Is War an Instrument of Politics? the Flux of Violence and Social Theory

Friday, 20 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Mark AYYASH, Mount Royal University, Canada
This paper critically examines a prevalent mode of explicating violent armed conflicts, which posits war as fundamentally instrumental in nature. There is certainly some analytical validity to this approach, but it limits the conception of violence to a one-dimensional view that does not take into account the flux of violence. Within the instrumentalist perspective, violence appears explicable strictly as an instrument of politics and is consequently posited as inexplicable outside of its instrumental purpose, often as chaos, a black hole, and/or nonsense. There are two major shortcomings to this approach: (1) it subordinates violence to something greater that explains it – most often politics (the mechanisms/structures of governance) or some conception of the political (the theoretical ground of what constitutes a political act/event) – thus directing the analytical gaze away from violence; (2) the subordination of violence as means to political ends is often driven by an untenable analytical distinction between so-called productive and destructive violence. Instead of delimiting violence, I argue for a “freeing” of the concept of violence, not in the sense of discussing the gruesome details of violence or glorifying violence, but in the analytical sense of following the flux that is inherent to violence. The paper examines how two prominent theorists and their respective trajectories in social theory (Carl Schmitt-realism school; Antonio Gramsci-critical school) fail in their attempt to theoretically subordinate the flux of violence. To capture violence is to think of it as residing within a delimited and fixed space from which it operates but never leaves. To free the concept of violence is to think of violence in its continuous movement. An analysis “in accordance with the flux” offers the most fruitful way of “freeing” the concept of violence, which will help us understand the diverse impacts, paths, and roles of violence in society.