Naming Violence

A Critical Theory of Genocide, Torture, and Terrorism

Mathias Thaler

Columbia University Press

Naming Violence

Google Preview

Pub Date: September 2018

ISBN: 9780231188142

248 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $65.00£50.00

Pub Date: September 2018

ISBN: 9780231547680

248 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $64.99£50.00

Naming Violence

A Critical Theory of Genocide, Torture, and Terrorism

Mathias Thaler

Columbia University Press

Much is at stake when we choose a word for a form of violence: whether a conflict is labeled civil war or genocide, whether we refer to “enhanced interrogation techniques” or to “torture,” whether a person is called a “terrorist” or a “patriot.” Do these decisions reflect the rigorous application of commonly accepted criteria, or are they determined by power structures and partisanship? How is the language we use for violence entangled with the fight against it?

In Naming Violence, Mathias Thaler articulates a novel perspective on the study of violence that demonstrates why the imagination matters for political theory. His analysis of the politics of naming charts a middle ground between moralism and realism, arguing that political theory ought to question whether our existing vocabulary enables us to properly identify, understand, and respond to violence. He explores how narrative art, thought experiments, and historical events can challenge and enlarge our existing ways of thinking about violence. Through storytelling, hypothetical situations, and genealogies, the imagination can help us see when definitions of violence need to be revisited by shedding new light on prevalent norms and uncovering the contingent history of ostensibly self-evident beliefs. Naming Violence demonstrates the importance of political theory to debates about violence across a number of different disciplines from film studies to history.
All naming of extreme violence–genocide, torture, terrorism–conveys a political judgment. Exploring the politics of naming, Mathias Thaler questions the binary of moralism and unreconstructed realism and brilliantly shows how storytelling, thought experiments, and genealogies nourish our imagination and thereby contribute to better orient our reflective judgments. A remarkably original contribution to a judgment-based approach to politics. Alessandro Ferrara, University of Rome Tor Vergata, author of The Force of the Example: Explorations in the Paradigm of Judgment
In Naming Violence, Mathias Thaler asks how we can get beyond a stalemate between moralist and realist approaches in the political theory of violence, with an emphasis particularly on the critique of 'ideal,' definitional approaches. He argues that the imagination is key to an alternative way of approaching violence as a political theorist. This book makes both a very strong contribution to the literature within political theory on political violence and a broader contribution to metatheoretical debates about how to do political theory. Kimberly Hutchings, Queen Mary University of London, author of International Political Theory: Rethinking Ethics in a Global Era
Forcefully arguing against realists and moralists, Thaler rescues the category of imagination as a way of providing critical tools to show us how things could have been different and develops a new understanding of how cruelty and suffering have to be re-described to meet each historical moment. This is, indeed, a brave way to face the urgent problem of the violence of our times. María Pía Lara, author of The Disclosure of Politics: Struggles Over the Semantics of Secularization
Although a ubiquitous political phenomenon, violence is notoriously difficult to conceptualize. Dominant paradigms in political theory are flawed; moralism sanitizes violence while realism shies away from crucial matters of evaluation. Thaler’s impressive and insightful 'politics of naming' demonstrates how historically grounded appreciation of violence’s protean character may be linked to an orienting normativity. He sheds light not just on the problem of violence but also on fundamental issues such as the role that imagination plays in reasoning and the nature of political judgment. This is a brilliant, thought-provoking, and timely study and a much-needed exemplar of engaged political theorizing. Lois McNay, Oxford University, author of The Misguided Search for the Political
In a world replete with acts of violence that are deeply contested and difficult to respond to evaluatively, Mathias Thaler's Naming Violence proposes a form of political theorizing that allows us to respond to such acts while acknowledging the messiness and complexity of our judgments alongside a defense of the need to judge. Avoiding moralism and unreflective realism, Thaler's writing exemplifies the power of imaginative judgment with exceptional clarity. Engaging with film, thought experiments, and genealogy, Naming Violence provides us with a powerful toolbox to support thinking and theorizing as democratic practice. Aletta Norval, Anglia Ruskin University, author of Aversive Democracy: Inheritance and Originality in the Democratic Tradition
Acknowledgments
1. Political Theory Between Moralism and Realism
2. Telling Stories: On Art’s Role in Dispelling Genocide Blindness
3. How to Do Things with Hypotheticals: Assessing Thought Experiments About Torture
4. Genealogy as Critique: Problematizing Definitions of Terrorism
5. The Conceptual Tapestry of Political Violence
Notes
Bibliography
Index

About the Author

Mathias Thaler is senior lecturer in political theory at the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of Moralische Politik oder politische Moral? Eine Analyse aktueller Debatten zur internationalen Gerechtigkeit (2008) and the coeditor of On the Uses and Abuses of Political Apologies (2014).