The Personalist Project

Just a brief follow-up to my post of yesterday (which will need more than one):

I want to explain a little what I, Christian personalist that I am, mean by violence.

In the broadest sense, any act that tends toward de-throning another person's will in the zone of his due freedom is a form of violence. Violence is aggression (physical or psychological) against another person— his rights, his property, his integrity as a self.

If someone breaks into my house and takes what is mine, he commits violence against my property. If a man sees a woman and "gropes her with his eyes", mentally using her as a sex object, he commits violence against her dignity as a person. If a mother screams at her child, intimidating him into obedience, she commits violence against him. Lying and manipulating in order to get another to do my will are forms of violence against another person's freedom. If I gossip about a colleague to get in good with my boss, revealing what is private, I've done violence.

Neglect, whether physical or emotional, might also be considered violence, though the term abuse may be more apt for such cases.

Looking at it this way, it is easy to grasp why self-defense, even lethal self defense (whether on the personal or communal level), is not violence. There is nothing aggressive about protecting myself and what is mine from aggression. It's true on the psychological level too. To hurl insults is violent, while to give a hard snub to someone who is too forward and familiar isn't. Bullying is violence; fighting off a bully isn't.

The more I study John Paul II and ruminate over the meaning of the master/slave dynamic the clearer this all becomes to me. The antithesis of the master/slave dynamic is love. And, in a way, the first act of love is a "standing back", a declining to interfere and manipulate, a respect for boundaries, a self-restraint. Here is a key passage from Love and Responsibility [emphasis mine]:

The incommunicable, the inalienable, in a person is intrinsic to that person’s inner self, to the power of self determination, free will.  No one else can want for me.  No one can substitute his act of will for mine.  It does sometimes happen that someone very much wants me to want what he wants.  This is the moment when the impassable frontier between him and me, which is drawn by free will, becomes most obvious.  I may not want that which he wants me to want—and in this precisely I am incommunicabilis.  I am, and I must be, independent in my actions.  All human relationships are posited on this fact.  All true conceptions about education and culture begin from and return to this point.

And here is John Crosby:

The more one enters into the interiority and subjectivity of persons, the more one will have to acknowledge that the deepest acts and commitments of persons are very little amenable to the instruments of coercion.

In interpersonal relations, it's not enough that I mean well, or that I have an objective good (like my child's safety) as my end. The means matter. I can't use force to get my will. I have to respect the other's freedom.

Comments (6)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Apr 30, 2015 1:40pm

One more thought. At the Reading Circle gathering the other night (members can listen to the audio by clicking the link in the column to the right), Jules emphasized a point in the Peregrino article that bears mentioning here. In any relationship where there is a power differential (such as the doctor/patient relationship or the parent/child relationship), where one is more vulnerable than the other, the one in power has a particular responsibility to restrain himself, resisting the temptation to resort to force.

The weight of the obligations therefore rests on the person with the greater degree of of power and authority...

Sam Roeble

#2, Apr 30, 2015 1:50pm

Is it fair to say that violence is Nietzsche's "Will to Power"? a decision against meekness or "strength/power under control"

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Apr 30, 2015 2:04pm

I'm not sure I quite get what you mean, Sam. And my grasp of Nietzsche is rather partial and vague, alas.

Do you see something wrong with defining it as an aggression against another's rights, property or dignity?

Sam Roeble

#4, Apr 30, 2015 2:08pm

No, I'm in agreement here. Take a look at my post on Nietzche in the members section--I think it's very fair to say that his philosophy is pervaded by violence

Katie van Schaijik

#5, Apr 30, 2015 2:11pm

Well yes, I agree with that. He goes with the master/slave dynamic, and despises Christianity because it seems slavish to him. Jules' recording on Berdyaev's book have some interesting points too in that connection. 

Sam Roeble

#6, Apr 30, 2015 2:15pm

Yeah, I think it's a current theme throughout--I first picked up on it in Jules' post about conscience in Newman/Crosby

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