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Image: Protest in Hong Kong (Studio Incendo)

Reading List February 02, 2020

When Political Resistance Turns Violent

Philosophers, historians, and political scientists contribute to a reading list on nonviolence.

Collective resistance has often taken a brutal turn, from the uprisings of nineteenth-century abolitionists, to the Los Angeles Watts Rebellion of 1965, to recent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. In cases like these, is violence defensible?

Today’s reading list considers different perspectives on this question, from a political scientist who thinks that “uncivil disobedience” is crucial to political success, to a former “terrorist” who thinks Antifa are harming their own cause.

And what happens when nation-states appropriate the language of necessary violence? A provocative personal essay from philosopher and former IDF crew commander Oded Na’aman picks apart the claims made by Israelis that “we never choose violence, violence chooses us.”

—Rosie Gillies

A Political Philosophy of Self-Defense
by Chad Kautzer

“The existence of violence is at the very heart of a racist system. In that context, self-defense is not merely an individual right, it is collective political resistance.”

• • •

Uncivil Disobedience in Hong Kong
by Candice Delmas

On both the left and right, the Hong Kong protests have been criticized for their use of violence—but their rejection of nonviolence may help explain why they’ve been so successful.

• • •

Choosing Violence
by Oded Na’aman

“This is the Israeli ethos of necessary violence: peace is our yearning; war is our plight. We never choose violence, Israelis believe, violence chooses us. Hence the name of our military, the Israel Defense Forces. But war is almost always a choice.”

• • •

Black Abolitionists Believed in Taking Up Arms
by Randal Maurice Jelks

Long before the Civil War, black abolitionists agreed that ending slavery would require violence. Unlike their white peers, their arguments were about when and how to use political violence, not if.

• • •

On Violence and Nonviolence
a forum with Elizabeth Hinton

“A proper understanding of sixties-era urban rebellion depends on our ability to interpret it not as a wave of criminality, but as a period of sustained political violence.”

• • •

Notes for Antifa from a Former “Terrorist”
a forum with Amitai Etzioni

“Truth to be told, there are quite a few people I would like to punch, some in very high places. But an elementary ethical examination and the realization that I may well do more harm than good to the causes I care about keep my fists where they belong.”

• • •

The Radical Equality of Lives
an interview with Judith Butler

“The media often suggests that quotidian life is not violent, even though there are huge amounts of domestic violence, violence in prison, violence on the street, and violence in the workplace all the time. Actual quotidian violence gets repainted as nonviolent, and then the very dramatic violence catches attention.”

• • •

Racial Violence in Black and White
by Benjamin Balthaser

From W. E. B. Du Bois’s publication of lynching photographs to Black Lives Matter’s circulation of videos of police brutality against African Americans, there is a radical heritage of using images of violence as instruments of critique.




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