Topic: Critically discuss and debate the reasons put forward by Girard, Arendt and Woolf why individuals and collective groups of people kill on behalf of the state?

1.   Critically discuss and debate the reasons put forward by Girard, Arendt and  Woolf why individuals and collective groups of people kill on behalf of the state?

What is the banality of evil and does that remove any moral responsibility?

Are there differences between individual and collective moral responsibility?

What does it mean to ‘comply with evil’ and can you think of examples of compliance?

How has religion sought to account for (or avoid) complicity in killing?

What is reciprocal violence? Is it ever fair?

Think of the meaning of sacrifice in the 21st Century and its presence or absence in contemporary societies

In marking the Essay (CW3), academic staff will consider:

•     The extent to which the remit of the assignment has been met;

•     A student’s capacity to critically engage with and answer the essay question chosen

•     A student’s understanding of the importance of analytical understanding for deconstructing the contexts of killing, violence and war in global politics;

•     A student’s ability to frame and communicate selected key political issues associated with the politics of killing and its significance to the topic under investigation;

•     Ability to place theoretical issues linked to the practice to a political and/or philosophical context;

•     The clarity and accuracy with which ideas are expressed in the audit of the practice;

•     A student’s ability to engage both critically and reflexively with perspectives of gender and militarisation within global politics and IR.


Essay assessment is a complex process that cannot be reduced to a simple formula. However, it is possible to articulate some of the features that your lecturers will expect to find in each of the marking categories.

First class essays (70-100%) will: address the question or title; follow a structured and signposted sequence; demonstrate familiarity with the relevant literature; present an analysis and evaluation of the ideas and theories discussed; reveal internal integration and coherence; use references and examples to support the claims and arguments made; provide detailed references and sources in the bibliography or reference section; be written in good and grammatically correct English. Differences within the range are usually attributable to differences in the quality of analysis and evaluation and internal integration and coherence.


Hannah Arendt (1963)  Eichman in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (Harmsworth: Penguin), Introduction

Rene Girard (2013) Violence and the Sacred (London: Bloomsbury), Chpt1 ‘Sacrifice’

Denise Ackermann (1996) ‘On Hearing and Lamenting: Faith and Truth-Telling’, in Botman, H. Russel and Petersen, Robin (eds) To Reember and to Heal: Theological and Psychological Reflections on Truth and Reconciliation (Cape Town: Human and Rousseau).

Michel Foucault (1991) ‘Discipline and Punish: The birth of the prison’ (1st Chapter)


•Which practices of killing are we primarily focusing on?

–State violence and war

•Is violence inherent to human existence?

•Why have some societies engaged in acts of mass killing and violence, whereas others have not? 

•How can we challenge, change and stop state violence?

•‘The characteristic act of men at war is not dying, it is killing. For politicians, military strategists and many historians, war may be about the conquest of territory or the struggle to recover a sense of national honour but for the man on active service warfare is concerned with the lawful killing of other people.

•Its peculiar importance derives from the fact that it is not murder, but sanctioned bloodletting, legislated for by the highest civil authorities and obtaining the consent of the vast majority of the population.’

•Joanna Bourke (1999) An Intimate History of Killing, p. 1

Thomas Hobbes: State of Nature

•”Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.“

(1651) Leviathan, p. 78.

•Sigmund Freud: Violence a Human Instinct

•‘Human instinct of aggression and self-destruction’ not just response  thwarted erotic satisfaction, but there is an independent aggressive instinct (Thanatos)

•Civilization originated through violence (overthrowing the father)

•Guilt over killing probably originated in primitive man

Virginia Woolf: Three Guineas

•‘How, in your opinion, are we to prevent war?’

•Education system prepares men for war

•Universities create hierarchies and exclude women

•Uniforms symbolize the masculinity of war and power of men

•Transform education, include and empower women (who are more peaceful) •Are we ‘born to kill’, or is it socially conditioned?

•Under what conditions is killing legitimate?

•What is different about state violence (war)?

•Do some lives matter more than others?

•How do we challenge and change the culture and practice of state (and other) killing?

•Next week: The ‘banality of evil’ and moral responsibility.

–What can explain some of the worst atrocities in history? Can people, or societies be ‘evil’ and what does this mean?

–When (and are) we individually and/or collectively responsible for killing (Germany, South Africa, British Empire etc)?

•Hannah Arendt: radical evil involves making human beings superfluous. This is accomplished when human beings are made into ‘living corpses’ who lack freedom and are interchangeable.

•According to Arendt a distinctive feature of radical evil is that it isn’t done for humanly understandable motives such as self-interest, but merely to reinforce totalitarian control and the idea that everything is possible (Arendt 1951, 437–459)

•‘Under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that “it could happen” in most places but it did not happen everywhere. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can be reasonably asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation’ (Arendt)

•‘Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority’

•Stanley Milgram (1974) Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View,

•‘Perpetrators tend to have less emotions about their acts than do victims…The experience of violence typically fades faster for perpetrators than for victims…moral evaluations differ: actions may appear less wrong, less evil, to the perpetrator than the victim’

•’only a minority [of perpetrators] would have been true believers and only a minority would have been sadists’

•1998 Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Final Report, Volume 6:  274-275 & 299

‘It is therefore not only the task of the security forces to examine themselves and their deeds, it is for every member of the society which served to do so.

Our weapons, ammunition, uniforms, vehicles, radios, and other equipment were all developed and provided by industry. Our finances and banking were done by bankers who even gave us covert credit cards for covert operations. Our chaplains prayed for our victory and our universities educated us in war. Our propaganda was carried by the media, and our political masters were voted back in power time after time with ever-increasing majorities’

•Craig Williamson, South African ‘double agent’ and assassin

•When are we morally accountable for killing?

•Should we be individually accountable in war, or situations we think are warlike?

•Can we be collectively held accountable for killing done in our name?

•Are we naturally obedient, and is ignorance enough to avoid culpability?

•Is there something exceptionally evil about mass killers, or does the banality of evil mean anyone of us could be a perpetrator?

•If most people obey, why do some people not? 

get boom essays

Related Post