Gunther Anders: In the Struggle for Peace -Violence? — Yes Or No?

A necessary discussion

Gunther Anders

Translation by Lena Bloch of the article by Ernest London, published on Lundi.am.

Original in French is here.

Ernest London -
Günther Anders: Violence, Yes or No

A Book Review

Our friends at the Fahrenheit Library sent us this presentation of the review of a book with Gunther Anders entitled “Violence: yes or no. A Necessary Discussion” (1987) in which he acknowledges that, following the Chernobyl accident, and although seen as a pacifist, he came to “the conviction that nothing can be achieved with nonviolence”. “We are therefore in a “state of emergency”. All the books of law, even those of canon law, not only authorize violence but encourage it in a state of emergency.

Definitely, he considers that “it is not possible to achieve an effective resistance with kind methods, such as offering bouquets of forget-me-nots to police officers who will not be able to receive them because they have their guns in their hands. It is equally insufficient, no, it is absurd to announce a hunger strike against nuclear war. (…). These gestures are really just performance”. Very clearly, he considers it necessary to intimidate “those who exercise power and threaten us (millions of us)”, “to threaten in return and to neutralize those politicians who, without moral conscience, make the catastrophe possible, although they do not prepare it directly”.
Power is always based on the exercise of violence, since it is used by the established powers. It is not only authorized but also “morally justified”. Günther Anders affirms that he aims at nothing other than the state of non-violence, at the state of what Kant called “perpetual peace”: “Violence must never be an end for us. But that violence — when it is needed to impose non-violence and when it is indispensable — should be our method, is surely not disputable.”
He holds that democracy, that is, the right to express one’s own opinion, has become impossible because, in the strict sense, one can no longer express something that is not one’s own, since there are “mass media” and “the population of the world sits as if fascinated in front of the televisions.”
Finally, he considers “hope” to be just another word for “cowardice”.

The great interest of this book is that, far from limiting itself to the publication of this position, which is, to say the least, divisive, it proposes a wide range of public reactions which allow the reader, beyond his own feelings, to go through the whole field of the debate. Many are indignant, of course, crying “irresponsibility” (Heinrich Albertz), “verbal radicalism” and “shouting militancy” (Wilhelm Bittorf), believing that we do not need a “Green Army Faction in addition to the Red Army Faction” (Erich Loest). Others admit that “the attempt to save the world by recycling glass has limited didactic value and, at worst, gives those who produce the waste a new deadline” (Jürgen Dahl) or say outright “YES! A vigorous YES!” (Axel Eggebrecht), and that “nonviolent protest” fulfills a “valve function”, without threatening any power (Hans-Helmut Röhring). Others doubt that “militant actions of self-defense” really push “the irresponsible people in charge” to give in, but instead reinforce “the arming policy they exercise against their own citizens” (Prof. Dr. Robert Jungk). Others warn that the “armed camp” is never in a position to bring about social or political change, but that it “has only served to legitimize the strong (nuclear) state”, that it would cement and prolong the state of emergency instead of liquidating it (Rupert von Plottnitz). Others denounce the “disgusting hypocrisy” of the state, which is overwhelmed by acts of violence but imposes a rejection of violence (Joseph von Westphalen).

In a second (imaginary) interview, published in January 1987 in the Austrian magazine Forum, Günther Anders clarifies his positions. He recalls that international law as well as canon law recognize “self-defense against possible violence and, a fortiori, against real violence”: “The state of emergency justifies self-defense, morality prevails over legality.” Would it have been immoral to attack Hitler? And the “Hitlers of today are comparatively more dangerous” because of the weapons in their hands. However, “we must never resort to violence except as a desperate means, a counter-violence, a temporary expedient. For it has no other purpose than to establish a state of non-violence. As long as the established powers use violence against us (and at the same time against the children we hope our children will have), against us who are powerless, against us whom they have purposely deprived of power — by threatening to transform the regions where we live into contaminated ruins or by building “harmless” nuclear power plants — (…) we will be obliged to renounce our renunciation of violence in order to respond to the state of emergency.” “We resort to self-defense only in order to make the need to resort to it superfluous. This is a ‘dialectic of violence’.”
Because he is a rationalist, he has no illusions about the power of reason, about its power of conviction. He specifies his thought: “Those who prepare the extermination of millions of human beings of today and tomorrow and consequently our definitive extermination or are satisfied only to have the possibility to exterminate us, those must disappear. There must be no more such people. “Peace is not a means in my eyes, it is an end. It is an end.”

These new statements have of course provoked new reactions. While Klaus Deterling admits that “this power stands in the face of the powerlessness of citizens who only have the illusion once every four years that they are not powerless,” he says no to counter-violence. Hanna Eisenmann reminds us that the Swiss Confederation would not have come into being if groups of resistance fighters had not resorted to violence to defend themselves against the violent actions of their oppressors. Hans-Werner Krauss recognizes that “since Auschwitz, it should be clear to everyone that the non-violence of the powerless is not able to prevent the powerful from making immoral use of violence. The current discussion will show that the powerful refuse to debate, they will continue to make immoral use of violence.”

There follow many consequential fragments of what was to become State of Emergency and Self-Defense, which delve into all the themes already mentioned. Note, however, that he warns that “those who force me to break the taboo of murder can be sure that I will never forgive them.”

Let us salute this editorial wager to propose in addition to this powerful demonstration of an implacable and formidable logic, like many of Günther Anders’ texts, several dozens of reactions which multiply the debate, by accumulating points of view, more or less relevant, but which have the merit, for many, of sweeping a vast argumentative field. Thus, instead of simply adhering to or rejecting the author’s theses, each person is confronted with a continuous salvo of contradictory reasoning in relation to which he or she must take a position. A “necessary discussion”, yes.

Ernest London
The Armourer-Librarian

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Lena Bloch

Lena Bloch

Background in psychology of learning, literature, philosophy, math.