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

By Mark Wegierski
web posted July 22, 2013

(Initial drafts of this essay date back to 1988. – author’s note)

Let us say that we have arrived at a definition of a healthy society -- or rather of "social health." So what can we say about those who cherish social health and wish to maintain and restore it? What is their attitude to the possible employment of organized social violence? Is their attitude not "tactical" or "realistic"? Realistically-speaking, they understand that some actions that can be taken will possibly (but not necessarily) result, at some point, in some violence -- but they clearly abjure indiscriminate violence. And they know that at some point, a state or society must apply coercive sanctions.

In fact, this position could be said to form a middle ground between two other positions -- the tendency of the liberal to become supine when faced with threats from such groups as the Far Left, as well as his frequent failure and unwillingness to uphold the maintenance of civil order against crime -- and the ideological ferocity of the typical Leninist (or fascist). The typical Leninist (or fascist) is a power-mad ideologue, a Robespierre, a Stalin, a Hitler, who recognizes no limits on violence.

The conservative believes, because his philosophy is one which has a more realistic assessment of human nature, and which recognizes limits, that he falls neither into the extremity of the liberal or Leninist/fascist positions. The conservative is said to be the best at applying prudential (phronesis -- practical wisdom) limits to the exercise of violence.

But does history in any sense bear this idea out? Unfortunately, the historical evidence is rather weak. Contrary to the notion expressed in James Burnham's otherwise pessimistic Suicide of the West, conservatives are not better than liberals at exercising power in most of its aspects. The progressive drive of the last three hundred or so years of Western history is evidence enough (among other things) of the failure of supposedly realistic, sound, etc., conservative politics. Conservatives appear to have been especially inept at applying the appropriate mix of coercive, utilitarian, and normative instrumentalities to maintain their world-view in place. In fact, it might be argued that it is conservatives who possess a "talent" for maladroit political maneuvering -- as for example, the dogmatic proclamation of the Syllabus of Errors by Pope Pius IX (the very poor approach of bringing excessive attention to the ideas of one's ideological opponents); the censuring of Galileo -- thus making him a martyr of modern science -- and at the same time in no way being able to suppress the resultant intellectual revolution; and a general, stubborn, pig-headed refusal to yield on some issues in order to win the over-all battle. (King James II of England is an especially typical example of this blowhard, politically clumsy, conservative "style.") And then, of course, this lack of political tactics was matched, at times, by a "blunderbuss" approach, i.e., condemning the advance of modernity's trends holus-bolus, without bothering to discern which of these might be usefully turned against the general drift.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

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