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War is War is Starship Troopers

(To read the entire "War is War” series, please click here.)

 Let’s start this post with a little honesty. As a soldier, I was never a very good shot. Sure, I qualified expert once, indoors, with an ACOG, but for the most part, I worked the radio better than I worked the M4. (I was pretty good with a machine gun, but that was Rangerrrrrrrr School.)

So last February, when I took aim and fired at Robert Heinlein, the literary uber-mench of the “War-is-war”-iors crowd, I missed. See, I aimed at his book, Starship Troopers, and a particular passage by Colonel Dubois on violence (naked force and its ability to settle conflicts).

Unfortunately, Heinlein quotes don’t always come from Heinlein. In this case, one of the lasting “war-is-war”-ior quotes comes from the movie Starship Troopers, again said by our dear Lt. Rasczak/Colonel Dubois:

(Who ends up commanding either a company or platoon in the film. Who knows how those wacky Federation Mobile Infantry units organize themselves. And also, why did Lt. Rasczak not instantly recognize Rico. He was in his class for a semester, in Buenos Aires, what, a couple months before that?)

‘Violence, the supreme authority from which all others are derived...”
               Lt. Jean Rasczak
               Starship Troopers, the film

This quote lives on in forums and discussion boards. It has popped up in Yahoo Answers and TV Tropes “Violence Really Is The Answer”. Courtney M. of Great Satans Girlfriend and Wings Over Iraq fame has linked to it twice as well. (And on this website, where we got the picture for today’s post.)

We can’t establish a realist, Hobbesian view of the world by using one quote about violence. So I ask, is the supreme authority “violence”, from which all others are derived? What is the proof, philosophical or otherwise?

First, no philosophers (that I know of) have proven, logically, that all authority derives from one central, higher authority. Maybe Plato, but his central pivot wasn’t violence. In fact, in Neo-Platonic and Neo-Platonic inspired Gnosticism, violence is a corruption of the good/ideal.

Second, if there were a central authority, why would it be violence? I know Hobbes comes to mind, maybe. Even so most people haven’t actually read Hobbes. He doesn’t argue that violence is the supreme authority, simply that nature, in its complete state, is shockingly violent. This comes from both nature and humanity. (In ye olden tymes, remember, man feared wolves, bears and beasts as much as each other.)

I prefer Hannah Arendt’s discussion of power, violence and authority, as different forces influencing humanity and society. Power and violence are different, and power has many different tools besides violence.

Third, from a Christian perspective, wouldn’t this authority be God Almighty? I--for one--don’t interpret/worship the Lord God as an incarnation of sheer, malevolent violence. If you do, please re-read the New Testament. In fact, every major religion invariably places another authority over Violence. The Golden Rule and plenty of Christian teachings specifically condemn violence. The statement above either indicates one is an atheist, or should be amended, “In human endeavors, God (submit deity here) endowed violence as the ultimate authority in human affairs.” That doesn’t work nearly as well.

Fourth, from an atheistic scientific perspective, where is the evidence? The world before man was filled with eating, and dying, but also birth. In fact, the number of deaths in the world have always been exceeded by the number of births. An ecosystem could be viewed as a Hobbesian battle for supremacy, or an intricate web of interconnected cooperation and symbiosis. Pessimist or optimist, you can’t rely on science to prove that violence is the supreme authority. Some science suggests that cooperation has done more for man than violence. Think corporations, governments, religious organizations and even the Army. Before you have widespread violence, Armies must cooperate to deal it out.

Violence is a powerful force in our society. No argument from me here. But it isn’t the highest authority. It isn’t the supreme authority. That is an important distinction.

two comments

I just hate quotes, I guess. But I can’t wait for tomorrow’s post.


Without the threat of violence, laws are merely suggestions. Is there a counterpoint to this?