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On Normative Violence

On Normative Violence Economy Near Us (XLIX)

The social contract (no matter its type: contractarian – John Rawls, of capability – Martha Nussbaum, or of resilience – Robert Nozick) was born precisely to eliminate or avoid the private violence or, at least, to guarantee protection against it, with the state as protector. The social arrangement against private violence is very sophisticated and, generally, functional enough to provide freedom and democracy – first of all, based on Constitution as the basic structure of the society. The problem is: what about public violence? Public violence can take the following three forms: a) violence between states (either economic, diplomatic or military); b) the violence of a dictatorial state against its own people; c) the violence of a democratic state against its own people. Since the first two forms are outside any problematization, I shall discuss more analytically the third one. 

What is public violence in a democratic society? 

The general concept of violence holds a significant predicate, in the form of an inclusive disjunction: either unjustified action or disproportionate action or both, in a given context (Nota bene: action is, in turn, an exclusive disjunction of two species: either act – to do, or abstention – to not do). Then, how can we have public violence in a (free and) democratic society? I shall provide some considerations on this matter, by listing the two main ways in which public violence could arise.

- the abuse of power: this concept is well-established in the norms on public accountability regarding the public institutions and authorities (including presidents, prime ministers, ministers, and other public servants). Public accountability is under the jurisdiction of ordinary law;

- the abuse of majority: this concept regards public responsibility, not public accountability. It addresses the Parliament – a political majority can adopt violent norms, usually at the Constitutional limit, in order to avoid a rejection by the Constitutional Court. The public responsibility is under the moral jurisdiction (it can only be penalized politically);

If one would want to distinctively mention the abuse of trust, I draw their attention that such a species is logically included either in the abuse of power or in the abuse of majority.

Therefore, even in a (free and) democratic society, episodes of normative violence against its own citizens may occur. 

Why could normative violence occur? 

Politics is the territory of interest and the art of compromise. If, and to the extent that the relevant politicians are not genuine statesmen, they are, generally, tempted to capitalize on their position (and, implicitly, the trust of voters) in order to obtain benefits (as individuals, groups/families, political parties). This goal cannot be obtained otherwise than by violating the law – that is, through normative violence. One of the most utilized “techniques” is the non-general and (often) temporary norms. We remember that a non-general law is privilege, that is a private law – in Latin, privilegium means exactly a private law. Now, Petre Țuțea's advice – you must no longer choose leaders who do not love their country – becomes both painful and urgent. 

How to identify normative violence? 

The parliamentarism means, etymologically, to talk (from Latin parlamentum) to each other, in a forum, in order to establish the correctness or the timeliness of something, for example of a norm. Political ideology dominates, however, over honesty in such a discussion, so, the only litmus test remains public opinion. Usually, the citizens, more or less organized (sometimes, however, manipulated! – manipulation can be guessed at when the protests are, themselves, violent) protest against some norms they consider as violent – that is, unjustified and/or disproportionate when justified. Therefore, with a probability significant enough, when such protests are sufficiently large, persistent, and non-violent, the observers (among which would the politicians themselves should be found) can draw the conclusion that the norms contested are, perhaps, violent, leading to a conclusion of normative violence. 

How to react to normative violence? 

The same social contract invoked above is imperative related to the citizens (and, in fact, all individuals who are resident within the national borders) so they must categorically (that is, unconditionally) respect the norms legally enacted by the publicly empowered institutions and/or authorities. The key-word here is legal. The problem is that a norm must be not only legal but also legitimate. To be legitimate, the norm must meet the public interest, that is, the general and entitled interest of the entire society. Of course, in democracy, the entirety is equated with the majority, so the general interest should be understood as the majority’s interest. I shall call the legitimate legal norm as being entitled norm. Now, those legal norms that are not also legitimate, I shall call violent norms. Violent norms are, however, legal. About the non-legal norms, I would keep silent, because they are (in principle) rejected by the Constitutional Court. In order to connect the concept of violence with the concept of violent norms, I shall hold that normative violence happens when unjustified or disproportionate actions are initiated (or are made possible) by enacting violent norms.

There are two ways to react to the public (normative) violence: a) protesting (without violence) until a sufficient pressure is applied to change the state of affairs – that is, an active way, based on the popular agency; b) civil disobedience – that can take either active or (most often) passive forms. Civil disobedience involves, however, some philosophical and ethical difficulties:

- although passive (from the perspective of agency), civil disobedience means, however, a violation of the legal norms. The non-legitimate legal norms, that is the violent norms, remain legal. No matter how the legality was mimed (or, equivalently, how the non-legality was dissimulated – for example, through the abuse of majority), until the norms in the case are not canceled by the constitutional institutions, they should be respected in (all) behaviors. So, the legal sanctions provided in the structure of the norm can (and, besides, should) be applied. Let us remember that Socrates was wronged, but he chose to suffer the sanction of the legal norm;

- civil disobedience can succeed if and only if it touches a critical mass of people who share this attitude. A critical mass could be reached either temporarily – a sufficient duration of disobedience so as to draw the attention of the governors – or dimensionally – a sufficient number of adherents or, of course, an appropriate combination of temporality and dimensionality.

The possibility of normative violence in a (free and) democratic society is a (contingent) effect of the poor quality of politicians, who too easily become autonomic from the voters and their values and interests.



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