will appear, or,
rather, reappear, in their authentic diversity.

These data, in our context, may be enumerated
as follows:

*Power corresponds to the human ability not
just to act but to act in concert. Power is
never the property of an individual; it belongs
to a group and remains in existence only so
long as the group keeps together. When we say
of somebody that he is "in power" we actually
refer to his being empowered by a certain
number of people to act in their name. The
moment the group, from which the power
originated to begin with (*potestas in populo*,
without a people or group there is no power),
disappears, "his power" also vanishes. In
current usage, when we speak of a "powerful
man" or a "powerful personality," we already
use the word "power" metaphorically; what we
refer to without metaphor is "strength,"

*Strength* unequivocally designates something
in the singular, an individual entity; it is
the property inherent in an object or person
and belongs to its character, which may prove
itself in relation to other things or persons,
but is essentially independent of them. The
strength of even the strongest individual can
always be overpowered by the many, who often
will combine for no other purpose than to ruin
strength precisely because of its peculiar
independence. This almost instinctive hostility
of the many toward the one has always, from
Plato to Nietzsche, been ascribed to
resentment, to the envy of the weak for the
strong, but this psychological interpretation
misses the point. It is in the nature of a
group and its power to turn against
independence, the property of individual

*Force*, which we often use in daily speech as
a synonym for violence, especially if violence
serves as a means of coercion, should be
reserved, in terminological language, for the
"forces of nature" or the "force of
circumstances" (*la force de choses*), that is,
to indicate the energy released by physical or
social movements.

*Authority*, relating to the most elusive of
these phenomena and therefore, as a term, most
frequently abused, can be vested in persons--
there is such a thing as personal authority,
as, for instance, in the relation between
parent and child, between teacher and pupil--or
it can be vested in offices, as, for instance,
in the Roman sense (*auctoritas in senatu*) or
in the hierarchical offices of the Church (a
priest can grant valid absolution even though
he is drunk). Its hallmark is unquestioning
recognition by those who are asked to obey;
neither coercion nor persuasion is needed. (A
father can lose his authority either by beating
his child or starting to argue with him, that
is, either by behaving to him like a tyrant or
treating him as an equal.) To remain in
authority requires respect for the person or
the office. The greatest enemy of authority,
therefore, is contempt, and the surest way to
undermine it is laughter.

*Violence*, finally, as I have said, is
distinguished by its instrumental character.
Phenomenologically, it is close to strength,
since the implements of violence, like all
other tools, are designed and used for the
purpose of multiplying natural strength until,
in the last stage of their development, they
can substitute for it.

There is no path to peace. Peace is the path.

Tom Blancato
Eyes on Violence (nonviolence and human rights monitoring in Haiti)
Thoughtaction Collective (reparative justice project)


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