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Violence and the civilized society: Conformity and dissidence in different societies (Part Two)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted June 17, 2013

(Initial drafts of this essay date back to 1988.)

From a strictly sociological standpoint, every society – regardless of how professedly "democratic" it is -- consists of ruling groups, dissident groups, and a broad mass of population that gets drawn into conflicts between "ruling" and "shadow" elites. These various factions are continually jostling to attract popular support for their usually conflicting sets of policies. However, assessments of which are the truly ruling groups, and which are the truly oppositional groups, may differ widely – and especially so in liberal democratic societies.

Internal threats to a society could be defined as being of five broad types:

(1) a challenge to the ruling ideology in the realm of ideas, i.e., usually non-violent, at least at the beginning (if only because holders of those ideas are very weak vis-à-vis the society);

(2) a violent challenge to the ruling ideology, e.g., revolution, coup d'état, etc. -- almost always led by a small "vanguard";

(3) violent challenges to civil order, e.g., crime, riots, terrorism, organized crime, etc. (it might be argued that there is some blurring of lines between points 2 and 3);

(4) generalized social problems, e.g. drug abuse, delinquency, etc., which can become threats to the civil order;

(5) It may be supposed that one could argue that economic, environmental disasters, etc., are not in themselves threats to a given society -- they only become threats if they generate problems for the maintenance of what could be called "social order," i.e., of the prevailing norms, and of "civil order", i.e., of "law and order."

It may be argued that the problem of organized social violence in any society is, up to a point, a matter of tactics. There are, it might be added, several types of violence.

Firstly, there is organized violence between states, societies, or ruling groups of societies. (This can sometimes extend even to genocide, especially in the case of particularly noxious ideologies.)

Secondly, there is violence carried out by the state (or society or ruling group) to buttress or strengthen its positions or values in a given society (or which it believes strengthens it in a given society).  (Sometimes this can even extend to genocide in the case of especially noxious ideologies.)

Thirdly, there is violence carried out by "dissident groups" with the express purpose of weakening the position and values of the ruling group of a given society (or, at least, which they believe weakens the ruling group of a given society). Depending on the ideology of the "dissident group" this can also sometimes involve mass-murder.

Fourthly, there is violence carried out by the state, society, or ruling group which aims solely at maintaining "civil order." (It is possible to sometimes see a blurring of lines between this and the second type of violence).

Fifthly, there is so-called "civil violence" i.e., murder, rape, etc., carried out by individuals mostly outside of groups. (Some persons could claim that there is a blurring of lines between this and the second and third types of violence.)

Sixthly, there is violence of the vigilante type, whose aims are usually "restorative" but which exists outside the law. Some might argue that the distinctions between some types of "civil violence" and vigilantism are sometimes difficult to ascertain.

Seventhly, we could add (following Donald Atwell Zoll's idea) that there is ritualized, "healthy" violence (e.g., competitive team sports) which sublimates the "violent drives" (especially of human males) in a socially-positive direction.

Eighthly, there is violence as part of a religious or social ritual, e.g., Aztec human sacrifices, the Hindu custom of suttee (although it was probably very rarely practiced), etc.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

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