Religion, Power and Violence: Expression of Politics in Contemporary Times

Religion, Power and Violence: Expression of Politics in Contemporary Times
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In all but a few years from to , the number of lynchings exceeded, usually to some considerable degree, the number of lawful executions for capital crimes. The lynching of blacks, although apparently spontaneous, seemed also to manifest a desire to establish beyond any doubt the point that the caste system of the South could not be challenged. In this respect there is a suggestive psychological similarity, even if no easily established historical affiliation, between the psychology of lynchings and the pattern of suppression of slave revolts. The extraordinary harshness with which slave revolts, or suspected or alleged conspiracies to revolt, were suppressed, supplies a suggestive analogue to lynching, and on a few occasions to vigilantism as well.

By and large, slaves under the American slave system were deemed entitled to a trial, but where rebellions, real or imagined, were concerned, the law was swift, and the punishment was often harsh or even barbarous. From the beginning whites seemed to be determined, through the brutality of reprisals, to impress upon slaves the futility and the extraordinary danger of rebellion or otherwise resisting slavery. Such occasional tactics as pulling runaways out of jail and lynching them, burying a slave alive for the murder of his master, tortures to get confessions of slave revolt plots, and whipping to near the point of death bespeak a certain purposive brutality.

As early as when slaves rose up in New York City and killed several whites, reprisals were unrestrained: rebels were burnt, hanged, and hung alive in chains as a public example of the fate of slave rebels. In a rumor, probably false, that slaves were planning to poison the city water supply was followed by the burning alive of thirteen slaves and the hanging of eighteen others. In one New Orleans revolt of the heads of sixteen captured rebels were posted on poles as a warning to others.

The abortive Gabriel plot in Virginia in was suppressed with the hanging of as many as thirty-five blacks, and a like number were hanged in Charleston, South Carolina, after the disclosure of the abortive Denmark Vesey plot of The well-remembered Nat Turner insurrection in Virginia in , which resulted in the deaths of at least fifty-seven whites, ended with a massacre of reprisal whose victims ran well over a hundred and included scores of innocent blacks. Vigilante groups may be defined as organizations formed to create and enforce laws of their own making in the supposed absence of adequate law enforcement.

Penalties inflicted by vigilantes were at times devised to fit the alleged crimes, and they often followed an informal trial; but a peremptory lynching was more likely to be the result of a vigilante arrest. In the main vigilantism was a frontier phenomenon, although it could appear in urban areas that had been affected by frontier traditions. In fact the largest of all such organizations was the San Francisco Vigilance Committee of , which may have had from six thousand to eight thousand members.

Richard Maxwell Brown, in his informative study of the subject, considers the South Carolina Regulators, a frontier movement organized to put down a backcountry crime wave in the s, as the first precedent for vigilantism. But this movement, which largely succeeded in its purposes and disbanded in , seems hardly to have started a tradition, since the next notable vigilante organizations, which appeared in Illinois and Indiana, did not emerge until the period — In the main, vigilantism, which moved westward with the frontier, was a mid-nineteenth-century phenomenon.

The movements Brown has recorded killed at least persons. Almost half of these killings took place in Texas, California, and Montana, and all but a small fraction of them were committed in the half century between and Vigilante groups were rarely led by rowdies or thugs. Indeed it is testimony to the extent to which informal and violent substitutes for law were accepted in many parts of the country that such organizations often drew their leaders from the top levels of local society, sometimes from prominent merchants and able young men on the make, and that their following came largely from the solid middle class.

They were organized, after all, to defend property, as they saw it, and to maintain order. To justify themselves they invoked self-preservation, popular sovereignty, the need for efficient and inexpensive justice, and even at times the sacred right of revolution. Very commonly they salved their consciences by holding informal trials, and sometimes the larger movements were quite formally organized and governed. Most vigilante organizations seem to have accelerated in violence, moving rather rapidly from whipping and expulsion to hanging.

On occasions, too, their organizations led to near anarchy, when a vigilante movement would be met by an anti-vigilante coalition, and two rival groups would settle into a feud not altogether unlike the gangster feuds of the twentieth century, but sometimes intermingled with local partisan politics.

Yet the larger vigilante movements won a surprising acceptance in the respectable world. Pointing out that at one moment in four ex-vigilantes were serving in the Senate, Brown enumerates among prominent men who were ex-vigilantes, or who at some time strongly approved of vigilantism, two presidents Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt , five senators, eight governors, and a considerable number of writers.

Bancroft thought of vigilantism as an expression of a kind of old-fashioned popular American hardihood, and as an informal, basically well-intentioned, sometimes necessary and benign extension of the law. We may wonder what they would have thought of the vigilantism of the modern Ku Klux Klan, whose members in the main also thought themselves to be acting in the name of patriotism, law and order, and moral decency.

Appealing to Americans devoted to these old-fashioned virtues, as well as to the domination of the old-fashioned white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant type, the Ku Klux Klan probably had over two million members pass through its ranks between and , over four fifths of them in the South, Southwest and in the older North Central states of Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois. The Klan was strong in cities and in small towns, particularly in areas of rapid growth and social dislocation.

As early as , before the Klan had reached its peak membership, the New York World listed outrages it believed had been committed by the Klan, including twenty-seven tar-and-feather parties, forty-one floggings, and four murders. In addition, the Klan on occasion resorted to kidnapping, house-burning, simple assault, branding, and mutilation. The intimidating force of its activities in those parts of the country where it was strong can hardly be overemphasized.

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Starting with the s, a new type of urban vigilantism has appeared in a few American cities. Chiefly with the purpose of opposing organized crime, and out of a sense of dissatisfaction with existing police protection, various groups, some black and some white, have begun to organize to patrol the streets. Unlike earlier vigilante organizations, the urban vigilantes organized in the s have tended to cooperate with the police and the authorities, and thus far have shown little disposition to resort to violence.

They have shown, however, some tendency to direct their attention toward race relations, and there is always a certain dangerous potential in the existence of groups of armed civilians, however well-intentioned. Every aspect of violence in our history, from riots to presidential assassinations, has been exacerbated by the fact that ours is a gun culture—a thing without parallel among the industrial nations of the world.

In some measure our gun culture owes its origins to the needs of an agrarian society and to the dangers and terrors of the frontier, but for us the central question must be why it has survived into an age in which only about 5 percent of the population makes its living from farming and from which the frontier has long since gone.

Why did the United States, alone among modern industrial societies, cling to the idea that the widespread substantially unregulated availability of guns among its city population is an acceptable and a safe thing? The Founding Fathers were in dead earnest in their fear of a standing army.

http://debet-kredyt.pl/language/greenup/weqi-localizar-meu.php Historically, therefore, the United States long exhibited the interesting spectacle of an armed population juxtaposed to feeble police and military establishments, a remarkable testimony to public confidence in the loyalty of the citizens and in their disposition, if they were to use their arms at all, to use them only against each other and not against civil authority.

But the notion that the citizen needs a gun to protect himself, a notion now nourished by a gun lobby which is as powerful as it is indifferent to the public safety, is still very widely and intensely felt in the United States. Today, despite the anguished memory of recent assassinations and the expressed interest of a great majority of the public in stronger gun laws, despite the appearance of armed rioters and mounting complaints about criminal and political violence, the nation still lives under the chaotic governance of twenty thousand permissive and porous federal, state, and local laws regulating guns; and the state of the laws still abets assassins, maniacs, impulsive murderers, and potential political terrorists at the expense of the general population and the civic order.

Today the supplies for an armed crowd are more accessible than ever. Because it is the only great nation that will permit their import and sale, the United States provides the only large and rich market for militarily obsolescent but still usable weapons. It is estimated that from to , between five and seven million foreign weapons were imported, and the urban population of the country is probably more heavily armed than at any time in our history. The most stringent federal law still goes no further than to prohibit the mail-order sale of guns and ammunition, and the strongest state laws tend to bar only the carrying of concealed weapons.

American authorities discovered only in the frequent riots of the s how lightly policed their cities were; it was not until the sudden apparition of anarchy in that they concluded that a substantial National Guard was necessary. Americans seem always to have been quite sure that, whatever might happen up the alleys where the modern equivalents of the James and Dalton brothers meet each other and draw, nobody will do anything to challenge the power of government or subvert the American way of life.

It is unfortunate if the citizens insist on attacking each other from time to time with lethal weapons, but past experience shows that such disorders will not shake the government. Blood-letting is republican high spirits in action. The tree of liberty has to be watered by the blood of tyrants and martyrs.

The old American tolerance for the violent act may have been founded on some secret sympathy for it—D.

The historical context

Scott, M. Evolution and Human Behavior , 32 , — And of course the terrorism of nonstate actors is not the only place where those connections can be traced. Advanced Search Find a Library. Michigan Family Review. A mutualistic approach to morality: The evolution of fairness by partner choice.

And then, after the terrible decades of violence from the late s to about , some forms of violent action had reassuringly tended, despite some fluctuations, to go sharply downward until almost yesterday. Lethal vigilantism despite a few murders by the Klan in the s went out with the last century; lynching, long in slow decline, decreased sharply in the s and all but disappeared by the end of the s; violence in labor disputes flared up in a last ugly climax in the s and then abruptly died away.

Perhaps we came to take it for granted that, as all things are supposed to get better, violence would take care of itself too. No historian or sociologist has yet tried to find an answer to the question: How is a particular form of violence, once firmly rooted in the ways of society, done away with? Whatever may happen in the future, in our past, at any rate, local control and the action of the people in the streets have had gory consequences time after time.

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The story of our diminished violence, in those areas of our life where it has in fact largely been brought under control, has been in good part the story of the submergence and defeat of arbitrary, bigoted, self-satisfied local forces by the advancing cosmopolitan sentiment of a larger, somewhat more neutrally minded state, or, better, national public. It has been marked by the replacement of small-town vigilantes by state authorities or national troops; the subordination of local sheriffs harboring secret or even open mob sympathies to the external forces of relatively neutral law, by the supremacy of national laws and standards over state and municipal laws and practices; the replacement of hometown sentiment by metropolitan ways of criminal justice; the subjection of local abuses to the spotlight of national, and even world, opinion; the concentration of nationwide attention on employers and police officers who had counted on being able to terrorize miners, textile hands, or lumber-workers in remote towns on the assumption that nobody would be looking; the establishment of national legal authority over a system of recognized collective bargaining.

This is a country in which the whole is likely to be better than the sum of its parts. On the cover of the June 30, , issue of New Left Notes , the organ of the Progressive Labor faction of Students for a Democratic Society, there is a large woodcut illustration which must surely be one of the minor signs of the times.

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Two young men, one white, one black, are seen crouching on a roof-top above a city in flames. Both are armed with automatic rifles, and both wear, Mexican-fashion, the criss-crossed bandoleers of the rural insurrectionary or bandito. They are revolutionaries, urban guerillas. There is in America today a rising mystique of violence on the left. Those who lived through the rise of European fascism, or who have watched the development of right-wing groups in this country over the last generation, or have fully recognized the amount of violence leveled at civil rights workers in the South, are never surprised at violence cults on the right.

What has been more arresting is the decline of the commitment to non-violence on the left, and the growth of a disposition to indulge or to exalt acts of force or violence. Certain ironies in the new cult of violence are inescapable. The sidewalk Sorels who preach violence know very little about it, and sometimes prove pitifully ineffectual in trying to use it. Those who practice it with the greatest effect—the police and the military—find preaching superfluous. The new prophets of violence are almost certain to become its chief victims if it becomes general and uncontrolled, especially when their own romanticism carries them from the word to the deed.

Historically, violence has not been an effective weapon of the Left, except in that rarest of rare circumstances, the truly revolutionary situation. Under normal circumstances, violence has more characteristically served domineering capitalists or trigger-happy police, peremptory sergeants or fascist hoodlums. And even in our day, I think it should be emphasized, the growing acceptance of violence has been unwittingly fostered from the top of society. The model for violence, which has rapidly eroded the effectiveness of appeals to nonviolent procedures, has been the hideous and gratuitous official violence in Vietnam.

And after having created and made heroes of such a special tactical force as the Green Berets, we should not be altogether surprised to find the Black Panthers wearing their berets and practicing close-order drill.

Religion, Power and Violence: Expression of Politics in Contemporary Times

It may be childishly irrelevant to cite the example of Vietnam as an answer to every reproach for domestic acts of force or violence, but there is in that answer a point of psychological importance that we should not overlook: now, as always, the primary precedent and the primary rationale for violence comes from the established order itself.

Violence is, so to speak, an official reality. No society exists without using force or violence and without devising sanctions for violence which are used to uphold just wars and necessary police actions. But the frequency and the manner in which official violence is used is of signal importance to the legitimation of the civic order.

Politics & Society

Any liberal democratic state is in danger of wearing away its legitimacy if it repeatedly uses violence at home or abroad when the necessity of that violence is wholly unpersuasive to a substantial number of its people. Neither establishments nor revolutionary movements can do without sanctions for violence. What any man sees as a just war or a necessary police action will, of course, depend upon his situation and his politics; but only a few pacifists quarrel with the idea that just wars are conceivable, and only a few utopian anarchists are likely to deny that under some circumstances authorities have to use force or violence to keep order.

The right of revolution is itself an established and sanctified rationale for violence. It can hardly be banished from the established sanctions in a country like America that was born in a revolution. One of our most sacred texts lays down the circumstances under which revolutionary resistance becomes legitimate. In our own time we have no difficulty in thinking of some tyrants against whom the right of revolution was or could have been justifiably invoked, and responsibly so when the circumstances warranted hope of success. Unfortunately, in this age of verbal overkill, the epithet of tyranny can be hurled at any regime that is intensely disliked by a morally self-confident minority, and the prospects of revolutionary success may seem astonishingly good to those who gull themselves with their own miscalculations and fantasies.