Violence and the civilized society: Conformity and dissidence in different societies (Part Six)
By Mark Wegierski
(Initial drafts of this essay date back to 1988. – author's note)
When violence as defined in sense eight above serves a "sacred" purpose, then we are in a rather odd situation ‑- at least odd from the current perspective ‑- where violence of this sort might actually strengthen the society. Looking at point seven, one really can't point to current-day organized sport as entirely healthy, because it is arguably too tainted with the "bread and circuses" idea ‑- but one can say medieval jousting is a more positive embodiment of that point. But points seven and eight are, in some senses unusual -- in terms of the putative maintenance of the outlook of a given society and/or ruling group ‑- since they usually do not directly involve the suppression of dissidence.
The main point of the seventh definition of violence is that strong young males have a very high energy level, and a tendency to be rambunctious (obviously related to their high levels of testosterone). It is typically such things as participation in sports of various kinds, as well as military or police service, that usually constitute a healthy outlet for such males' violent tendencies, and help to steer them in more socially-positive directions. While it should be noted that savage wars are too often part of the terrain of human history, this does not mean that military or police service, particularly in late modern Western liberal democratic regimes, does not tend to have a positive effect on strong, physically-oriented males. However, one of the paradoxes of sport today is that far too many persons are slothful fans, rather than physically fit participants, of sport. And there is the ever-increasing consumerization and commodification of sport.
To return now to the main theme ‑- one could, it may be surmised, draw a theoretical "optimal point" at which there would be enough violence exercised by the regime or ruling group to keep the society "cohesive," but not so much that it would "dis-integrate" the society. The crucial point to be made is that, theoretically-speaking, the measures which a "healthy society" can take to defend itself from challenges to its moral code, are only those that strengthen or maintain, not weaken the society, i.e., serve to maintain the health of the society. In other words -- a "healthy society" can take those measures to maintain its "social health," which it determines do in fact maintain its health. However, one obviously has to define what is a so-called healthy society? And what about the possibly violent measures for bringing an unhealthy society back to its health?
Let us say that the health of the society should be the criterion by which the application of violence on behalf of or against that society should be measured -- theoretically-speaking, "the goal is always a healthy society." Coincidentally enough, one of the characteristics of a healthy society, as defined by traditionalists, is its willingness to use violence (force) to defend itself. However, this is clearly only one -‑ not the only sign of health. Such mass-violence and mass-slaughter such as that of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union is, it should be noted well, utterly reprehensible from a traditionalist standpoint. On the other hand, a liberal democratic society, to a certain extent, has problems with defending itself through coercive measures – at least in regard to some types of opponents. However, it does all-too-readily defend itself against what it perceives as a generalized "right-wing."
So again it should be said that the health of society is the primary criterion by which one can judge the legitimacy of force. So -‑ a healthy society is justified in defending itself against unhealthy tendencies; and a somewhat unhealthy society is justified in defending itself against even unhealthier tendencies. Some might object that what is meant by a "healthy society" here is, in fact, a sort of conservative society, though not necessarily any particular conservative society.
However, what is defined here as "healthy" could be simply nothing more radical or out-of-the-ordinary than a fairly-operating, properly balanced, moderate liberal democracy, which does not so obviously short-circuit public debate, education, and popular culture, in one preferred, predetermined, direction.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.