The Logic of Violence

Essay, 2012

13 Pages, Grade: 74 %



For the question at hand - a very complex question - it seems of paramount importance to disentangle its individual components before discovering its coherences. Obviously, my interpretation of the discussion is contestable, for the key terms related to the question being highly charged and contestable themselves; Evil, Violence, State, Power, Legitimacy, Norm, Culture - debates in the international realms of law, academia, politics etc. demonstrate that it represents a great effort to find common ground for only one of these expressions, that shall concern us on the pages of this paper.

I shall proceed as follows: First, I will present my understanding of logic - the underlying current giving this paper its direction and drive. Still in the first part, I shall introduce and define various forms of large-scale violence to be kept inside the epistemological frame of this essay. Secondly, this paper will elaborate on ‘the doer behind the deed’. I shall introduce the philosophical traditions and formal features of contemporary states, laying the ground for the contemplation of violence by and against states, government-sponsored and state- perpetrated crime. Furthermore, to shed light on the ramifications of violence between the so called First and Third World and in order to provide a link between the general and the specific, this paper would expose the international involvement in criminal structures and violent agency. Drawing on the recurrent narratives and forms of violence discussed in the first two parts, the third section will deepen the dynamics of structures and resources that resurface in various contexts of large scale violence. The chosen examples will deal with the ambivalence of legal control and discursive power in their capacity as supportive features to instigate violence.

This essay will conclude on contemplations which elude from a smooth narrative. In my conclusion I should summarize the main arguments and outline the implications resulting from the supposition of a logic of violence. The final part shall also provide an outlook to some of the many remaining challenges in the context of international human rights and supranational criminology and their pursuit to stop violence.



It is often referred to logic as to the art of thought and the science of sound deductive reasoning. Logic therefore investigates the validity of structures of arguments first, before judging the content of claims. Above all, logic is a science of structures. I apply this formal understanding for it mirrors my idea of the logic of violence, as a structural arrangement characterized simultaneously by distance from and proximity to its subject - human life and death.

Violence, though it may seem intuitively understandable, ‘is a conceptual minefield’ (Kalyvas, 2006:19): ‘At a very basic level, violence is the deliberate infliction of harm on people’, on a physical or symbolic level.

Direct physical violence takes several forms, including pillage, robbery, vandalism, arson, forcible displacement, kidnapping, hostage taking, detention, beating, torture, mutilation, rape, and desecration of dead bodies (ibid: 20) whereas an ever-extending definition of ‘the maintenance or destruction of social order, various forms of oppression and even mental anguish (ibid.:19)’ reflects an ever-expanding of the phenomenon of violence in scale, perfidiousness and content. Whereas to define violence inflicted upon the living remains a controversy - the idea as if there was a hierarchy of violence and a threshold of tolerance will be significant at a later moment in this paper - most parties would agree, that death is ‘the absolute violence’ (Sofsky 1998:53).

Contemplating violence, her notorious companion evil imposes itself into consideration. According to Vetlesen to do evil, ‘is to intentionally inflict pain and suffering on another human being, against her will, and causing serious and foreseeable harm to her’ (Vetlesen:

3). The congruence between the abstract conceptions of violence and evil is remarkable. The moment of difference concerns the crucial point of a cognitive presence of intent. The ability to abscond violence from malice aforethought can be deemed an important first cue to the understanding of logical principles in violence.


Warfare is the master narrative of global historiography. The large scale violence of wars and civil wars are fundamental markers of human time and to significant extent the very reason why people - men - have engaged in the production of history as a means to create reality. With the beginning of modernity, new forms of violence have added inglorious chapters to the history of our species: terrorism and genocide.


Whittaker’s undertaking to elaborate the distinctiveness of terrorism, comes to appreciate that it is ‘ineluctably political in aims and motives, violent - or, equally important, threatens violence, designed to have far reaching psychological repercussions beyond the immediate victim or target’(2008:9/10). In its pursuit of political, systemic change it differs from ordinary crime that does not envisage change, but capitalizes on given structures. Terrorist acts therefore arise from a logical choice that invests in political and organizational strategies A major contribution of the debates in the past years was to dissolve the simplistic conception of the evil other (as autonomous, conspirational, nonstate entity) in terrorism in favour of a more holistic approach, which accounts for reciprocity and responsibility between various parties, including agencies of terror like governments and quasi-government organisations’ (Whittaker, 2008:260) and acknowledging networks of violence between the First and Third World. The oversimplifying rhetoric of good and bad, defined terrorist cells and enemies as perpetrators of terror diametrically opposed to and nominally isolated from Western worlds and values is now considered to be out-dated and replaced by a systemic view on ‘the mutual political, economic, and military interests of the international elites’(Sluka, 2000:7). In this context, George labeled the United States as ‘the major supporters, sponsors, and perpetrators of terrorist incidents in the world today’ (1991:1,2). A particular institution - the US Army School of the Americas - symbolizes the global amalgamation of violence: It has trained many Central and South American military officers, who were later involved in death squads (…) not only counterinsurgency techniques but also methods of torture, murder, and extortion’ (Alvarez, 2001:5).


The term genocide was coined by Rafał Lemkin, who constructed it from the Greek word genus (race, tribe) and the Latin word cide (killing). It is worthwhile to reproduce his definition of genocide here, for it illustrates the complexity of large scale violence. Lemkin’s definition captures genocide as ‘a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves’ (Lemkin, 1944:79)1 On a basic level, the logic of genocide stems from a discrimination against an emphasised versus a stigmatised group. Then, its ‘coordinated’ plan includes a selective identification, devaluation and targeting of members of the stigmatised group. Furthermore, it requires an approval or at least tolerance or wilful blindness for its aims from the emphasized part of the population. Thus, genocide is ‘…the social project of creating punishable categories of people (…) and de-legitimate specific groups’ (Nagengast, 1994:122).

The Holocaust remains the best studied example of the dynamics and discourses in genocidal violence - at a later point this essay will investigate some of the mechanisms in depth. For now, let me reiterate that, ‘genocide, (…) is an example of a crime that is both rational and planned’ (Alvarez, 2010:29). The figurehead of the desk-murderer (Schreibtischtäter) - we might want to add the cave-murderer - captures the essence and extent of intelligent violence effectuated in the modern forms of violence of terrorism and genocide.

The doer behind the deed


The classic formulation of the state was developed by Max Weber, who suggested that the state has three essential components: a bureaucratic structure of administration; a monopoly on the use of legitimate violence; and sole authority over a given geographic area. (Alvarez, 2010:31). The example of ‘Gleichschaltung’ (alignment and equalization of these powers) during Nazi Terror most aptly exemplifies how these components were braided smoothly together, providing an efficient machinery to support large scale violence on all levels of society.


1 He continues; The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions of culture, language, national feelings, religion, economic existence, of national groups and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such group. In the present Convention of the United Nations ‘genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, such as: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;forcibly transferring children of the group to another group’ (Morrison,2006:90).

Excerpt out of 13 pages


The Logic of Violence
University of Hull  (Law School)
Human Rights Violations
74 %
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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"An intellectually ambitious approach to the question drawing on a wide range of appropriate reading. Well referenced."
logic, violence
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Zuzanna Szutenberg (Author), 2012, The Logic of Violence, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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