lehreonline.net - Prof. Dr. Ulrich Hoinkes

Kira Seeler

How should we act in times like these and how does Moral Philosophy fit into our contemporary social frame? How should we handle all the threats and dangers in a philosophical and ethical way? One answer that could be put forward is “radical nonviolence”. The American philosopher and gender-theorist Judith Butler explains that we have a moral problem when social structures are confronted with, for example, radical changes and incidents, and therefore people need to readjust their natural habits and additionally their cultural and ethical behavior. The world changes, the spirit of the age changes, and morals change as well. If a collective ethos isn’t shared within the whole society anymore, and some people still want to claim thoughts of an outdated ethos, things tend to get dangerous, or in other words violent. To address this kind of violence, which is radical in its own way, one could adopt a position radical nonviolence. Butler subdivides nonviolence in a moral position and a political option: Most of the moral positions try to eliminate all reference to power, and the political positions tend to categorize nonviolence as a mode of resistance, and moreover aggressive resistance. Therefore, one needs to carefully distinguish between nonviolence and violence, as nonviolence often tends to be interpreted as violence, regarding the angle and the position of a party. Butler says further that the traditional conception of self-defense is very important when discussing nonviolence. It is in a way an ethnical dilemma.

One other way to look at radical nonviolence, regarding radical changes, comes from Paul Mason, a British journalist and author. In his book PostCapitalism-A Guide to Our Future he says that capitalism comes in 50-year cycles or waves. Like Marx, Mason thinks of a possible breakdown of capitalism under the weight of its own internal contradictions. In addition, the rise of new media and information technology will destroy market systems, property rights, and the relationship between wages, property, and work. But this is not simply a negative. To the contrary – it will open up the possibility of a brave new world. If we don’t change, warns Paul Mason, we will end in chaos.

To answer the question, stated in the beginning, one could begin by looking at Butler’s theory and mirror/strengthen it with the help of Mason’s thought.  Mason says that the economy has to change, as the world is changing, which is the same position as Butler. As Mason acknowledges, one should not underestimate the capacity of capitalism to adapt to new circumstances, and most importantly he suggests a radical way to answer radical threats, again in a similar manner as Butler. He suggests that change, even though it’s radical, can have positive connotations and that fear is a chance to make the world better. Both thinkers are suggesting a non-violent change.