Trust and Violence

Trust and Violence: An Essay on a Modern Relationship

Jan Philipp Reemtsma
Translated by Dominic Bonfiglio
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 416
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    Trust and Violence
    Book Description:

    The limiting of violence through state powers is one of the central projects of the modern age. Why then have recent centuries been so bloody? InTrust and Violence, acclaimed German intellectual and public figure Jan Philipp Reemtsma demonstrates that the aim of decreasing and deterring violence has gone hand in hand with the misleading idea that violence is abnormal and beyond comprehension. We would be far better off, Reemtsma argues, if we acknowledged the disturbing fact that violence is normal. At the same time, Reemtsma contends that violence cannot be fully understood without delving into the concept of trust. Not in violence, but in trust, rests the foundation of true power.

    Reemtsma makes his case with a wide-ranging history of ideas about violence, from ancient philosophy through Shakespeare and Schiller to Michel Foucault, and by considering specific cases of extreme violence from medieval torture to the Holocaust and beyond. In the midst of this gloomy account of human tendencies, Reemtsma shrewdly observes that even dictators have to sleep at night and cannot rely on violence alone to ensure their safety. These authoritarian leaders must trust others while, by means other than violence, they must convince others to trust them. The history of violence is therefore a history of the peculiar relationship between violence and trust, and a recognition of trust's crucial place in humanity.

    A broad and insightful book that touches on philosophy, sociology, and political theory,Trust and Violencesheds new, and at times disquieting, light on two integral aspects of our society.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4234-6
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: The Mystery
    (pp. 1-8)

    The German writer Walter Kempowski once mused that his entire literary output may one day be reduced to this all-too-familiar question. Such a question, he wrote, “is a lot for a lifetime, analogous to ‘I know that I know nothing.’”¹ Drawing a connection to Socrates’ aphorism is no doubt astute, but can anyone better answer the question than Kempowski’s mother? In his autobiographical novelTadellöser & Wolffgunfire alerts the Kempowskis to the arrival of Soviet troops in their hometown. After a stray bullet rips through the leaves of the family pear tree, the mother wonders, “How on earth?” and then...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Trust and Modernity
    (pp. 9-53)

    “I’ve been reading that detective story. It’s about a poor devil who’s arrested one fine morning, all of a sudden. People had been taking an interest in him and he knew nothing about it. They were talking about him in offices, entering his name on card indexes. Now, do you think that’s fair? Do you think people have a right to treat a man like that?”

    … “Tell me, Doctor. Suppose I fell ill, would you put me in your ward at the hospital?”

    “Why not?”

    Cottard then inquired if it ever happened that a person in a hospital or...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Power and Violence
    (pp. 54-100)

    Scholars disagree about whether Aeschylus wrotePrometheus Bound. Compared with hisOresteia, the grand civilizational trilogy that ends with the founding of law and the social contract,Prometheusis wild and archaic. The play begins with the smith-god Hephaestus chaining Prometheus to Mount Caucasus as punishment for excessive philanthropy. Hephaestus executes the task begrudgingly—he feels sympathy for Prometheus—but fear of Zeus, the usurper and terrorizing despot, compels him to carry on. Overseeing his work are Kratos and Bia, the personifications of force and violence, respectively. Kratos goads Hephaestus, threatens him, mocks him for his pity. All the while,...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Delegitimation/Relegitimation
    (pp. 101-186)

    Nec quiquam nisi vulnus erat—nothing but wound. This is Ovid’s description of Marsyas inMetamorphoses. Marsyas owes his condition to Apollo, who skinned the satyr alive for daring to challenge him to a musical contest:

    [H]e was one great wound, with blood flowing,

    The nerves exposed, veins with no cover of skin

    Over their beating surface, lungs and entrails

    Visible as they functioned. The country people,

    The woodland gods, the fauns, his brother satyrs,

    The nymphs, and even Olympus [his friend and pupil], whom he loved

    Through all his agony, all wept for him

    with every shepherd looking after...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Trust in Violence
    (pp. 187-258)

    If, as the saying goes, dirt is matter in the wrong place, then evil is violence in the wrong place—at the wrong time, on the wrong person, and by the wrong person. The trick is to keep violence within the proper framework. Consider the folktale “Robert the Devil.” A duchess, whose prayers for a child go unanswered, calls on Lucifer for assistance, after which she becomes pregnant immediately. All is not well, however. The child is long overdue, and when the woman finally gives birth, her labor is painful and prolonged. The boy, whom she names Robert, is far...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Violence and Communication
    (pp. 259-312)

    In 1949 Cola Gentile—a Sicilian-born member of the Philadelphia mob who, fleeing a pending drug charge, had returned to Sicily and started up with the local Cosa Nostra—spent an afternoon in conversation with a young university student. His objective seems to have been to explain and justify his profession. The student, Andrea Camilleri, now a famous crime fiction writer in Italy, would later recall some of Gentile’s words:

    Duttureddu[“Little Professor”—this was Gentile’s nickname for Camilleri], if I come in here unarmed, and you pick up a pistol, point it at me and say: “Cola Gentile, down...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 313-358)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 359-380)