Monday, 19 September 2011

Richard Turner and the Politics of Emancipation

by Duncan Greaves, 1987

Richard Turner died in the early hours of January 8, 1978; he was gunned down, at the age of 37, by an assailant who has yet to be identified. In the decade since then political violence in South Africa has escalated to the point where we now stand on the brink of civil war. Or perhaps I should say anti-political violence; for there is a sharp limit to which the purposes of politics and violence can be reconciled. There is, to be sure, an intimate and complex link between the two; it has often been suggested that war is the prosecution of diplomacy by other means, and, by a logical extension, that civil war is the prosecution of politics by other means. But the link is one of tension, for the one does not simply translate into the other as the need arises. Instead, we typically find that violence tends to drown politics in its own purposes.

As Hannah Arendt remarked in her observations on revolution, the justification of violence must also constitute its political limitation. To cry havoc and let slip the dogs of civil war, therefore, marks not the prosecution of politics by other means but its failure; indeed, its death.

The full essay is available in pdf here.