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Can the state exist without physical violence?

+1 vote
I just ask this question in reference to contemplations of violence, pacifism, and dystopias...I feel the most direct answer to this question "of course if everyone agrees to it", but I feel that there may be some thoughts to be expanded on here.
asked Apr 2 by Nihilist (910 points)

2 Answers

+1 vote

as one who tries to avoid absolutes, i hesitate to say "never", but...

[TLDR;  no!]

has a state ever come into existence without violence?

if i think of a state as the typical geo-political-economic-social network of institutions, participation is not voluntary, at least not for everyone that the said state considers to be its constituents. if it is not voluntary, then compliance - typically with state-defined and state-enforced laws - requires coercion of some sort. at some point, that coercion will include violence (unless non-violent means proves successful all the time, something i doubt has ever happened).

for me, the rather nebulous area where voluntary association between individuals that know each other becomes an impersonal, ideological institution (nation-state), is directly related to the number of individuals involved, and the correspondingly diversity of ideas/beliefs/desires/etc. any population too large for everyone to know everyone else - where there is such a diversity of thought and action - is going to require mechanisms of control; the state and its various components (police, army, government, laws, etc) serve this purpose rather well, while providing an umbrella of (false) unity and (even more false) security.

answered Apr 5 by funkyanarchy (12,300 points)
That's a good answer, much appreciated, I ask this question because it seems like a lot of ppl would desire such a thing as asked in the question...and the current society often has this appearance, also depending on the way ppl define "violence"

"I ask this question because it seems like a lot of ppl would desire such a thing as asked in the question."

yes, i heard roger waters say just that in an interview last night....which surprised me. 

@nihilist: i hear ya, the desire for a state without violence is understandable, for those who are not anti-authoritarian. after all, the state is inherently authoritarian - in many ways the ultimate authority (other than magic friends in the sky, for those who so believe). but since control of a large and (often ideologically) diverse population is the state's primary objective, it is impossible for me to see how that could even be possible without violence. as you mentioned, depending on how one defines violence.

however, a state without violence (imaginary though it may be) is still an authoritarian institution, with the same need for control of its population. it would simply be lacking its primary tool of control, and i suspect that would render it useless rather quickly.

your question does raise potentially interesting discussion around violence, its existence/definitions, uses, causes, justifications, etc.

one relatively common example: your sister is [edit] murdered, and you know who did it. do you go to the state to deal with it, or do you go directly to the culprit and deal with it yourself? there is a good chance that "violence" will be some aspect of dealing with the culprit, but who "imposes" it, you or the state? and if there was no state, would your reaction be any different... any less "violent"?

violence, defined in the broadest terms, is not some "evil" tool or force in the world. it is just a rather basic, direct expression of one's will in a situation of conflict (not only human situations). i cannot imagine a world devoid of violence, but i can imagine a world devoid of institutions and institutional violence.
Sometimes I am suprised that the global economic system works at all, how so many ppl such as myself can buy things without being a part of making them, it the same way that states control people so heavily and I can just ignore it.
+2 votes
I think I can answer this question, because of an experience I had as a child, one that is not very uncommon but which in several ways determined how my life would be.

When I was in the fifth grade, all of us were given a series of little tests that involved, I think, pattern-matching, grammar, a little math, etc. I don't recall knowing what it was about, but the result was that months later my parents received a letter saying that I would be allowed to go to another school over an hour away, where I would be taught "Humanities," along with about a hundred other students from all over the county we lived in, who had been identified by the tests as specially gifted. This school operated something called a "magnet" program, which meant that children like me (i.e., almost without exception, white or Asian, bookish, and with wealthy and/or educated parents) were bused from all around to do relatively more rigorous schooling in what would otherwise have been an "underperforming" and therefore underfunded school.

That school was in a much poorer district than the one I grew up in and, as I would discover, the children who were actually from that district had very different notions of what school was for, and very different expectations as to how their lives would go. They all took their classes with beleaguered teachers of their own race, who were constantly yelling at them. Buzzers by the doors of their classrooms allowed these teachers to call security on their own students and have them removed from the classroom. I remember distinctly the sound of those buzzers, because they were constantly being pressed. Posters hung on the walls of these classrooms that made promises like, No Student Will Fail My Class, something I had never even considered before. There were metal detectors in the building, which it took me some time to realize were not intended against me at all. There were also police, with guns, I remember, who payed me no attention but were constantly on the alert for these children, who my new friends obliquely called "non-magnets."

The point of this is to say that in the classes I was taking, everyone, including me, was a model of docility. I very often took painstaking and obsessive care with my homework, only to forget it on the kitchen table. On such occasions I would actually weep - and this was not at all unusual. This was because we were all being prepared for a specific kind of destiny that included elite schooling and then some position of responsibility and authority in capitalist white society. There was not one of us who had not already decided to submit completely to the kind of discipline that requires.

Somewhere in the Genealogy of Morals, I think, Nietzsche makes this argument that the more rich and powerful a state becomes, the more it can afford to be lenient, instead of cruel. I find it completely possible to imagine that as the planetary control of capital expands and deepens, very many more of us will have lives somewhat like the docile one I have led. That is, many more people, maybe everyone, will learn to police themselves well enough that no violence has to be used against us.  There are, you know, countries where the police still do not carry firearms. In Japan I read that the police will sometimes address drunken disturbances by surrounding and cocooning the perpetrator in soft mattresses.

Can the state exist without physical violence? I am not sure. Certainly I don't think it ever has. But I know that for me, and for many others, it might as well. I also know that, far from making its presence acceptable to me, this fact is a pretty weighty and annoying psychic burden.
answered Apr 6 by asker (10,080 points)

the cop in our heads, clearly the most prominent of cops.

your anecdote makes a good point about how a state might exist without explicit violence. it raises questions for me about whether cops could exist inside our heads if the state had not started out with violence as a primary tool. does it take cop behavior (violence imposed by authority, in this case) to create cops in our heads?

Well like, that's clearly what Nietzsche thinks. In that book he has this whole involved argument that man became what he calls a "promising animal" (in the double sense of "capable of making + keeping promises" and also "showing promise") only by a long historical process of physical torture. According to Nietzsche, most of human history was probably spent, basically, in thrashing and being thrashed, without anyone learning their lesson except in the way that for example a dog seems to. I.e., one fears punishment, and learns to cringe and whimper and run away. Only relatively recently did people learn to interiorize the threats.

My point is only that if the overt violence were no longer necessary the domination would not stop being a problem.
Wow, this a great answer, I was gonna give it the best-answer star but I like the idea of the answer of this question remaining more open.

Of course, to be nitpicky, the problem with my question is that in the real world, you can't separate "physical" from "mental" violence entirely.
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