This post is motivated by the unfortunate events that have occurred yesterday in France, as well all acts of violence, hate, terrorism, etc. that have occurred in the history of the world, including those of small and large scales. Love and light to all who’s lives have been changed because of particular acts of violence.
As I was driving home from work yesterday I heard the broadcast on NPR of the events that had just taken place in France. Immediately, it forced me to reflect on events such as 9/11, the numerous school shootings that have happened over the past few years, and also events that I was not even alive during, such as past wars. I, personally, have much difficulty ever finding sufficient justification for any acts of violence at all. When I first began studying Philosophy I took a course on Jainism and other religions and was introduced to the term “ahimsa,” which translates into “non-violence,” or “non-harming.” Ever since then the notion just kind of stuck with me.
However, as I’m sure we are all aware of, the field of Philosophy contains numerous arguments both in support of and against acts of violence and terrorism. Two questions are asked: What is violence and/or terrorism? Can they ever be morally justified?
As I began considering these questions I remembered several readings of figures such as Noam Chomsky and Emile Henry. Below are excerpts from pieces of their works that give an idea of their thoughts on the topic of violence and terrorism. Take a look and feel free to reply with thoughts, opinions, feelings, etc. Do you agree with them? What are your own personal beliefs on the topic? Do opinions change at all when we consider the victims of such acts?
Noam Chomsky commented in an interview in 1967…
ROBERT B. SILVERS: … Under what conditions, if any, can violent action be said to be “legitimate”? …
NOAM CHOMSKY: My general feeling is that this kind of question can’t be answered in a meaningful way when it’s abstracted from the context of particular historical concrete circumstances. Any rational person would agree that violence is not legitimate unless the consequences of such action are to eliminate a still greater evil. Now there are people of course who go much further and say that one must oppose violence in general, quite apart from any possible consequences. I think that such a person is asserting one of two things. Either he’s saying that the resort to violence is illegitimate even if the consequences are to eliminate a greater evil; or he’s saying that under no conceivable circumstances will the consequences ever be such as to eliminate a greater evil. The second of these is a factual assumption and it’s almost certainly false. One can easily imagine and find circumstances in which violence does eliminate a greater evil. As to the first, it’s a kind of irreducible moral judgment that one should not resort to violence even if it would eliminate a greater evil. And these judgments are very hard to argue. I can only say that to me it seems like an immoral judgment.
Now there is a tendency to assume that a stand based on an absolute moral judgment shows high principle in a way that’s not shown in a stand taken on what are disparagingly referred to as “tactical grounds.” I think this is a pretty dubious assumption. If tactics involves a calculation of the human cost of various actions, then tactical considerations are actually the only considerations that have a moral quality to them. So I can’t accept a general and absolute opposition to violence, only that resort to violence is illegitimate unless the consequences are to eliminate a greater evil.
For full reading: http://chomsky.info/19671215/
In regards to the victims of such acts, Emile Henry stated in “A Terrorist’s Defence,” commenting on his attack in which he placed a bomb at a cafe injuring twenty people and killing one,
“Those good bourgeois who hold no office but who reap their dividends and live idly on the profits of the workers’ toil, they also must take their share in the reprisals. And not only they, but all those who are satisfied with the existing order, who applaud the acts of the government and so become its accomplices … in other words, the daily clientele of Terminus and other great cafés!”
So, he is claiming here that all members of a social class are liable to be killed regardless, some for operating the system of exploitation, others for supporting it, and still others for benefiting from it.
Seems a little extreme???