John Keane | Reflections on Violence
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Reflections on Violence

Genocidal wars, concentration camps, firebombed cities, spreading plagues of private blood-letting: the 20th century has seen more than its share of violence, planned and unplanned. Thanks in part to global media coverage, the whole world feels increasingly filled with violence and yet, argues John Keane, among the paradoxes of this long century of violence is the paucity of imaginative reflection on the conceptual meaning, causes and effects, and ethical-political implications of violence. Comparable to Hannah Arendt’s “On Violence”, this book questions this indifference. It throws new light on the thesis that we are drifting towards a “new middle ages” marked by uncivil wars sanctioned by de-centralized powers – warlords, gangsters, sects – which the modern state was supposed to eliminate. It shows how the term “violence” is riddled with paradoxes, and it confronts the argument, stretching from St Augustine to Freud, that violence is rooted in “human nature”. The book also examines the practical prospects for greater civility. But it rejects simple-minded pacifism, stressing instead that the maxim that “those who live by the sword perish by the sword” is not always accurate, and that there are times when the defenders of civility who refuse to take up the sword simply perish on the cross.