Violence as Pure Praxis: Benjamin and Sorel on Strike, Myth and Ethics
journal contributionposted on 22.05.2017 by Carlo Salzani
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Though for the Western political tradition violence is usually deemed merely instrumental, and thus neither essential to, nor constitutive of, the bios politikos, Walter Benjaminís "Zur Kritik der Gewalt" ["Critique of Violence," 1921] and Georges Sorelís Réflexions sur la violence [Reflections on Violence, 1908] constitute an exception. In very different ways, both texts put forward a notion of violence which comes to coincide with pure praxis, that is, with pure political action, in great contrast with a political tradition which rather identifies in violence a non-political or anti-political form of action. In Benjamin's case, the ambiguity of the term Gewalt is not secondary to the argument: in German, it can mean force, power, might and violence, depending on the context; it reunites thus potestas and violentia in a dialectics that Etienne Balibar values as positive and fructuous. The French violence, on the contrary, presents a univocal connotation, though Sorel, as we will see, redefines it to his own purposes. However, the explanation cannot be limited to the terminology, but must rather be pursued in their notion of praxis.