Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A History of Violence

In a series of lectures at the College de France in the 1970s, Foucault put forward the interesting hypothesis that history is actually the history of violence. According to Foucault, the history of every constitution retains evidence of every civil upheaval and war that has affected the state in question. Foucault was particularly making a point about the French constitution including, of course, the fundamental changes brought in by the revolution of 1789. However, most influence was always felt from the LAST war or civil upheaval.

This is a thought-provoking hypothesis. It can certainly be applied to European power relationships after the Second World War, with the division of Europe into two hostile camps reflecting the reality of a world controlled by the two new superpowers, America and the USSR. The constitutions of the Eastern Bloc countries, for example, clearly reflected the reality of the USSR's victory over fascist Germany, while the democracies that won the war were free to shape or develop their constitutions as they liked. The instance of Japan is instructive: after losing the war and suffering the devastation caused by the dropping of two atomic bombs, the Japanese gave up on their own world view completely and committed themselves to imitating the American model: even to the point where in many areas they surpassed the original.

Foucault's ideas on history and violence are as relevant today as ever. It is interesting to note that we do not enjoy democratic privileges due to some divine decree: rather, they are the product of successful wars and civil struggles. On the other hand, it can also be said that these same privileges have come about, to a large extent, as the result of successful violence.


Anonymous foo-the-colt said...

Is this a discourse?

11:20 AM  
Blogger pluto85 said...

Foucault was right!

1:13 PM  
Blogger Medway said...

Which is why Cromwell and his Roundheads are British heroes. Democracy wasn't granted easily, it had to be fought for.

6:45 AM  

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