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Virtuous violence and the politics of statecraft in Machiavelli, Clausewitz and Weber

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This article seeks to problematise the dominant understandings of the relationship between politics and violence in political theory. Liberal political theory identifies politics with the pacified arena of the modern state; although violence may sometimes be an instrument for the pursuit of political goals, politics is conceptualised as the ongoing non-violent negotiation of competing rights and interests, and the overall aim of liberalism is to remove violence from the political process. Radical critics deny liberalism's promise to deliver a divorce between politics and violence, but they often share liberalism's premise that politics and violence are distinct in principle, and ought to be so in practice, developing a vision of politics beyond violence. In contrast, the theory of politics and violence that can be read in the work of Machiavelli, Clausewitz and Weber understands politics as immanently connected to violence. Neither politics nor violence is reducible to a singular logic. A distinctively political violence constitutes and polices political distinctions. In doing this political violence is bound up with its own limitations - it is one medium for the construction of a world which, according to these three thinkers, it does not and cannot fully control. Liberal and radical thinkers tend to treat Machiavelli, Clausewitz and Weber in their theory of political power as outdated or, worse, as celebrating the role of violence in politics. In our interpretation, however, their work has the virtue of demonstrating the paradoxes of political action, in particular the complex relationship between politics and violence which is neither one of naturalistic necessity nor pure strategy or instrumentality, but is embedded in politics as statecraft. © 2010 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2010 Political Studies Association.

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