Monday, July 04, 2005

More from Wendell on State Sanctioned Violence

from the same page in the essay "The Failure Of War" Wendell Berry writes
The most dangerous superstition of the parties of violence is the idea that sanctioned violence can prevent or control unsanctioned violence. But, if violence is "just" in one instance, as determined by the state, why, by a merely logical extension, might it not also be "just" in another instance, as determined by an individual? How can a society that justifies capital punishment and warfare prevent its justifications from being extended to assassination and terrorism? If a government percieves that some causes are so important as to justify the killing of children, how can it hope to prevent the contagion of its logic from spreading to its citizens--or to its citizens' children? If you so devalue human life that the accidentally conceived unborn may be permissibly killed, how do you keep that permission from being assumed by someone who has made the same judgment against the born?


jon said...

I am quite liberal as far as death penalty/war policies go (by which I mean that I am still debating inside myself whether a Christian can support either one under any circumstance, although I lean towards yes in rare instances). But I disagree with the analogy presented, because following it to its natural conclusion would lead to something like anarchy. If it is "just" for the state to run jails, might it also be "just" for an individual to detain or kidnap someone, as they may determine? If it is "just" for the state to levy fines, might it also be "just" for an individual to recover money from a business when the individual determines it is justified? The point of having a civil society is that decisions about enforcing rules and levying punishments are put into the hands of a larger body and taken out of the hands of the individual. Anyone who makes the leap from the state determining such things to assuming that they alone can judge and punish at will is in danger of violating every precept of civilization, not just the ones involving death.

Mike said...

Interesting thoughts Jon. Thanks. So do either of you fellas have any recommended reading on the issues of war and/or the death penalty? I've read some about/by John Howard Yoder, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Clarence Jordan, and Mr. Berry, but I'm still having difficulty coming to some sort of resolution. Pacifism seems an easier fit for the underdog or the oppressed, but when you have the power/ability/responsibililty to intervene, the question of method becomes more difficult. My opinions about these things are still pretty blurry at the moment. Anyway, thanks in advance for any recommendations.