A Monopoly on Violence

The tribal urban protests happening in American cities bring most forcefully to mind this simple question:

Who, if anyone, is to have a monopoly on violence?

—-

The Western provides the archetype:

A small town on the prairie, full of good, hardworking folk, is being terrorized by a roving band of horse and cattle thieves, or perhaps by a land baron forcing the community under threats of violence into selling their farms for well-below-market value. What are the good townspeople to do? They are not violent by nature, and even if one can find a few strong men to fight the good fight, everyone knows the dark truth: a defensive blow from their side would simply result in an even stronger blow from the cattle thieves or the land baron. Thus would be initiated an ever-escalating battle, with uncertain ends. Too much to lose.

In rides the Man With No Name. On horseback, six shooters at his side. He hails from nowhere and nothing. He takes up the cause of the townspeople. He rides out to confront the roving band of thieves or the land baron. Not only does he fight the enemy, he kills the enemy. He wins not only the one fight but all future fights, so that the town might live in peace even once he has gone.

And he must go. The Man With No Name must ride into the sunset. He cannot become part of the community he has saved; there is too much blood on his hands. He has saved the town through viciousness. He has saved it with bullets and with mortal wounds, the only way to save it, but luckily, The Man With No Name has saved the town not only from its physical threat but also from the moral threat of guilt. Thanks to the Man With No Name, the town did not have to summon its own monstrous viciousness to confront and defeat the monster. 

The Man With No Name is a sin-eater. He has a monopoly on the violence which is necessary to save the town, so that the town needn’t deal with the truth, that moral terror is necessary to combat moral terror.

One of the central questions confronting any society is how to deal with the threat of violent individuals or groups that exist within it. The answer has generally been to give the state or some other centralized power a complete monopoly on the violence necessary to ensure protection against internal threats to harmony. Generally speaking, this monopoly is to be Nameless, hailing from nowhere and nothing, which is why the horseman in the Western has No Name and why the executioner wears a mask when he beheads the criminal. The executioner, like the horseman, is a sin-eater. He combats terror with terror so that the community or the individuals victimized do not have to, that they might remain innocent.

The alternatives to monpolized violence slide quickly toward vigilantism or mob rule, scenarios in which any community or individual may be called upon to resort to violence in order to combat violence.

Neoreactionary law would be minimal, protecting negative rights. The only acts punishable in a neoreactionary society would be acts that materially harm or that intend to materially harm body or property.

What, then, does the neoreactionary society do with a Michael Brown, or even a Tamir Rice? (A neoreactionary society would not have bothered Eric Garner, because a neoreactionary society would not decree laws against the free trade of cigarettes.)

What does the neoreactionary society do with internal threats? It is not enough to answer “Exit” for every internal threat, for there is no escaping the problems of internal criminality and violence. We must address those internal threats. How do we address them?

Do we give some central power a monopoly on the violence necessary to combat internal violence?

Do we outsource the violence?

Do we distribute it?

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17 responses

  1. I don’t think these questions are answerable. Nor should they be.

    “Neoreactionary law would be minimal, protecting negative rights.” I think that’s a pretty good default position, but it’s too broad to be correct.

    Would you really suggest that the same set of laws and the same law enforcement strategies would be optimal in Zimbabwe and Japan? I think that outcome is just as unlikely as the respective populations having identical IQs.

    The goal is good government. The means vary by society. Some societies seem to function very well by protecting positive rights. I don’t that’s *necessarily* incompatible with good government and nor therefore with reaction.

    December 16, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    • Fair points all around. However, I think I’m operating under the assumption that no right-wing theorist in their “right” mind would be theorizing a new society populated with Zimbabweans. Obviously, governing Zimbabweans is different from governing East Asians, and the questions in my post would get different answers in each scenario. But what would they be? I still think these are questions worth grappling with, if not answering definitively.

      December 16, 2014 at 10:08 pm

      • “I think I’m operating under the assumption that no right-wing theorist in their “right” mind would be theorizing a new society populated with Zimbabweans”

        That doesn’t strike me as obvious. The old Rhodesia would have been a better place to live than a lot of other places (Ian Smith compared it favorably to California, where his brother lived – and that was California in the 1950s!). It also had an exceptionally low crime rate. Yes, in equal circumstances, blacks commit a lot more crime than whites, but all circumstances are not equal.

        Or – from the other angle – the idea that America has any chance of being all “white” is silly. It never has been and it’s highly unlikely it will be. I’d like a good government in America, which may include figuring out how to govern some people who are at least a little bit Zimbabwean.

        December 17, 2014 at 12:48 am

  2. I am quite skeptical of an absolute need for a monopoly on violence within a society, but it does seem that most societies function better when there appears to be one. I suppose based on that, an implied formula for a neoreactionary society, at least composed primarily of anglophones, would be to permit the reasonable use of violence and only ask questions later on a case by case basis as to its reasonableness. The would be criminal has far more to fear from instantly self-deputizing (and armed) citizens acting rationally than he does from official violence bearers, who may at any time be far away. If this were so, it would make the need for self-deputation quite rare. And therefore good for the economy. Some people might not even bother arming themselves.

    December 16, 2014 at 10:51 pm

  3. “Neoreactionary law would be minimal, protecting negative rights. The only acts punishable in a neoreactionary society would be acts that materially harm or that intend to materially harm body or property.”

    This is a significant assertion that needs far more than mere statement. I’d contend that it is not correct, and that order requires violence, that much of today’s malaise is due to a lack of violence in the name of civilisation.
    Civilisation grew in an age where duels were proper, and breaks with agreed form could be met with violence.
    Your statement is lifted wholly from libertarian thought, and should not be adopted carelessly.

    December 16, 2014 at 11:25 pm

    • That order requires violence is kind of what the entire post is about. The question is, who divvies out the violence?

      As far as dueling . . . that would be perfectly legal in a neoreactionary society so long as both parties are willing participants, which, I think, they must be if it is a proper duel.

      December 16, 2014 at 11:30 pm

      • I’m not entirely sure that who divvies out the violence is even the central question. Firstly the notion of when is violence necessary and beneficial to society must be established. The notion that it is only in response to other violence is manifestly inadequate, unless you want to take a Propertarian view on property — property is that which an organism will defend — and extend the notion of violence that can demand a response to the fullness of that concept. That’s actually not a bad starting point.

        I also query the notion of consolidation of the right to violence. I wonder whether there is a loss to individual character that comes with the abrogation of ones right to violence to the ‘system’, just as there is when one does that with say charity. The notion of violence within and as part of relationship is disturbing to the modern mindset but profound in its implications.

        As a starting point, violence flows down a hierarchy.

        The notion of what constitutes violence in this context also needs to be considered. Obviously physical violence, but also action with intent to cause damage to the property of another, or more broadly action that causes damage to the property of another.

        December 17, 2014 at 1:28 am

  4. jamesd127

    A bit of all of the above. The better class of people work things out between the themselves in a respectable and non violent manner (which makes them “gentlemen”, and then present a unified and extremely violent front to outsiders.

    From the point of view of the outsider, there is not a clear distinction between the state, and a lynching organized by the highest status and most respectable members of the community.

    For the gentlemen, the system can approximate anarchy or monarchy or something in between. Recall that Antigone argues that aristocrats such as herself are subject to custom and propriety, but not necessarily subject to kings or law.

    For the lower classes, looks pretty much like any other government.

    December 17, 2014 at 9:43 am

  5. @intuitivereason

    I also query the notion of consolidation of the right to violence. I wonder whether there is a loss to individual character that comes with the abrogation of ones right to violence to the ‘system’, just as there is when one does that with say charity. The notion of violence within and as part of relationship is disturbing to the modern mindset but profound in its implications.

    This is excellent. But I would argue that you’re essentially answering my question about who is to have a monopoly on—or a right to—violence in the name of order and harmony. I think you’ve taken Option 3 from my post: violence should be distributed.

    December 17, 2014 at 3:05 pm

  6. @Foseti

    I’d like a good government in America, which may include figuring out how to govern some people who are at least a little bit Zimbabwean.

    Right. The question of demography is obviously central to the question posed in the post, and certainly changes what the answer will look like.

    Would any kind of “distributed” system of violence, such as that seemingly advocated by intuitivereason, lead to disaster in a multi-racial society?

    December 17, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    • I think you’ve taken Option 3 from my post: violence should be distributed.

      In that sense, yes. But more than distributed, it should be ordered.

      Consider the discipline of children, in its truest form — an adult disciplining a child in their care, for whom they care about, in a controlled manner — it is formative, ordering but distinctly violent. Yet a child doing the same to an adult is distinctly different — it is disordered, and allowed it establishes further disorder.

      So in a NRx society, with an established order, violence that is formative in the maintenance and direction of that order, within relationship, is going to be not only extant, but foundational. It is in many ways the notion of egalitarianism that prevents this taking place in our current culture. Furthermore it is the requirement for relationship that presents challenges in terms of scaling, but that also cannot be neglected for the process to be formative.

      Would any kind of “distributed” system of violence, such as that seemingly advocated by intuitivereason, lead to disaster in a multi-racial society?

      No. There just needs to be an established order and an order that matches the characteristic of each race. However I will say this : it becomes exponentially more complex and rapidly less valuable to provide for the variation required between races within a single polity as the number of races climbs. Quasi-stable arrangements can be achieved with a two race region, as can be seen a number of period through history, although even there it can reasonably be argued that the degree of perturbation required to upset the balance may not be large.

      I am coming to the belief that any NRx society needs to consider carefully the management of its human capital through time for both consistency and variety. Breeding matters; genetic engineering is a disruptive technological advance.

      December 18, 2014 at 1:22 am

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  9. Nyan Sandwich

    “Neoreactionary law would be minimal, protecting negative rights. The only acts punishable in a neoreactionary society would be acts that materially harm or that intend to materially harm body or property.”

    What? It’s far from given that this is optimal. Might want to outlaw various forms of degeneracy, occasionally shut down organizations that will become dangerous, punish polluters, etc.

    The thing is, “material harm” is not so clear cut. Is pollution material harm against others? What about aesthetic pollution? Law is a big bag of trade-offs, and there are no easy solutions.

    December 31, 2014 at 1:29 am

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  11. Thales

    The Man with No Name is not the Hero that Gotham deserves, but the Hero that it needs. And He must run so that Gotham can chase him, because even though Gotham needs the hero to save the city from itself, it also needs the denial of his methods to save its soul.

    Gotham — civilization — is a hypocrite.

    January 22, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    • Nice use of Batman to make Colonel Kurtz’s point.

      February 11, 2015 at 2:57 am

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