In honor of the 56th birthday of his doctorate on october 19th 1956, here is a translation of the first chapter of his work on violence, ‘Against violence’.
Violence as inspiration
Thinking about violence is a form of suffering and rebellion at the same time. It is superior and submissive. It is inspired by this impossible situation; it takes place in there completely. That means a twofold restriction to this thinking.
Firstly I cannot think about violence in a political way, in the sense that I would believe that through my thoughts certain decisions in the world politics would change immediately or even within the foreseeable future. Even if the desire for immediate change is the source of my inspiration, I remain aware of my complete powerlessness. Who believes that they can change the world directly with their thoughts, is guilty of a naivety that places them outside of reality and dooms their thoughts to infertility or degenerates them into hoarse cries. Of course we can say we’re against war and violence; it can be our fiery conviction that war is superfluous and should be abolished; that all doesn’t automatically make it a fruitful thought. We must suffer the reality and be aware of the fairly complete powerlessness of the individual. Whoever disregards that, does not realize that especially that powerlessness is a part of the massive problem of violence, which is ramified throughout all of existence. Violence by definition is what is stronger than I am myself and therefore what I have to endure. It can never be drawn into the circle of political manageability without residue. Whoever allocates to his thoughts and words a power they don’t have, especially from the not having that inspired them, places himself outside of the matter and underestimates violence. He acts as somebody who went to the beach and started blowing, believing that this would give wind to the sails of a ship he saw in the distance, whose course he doesn’t know and who have switched to diesel a long time ago. Or worse: he’s trying to lift something he’s sitting on himself and is busy destroying himself. Thought cannot be denied some influence on political happenings, but that influence materializes in the first place slowly and in the second place through means not handled by thought. Thought itself cannot take over this agogic job. Therefore we are not talking about politics.
In the second place I can’t think about violence without defiance. It’s not an occurrence about which I only wonder; for that i’m too involved with it as a victim. For that it also takes place too far out of the reach of my influence and it confronts me too harshly with my own miserable powerlessness. The error, one I could make here which would again place me outside of the question, consists of this, that I would want to limit my influence on violence to the terrain where that influence can be asserted directly and controllably. For this i’d have to artificially split myself from the bigger whole in which violence occurs, consult with myself and say: the only violence that I can fight is the violence that I exercise myself. I could then try to, as the popular thinking goes, change the world by changing myself. But that is just as big a mistake. Peace in the heart and all those beautiful ethical things barely have anything to do with violence in the world. Peace in all hearts, if we can quickly make this naïve sum, is not yet peace on earth. The flight to the individual, ethical, complemented by the conditional sum that expands it to all people, ignores the problem just as much, be it in an seemingly more noble way. Violence is not a problem of individual character, it is an occurrence connected to collectivity. Therefore we are not talking about inner peace.
Then what’s left to think of and discuss? Precisely the problem of violence or maybe even: mystery of violence. The elusiveness of the problem is part of the problem itself.
This complexity does not come from a hesitating attitude, in which violence is really already accepted and that should simply be shook off to conquer violence; it is not an attempt from the side of thought to justify or prolong a problem that’s become dear, but it is the nature of the problem itself, seen by the eyes of someone who doesn’t want nor could be a political agitator or fiery moralist, but who, in the face of the totality of violence, can’t do anything but think: who therefore is aware of his powerlessness. Violence is only a philosophical problem in as much as any thought regarding this problem is aware of its own problematic nature. It is in the first place for a thinking person an annoyance, that he can’t act against violence, but can only think. And this annoyance is precisely what inspires thought. The thinker would rather with a powerful gesture make an end to this misery or find a way to retreat in himself and there, in his inner culture, abolish violence, but he sees himself placed in front of an impossibility and even the absurdity of both those attitudes. He suffers and rebels at the same time.
Violence is a philosophical primal problem. The annoyance about violence is one of the many shapes that wonder, the beginning and principle of thought, can take. And like wonder cannot be abolished by thought, the annoyance also cannot be abolished. Against a reality that it can’t make its own thought sees itself to its annoyance placed in a dialectic of a bad discord. It cannot end itself, also not by moving to deeds; it is a prisoner of its own infinity. The best thing that can come from this situation, if the self-powered ending of violence is ruled out, would be a new reflection on thought itself and its powerless infinity; in no other way can the infinity of the dialectic be ended, once it has begun its interaction of violence and annoyance, or being and thinking.
With this the problem of violence for the time being is stated as a problem for thought.The way in which this given is detailed philosophically could lead to a separate study. I won’t do so here and only point it out to show, that violence in this point of view is not a political problem and not an ethical task, or at least not a given that is directly ripe for a political or ethical approach, but sooner a mysterious given in human existence, which ask more for contemplation and clarification than for strong action. For precisely strong action is one of the most common forms of violence. Violence is that which should be liquidated and liquidating is: to make clear and fluid, to surrender to its own powerlessness. In all its subtle and complicated morphology violence lies like a dark stain in our existence, collectively, individually and especially in the obscure transition areas between them. And it wouldn’t be violence, wouldn’t be ascendency, if that stain was merely put there by us and could be removed at our discretion. That’s why it is good to contemplate one’s powerlessness before speaking too strongly about violence. If it is woven into our existence, it cannot be eliminated without drastically changing our existence. And it is precisely violence which changes our existence drastically every time. One form of violence would then make the other superfluous. With this the evil infinity of violence is given. It inevitably is a way of existence, before it is an activity we might disapprove of or not, and as a way of existence it is a subject of wonder, annoyance and contemplation, three different words for powerlessness.