May 20, 2000
The influential anti-colonial leftist Frantz Fanon claimed that "colonialism is violence" (is based on violence), thus it must be opposed by violence. He advocated violent revolution. In many places, including the land of his own adopted revolutionary cause, Algeria, bloodshed was the preferred means to overturn the colonialist system. The fallacy of Fanon's equation ought to be obvious, even without the glowing counterexample of Gandhi. As should the clear motivation of revenge against the oppressor one can see in his writings — he wishes to "discover" that it is only logical and permissible for the oppressed masses to slaughter the occupying French, since deep inside he unconsciously derives satisfaction from this idea. The price of such extreme self-deceit in a persuasive philosopher can be enormous.
The dangerous, blind over-simplicity of Fanon's solution is evidenced in the death of about one million Algerians during that revolution against occupying French colonials. Far too many Algerians died to secure Fanon's treasured independence, as well as many French soldiers and civilians, most from Algerian terror tactics. How many of these deaths, and other revolutionary deaths around the world, resulted from the shadow of Fanon and other influential writers (on both sides) who urged a violent solution, is impossible to say.
I say that the nation-state, every nation-state, is based on violence. The principal justification of the state is protection, security, safety, even peace. But the fundamental arm of the state apparatus is force against its citizens; that is the guarantee of the state, that is the seal on every decree. Is this not a bitter irony?
Perhaps most ironic, for one who understands, is that Fanon's "solution" was to replace a colonial state — with another state!
In the language of Fanon — the state is violence.
To illustrate the spirit of the state, let us consider a particular historical origin of ancient states, which may very well describe the earliest foundation of a state millennia before the modern nation-state, and the beginning of the state concept. This origin was violence, violence which became justified by fear.
Consider the model of the state as founded by barbarian invaders: Turks, Hyksos, and so on, farther and farther back into the prehistorical past. The essential pattern is that of a settled agricultural community, relatively productive and wealthy, invaded by a nomadic group of "barbarians" which is economically inferior but militarily superior. In the more recent past, farming communities may themselves be powerful and organized into a large state, as in the case of Egypt invaded by the Hyksos. In the more distant past, scattered and isolated pre-state farming villages were similarly invaded by nomads, particularly hunter-gatherers rather than later herding invaders (like the Turks and Mongols). In these days before our modern and less honest justifications for invasion, a nomadic invader's self-justification would have been entirely the naked confidence of superior strength over the passive victims driven before him. He becomes "ruler" and they become "subjects" and "citizens." Thus the foundation of a state in violence and fear of the government due to inferior strength. This proceeds to justification of continued oppression by the ruler, because he protects the passive agricultural citizen to some degree against the personal harm he fears — namely, invasion by other barbarians, or internal violence. Eventually, barbarian and prey become one mingled, settled state founded in a system of violence and fear.
Since that day, there have been many innovations, from legislatures, to fictional democratic "representation," to the modern nation-state which was fully realized under the French revolutionaries and another conqueror, Napoleon. But the essential factors of force and fear remain to a great degree, and we should consider with open eyes how much the modern nation-state preserves a brutality far more appropriate to the distant past. If the innovations in other areas of life have not been limited to improvements on the mud hut, or sharper flint tools, or better ways to pull an oxcart, why allow the foundation of society in political terms to remain essentially primitive?
Where Fanon's logic would prescribe force and violence, I prescribe the creative, generative strength of life to counteract and defeat the degenerative effect of a system based on force. I prescribe vitality to combat the stunted and fallow, replanting the idea of society where it can grow anew. A basis in force deserves a response based not on force, nor, in fact, a response based on passivity. We should respond to the meaning of the force, the decay and weakness of life under force, with a strong rejuvenation of life elsewhere. This is initially a peaceful kind of revolutionary option — but what matters is not a simplistic "response with the opposite" of the method at the surface — rather, a sophisticated response in principle, ideal, philosophy, and inspiration.
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on May 20, 2000