11.07.2019 in Review

Political Sociology

The relationship between state and violence

Development of state and implementation of violence were inseparable throughout the history of the mankind. One of the primary state functions is to provide citizens with security and defense. However, implementation of a certain political order as well as its maintenance has been long associated or identified with abusive methods (Fucuyama, 2005). A state can resort to legal political violation while persecuting the purpose of common good. In order to achieve the set goals, rulers of the state use other policy actors such as parties, terrorist organizations, groups, or individuals. In many cases, violence can be justified as a defensive means, and legally authorized people perform crimes against human rights and freedoms. In general, violence is a deliberate act aimed at destruction of a human or other species or damage of the property and environment. It can be physical, economic, psychological, etc. Referring to the politics, violence means physical intrusion (or non-intrusion) as a means of power implementation. Political violence differs from other forms not only by physical coercion and the ability to deprive a person of liberty or life but also by the legitimacy of destructive actions. In the relatively calm and peaceful times, specially trained people with weapons can perform such executions. Such groups combine rigid organizational discipline and centralized management. Although in times of uprisings and civil wars, the range of subjects of violence is significantly extended by non-professionals.
For centuries, violence has been an important way to resolve acute social contradictions, their reverse side, especially in the relations between nations. Politicians, who did not have the moral values, adhered to physical elimination of the enemy. However, the effectiveness of political violence was very often an illusion. Violence used by both parties caused ferocity, leading to the escalation of the conflict and finally to unnecessary loss of human lives.
Social order is the result of the balance between the contradictions of the original groups and the legitimate non-violent opportunity to achieve the consensus. Some scientists, such as Eugene During, attributed to violence a decisive role in social development, stating it as a leading force for the demolition of the old and the approval of the new (Blindenbacher & Koller 2003). The position of Marxism is close to such an assessment of violence. Marx saw the phenomenon as a “midwife of history” (Blindenbacher & Koller 2003), as an essential attribute of a class society. According to his theory, the class struggle was the driving force of history throughout the existence of private property society. The political violence was its highest expression. Marx believed that with the abolition of classes, social violence would gradually disappear (Blindenbacher & Koller 2003). However, the attempts to realize Marxist ideas in practice led to escalation of social violence, massive loss of lives, and increased suffering.
Pacifists and supporters of non-violent resistance gave the negative assessment of the social role of any violence at all. The teaching of Mahatma Gandhi and the Civil Rights Movement showed the efficiency of the non-violent approach to the rights justification (Zartman 1995). They believed that any abuse doubled the negative effect. The promotion of the social justice and the official confirmation of the rights in court became the primary bases of the efficient fight for the rights and freedoms. They applied to the method of making the opponents suffocate with their pride and anger, and that way showed the possibility of non-violent co-existence. The number of examples of Christian moral behavior also includes non-resistance to evil and love for the enemy.
In general, the public mind, including academics and politicians, adheres to the prevailing attitude toward violence as a necessary evil. They claim its origin from natural imperfections of man or ‘original sin,’ or from the imperfections of social relations (Blindenbacher & Koller 2003). It is recognized that a significant number of modern transnational threats and risks come from failed and uncontrolled states. The history of mankind provides a sufficient amount of empirical material on the total downfall of state institutions in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia, a deep political crisis and instability in Haiti, Rwanda, Liberia, Congo, Afghanistan, and Sierra Leone. Within the framework of political science, such trends have led to a significant spread of the concepts of failed states regarded as one of the main sources of contemporary political violence, instability, and threats.
The implications of failed states in terms of domestic and global violence reveal the threat and abuse of human rights and the destruction of the social order achieved in the industrialized world. Political violence generated by unsuccessful forms of statehood leads to the transformation of state institutions, especially the security forces and judicial system, which fully or partially paralyzes management and excessive use of power. It creates a situation of total chaos and anarchy. Such violence is characterized by explosive dynamics and unpredictable, radical, and irrational outcomes. Rotberg noted that the international community would have to have full legal rights to use violence against such states if their territory were experiencing major violation of human rights or if their existence undermined the security of the international system (Rotberg 2002). Such an approach reveals the confrontation between the right of states to autonomy and the right of people to safety.
In the context of failed states, governing functions pass to the criminal groups, persecuting individuals, or corporate interests. Methods of system analysis allow to follow the path of simplifying control and hierarchy. Simplification of the system leads to a conflict with the environment, which on the contrary, has become increasingly complex. The contradiction creates a significant gap between the capabilities of the failed state and the requirements from the external environment. To a large extent, the specific nature of political violence in the failed states originates from the network structure of power.
Distribution of failed states started in the 90s and was associated with the emergence of new countries, the rapid change of the borders, general instability, and increasing globalization. Keddie noticed that division of the world politics led to the rapid formation of new non-state actors which began to use power tools and create new models of political legitimacy (Keddie 1997). The crisis of weak states manifested the case when the institutions were not able to maintain social and political credibility.
Promotion of the concept of ‘failed states’ began in 1993 from the reports of Madeleine Albright at the UN (Blindenbacher & Koller 2003). Further, the issue was investigated by U.S. researchers Helman and Ratner, who advocated the transfer of the rights of the United Nations to analyze the unmanageable territories worldwide. In their understanding, failed states were not able to maintain the functioning of their vital institutions and structures, thus presenting a threat both to native citizens and international community (Blindenbacher & Koller 2003).
One of the first attempts to analyze and justify the relationship between the state and the collapse caused by new subjects of political violence was made by William Zartman in The Collapse of the State published in 1995. He described the decline of a state as a situation where it could no longer perform most of its vital functions (Zartman 1995).
Zartman reasonably noticed that the legitimacy of the non-traditional models of political violence was most likely based on the relationship between patronage and cronyism, which differed significantly from the principles of the rational-legal model proposed by Max Weber (Zartman 1995). The incompetent and failed states legitimacy crisis undermines the constructive relationship between the institutions of the society, weakens the state, and leads to the increase in justified abuse. This occurs due to the formation of new conflicting sources of legitimacy, which does not allow to establish acceptable rules of the game.

The Relationship between Modernity, Secularism and Religion

In general meaning, secularization is the process of reducing the role of religion in public life (Pecora, 2006). It implies the transition from a society governed mainly by religious tradition, to a secular social model on the basis of rational, non-religious norms. The secularization of society can mean a decrease in religiosity, reflected in the decline in attendance of religious buildings, a departure from strict adherence to religious practices, dissemination of atheism, and others.
Some sociologists use the term secularization for expressing the transition from religious regulation of public and state institutions to the rationalization of their activities (London, 2013). With this definition, the growth of personal religiosity does not contradict with the secularization. The religion remains a free individual choice, and the authorities fail to justify their decisions on religious bases. For example, increased religiosity in connection with the massive spread of Protestantism in South Korea and Latin America and the growth of Christian fundamentalism in the United States is not a departure from secularism (London, 2013).
The role of the state in the process of secularization implies the reasonability and dimensions of state intrusion upon the question of religion. Some social scientists believe that secularization is an irreversible process which leads to a steady reduction in the scope of the religion (Keddie, 1997). For others, secularization is a modification of the method of social expression of religion that replaced the hidebound forms, but religion still exists (London, 2013). Modern sociology distinguishes three phases of secularization:

  • The secularization as the loss of ‘the sacred’.
  • The secularization as the displacement of religion by science, rational thought, secular ethics.
  • The secularization of the evolution of religion and its modification in the course of social change (London, 2013).

A study by American scientists, published in 2008, confirmed the validity of the hypothesis of secularization among the leading scientists of the USA. The share of natural scientists who do not profess any religion rose from 40.3% in 1969 to 55.0% in 2005. However, among the social sciences, the figure fell from 50.4% in 1969 to 47.4% in 2005. (London, 2013).
The process of secularization in the United States is different from secularization in Europe because the vast majority of the US population do not refer themselves to any religion. According to a poll Pew Research Center, conducted in 2012, one-fifth of the US population do not consider themselves bound by any religion (Kilty & Segal, 2012). Over the past 5 years, the proportion of US citizens not affiliated with any religion rose from 15 to 20%. Among them, 13 million Americans (6% of the population) describe themselves as atheists or agnostics and even 33 million people (14% of the population) say they have no specific religious affiliation. Two-thirds of US citizens believe that religion in general is losing influence on American life. Most of them think it is a bad process. However, people, who say that they have no particular religious affiliation, are less likely to consider it bad. Atheists and agnostics in the vast majority see it as a benefit to society (Kilty & Segal, 2012).
The sociologists distinguish four theories of secularization. The first theory relates the process to political background. Some leading researchers believe that young people have moved away from organized religions because they perceived them deeply interwoven with conservative politics and did not want to be associated with it. Among the manifestations of conservatism the young focused on the issues of abortion rights and gay rights (Pecora, 2006). The second theory relates to the broader process of social and demographic trends, including young people delaying marriage and childbirth. Studies have shown that the probability of relatedness with religion is higher among young people who have a family than the unmarried. A third theory links the process with full social independence. According to this hypothesis, the growth of people not related to religion, is part of a general tendency of Americans to live a separate life and be less involved in the joint activity or belong to any social group. The fourth theory states that the growth of non-believers is subject to secularization. In the 1960s, when the theory of secularization became known, there were predictions that religion would weaken in the 21st century (Pecora, 2006).
Nowadays, these theories have become more subtle: for example, there was an assumption, that religion reduced its influence in countries with high living standards, whereas in regions with low levels where people felt more threats to their well-being and health, they were more religious (Willes, 2007).. This dependence has been confirmed by studies in different countries. However, the 2007 study in the United States have shown that they are the exception to this rule since the high religiosity of Americans corresponds to a good level of welfare. Some theorists consider the growth of non-religious people as a sign of the spread of secularization in the US (Willes, 2007).
Secularization hypothesis that emerged in the mid XX century, argued that over time religion would be completely expelled from the society by science and technology (Willes, 2007). A softer version of this hypothesis was that religion did not disappear completely, but would lose its influence. According to this view, silence or a negative image of religious leaders and religious practices in the media are the outward signs of secularization. Many researchers who hold secularization hypothesis, suggests that it raises a number of social and psychological problems, leading to the spread of apathy, cynicism, excessive desire to purchase and consumption of material goods at the expense of spiritual values.  Secularization also contributes to the spread of atheism in its various forms: from the active denial of God and the values of religion in a secular humanism to the passive indifference of members of religious organizations, religious morality.
By the end of XX century, the inevitability of secularization hypothesis has been rejected by a number of scientists because it contradicted the following phenomena (Willes, 2007). Statistics show a high interest in the preservation of religion and atheism perspectives, even in countries with a high level of science and technology (eg in the US). Trends on the failure of society and religion are part of a general trend to reduce the social involvement. Secularization in regions with clearly lower level of religiousness (eg, in Europe) is an anomaly caused by the unusual socio-cultural factors (Cohel, 2006).
In fact, the followers of the theory of secularization started rejecting from their former views (London, 2013).  They have come to the conclusion that the assumption that we live in a secularized world, is erroneous. Existential questions are eternal, and their decision is always beyond the rational determination, so the religious answer will always have a place in human experience: as a result the religion as a whole is developing, and secularization has its limits

Difference in Poverty and Inequality Reduction

Poverty reduction implies the decrease of the amount of relatively poor people in the state and the reduction of inequality means the minimizing of the inequality index. The last shows the proportion of the total country’s income redistribution among the citizens (Abramsky, 2013).
The problem of income distribution in a society has a long and controversial history, both in economic and in philosophic aspects. Practice shows that income inequality exists in one or another form in any social order. However, different states manage the proportions differently. The main question about the distribution of national income is the definition of a reasonable degree of income inequality and finding the best ways of its regulation (Bartels, 2008). There is no a universal answer to this question among economic theorists. The basis of the controversy is the ratio between equality and the effective ways of its achievement.
Poverty is a relative concept because the same income equivalent estimated in dollars, for example, shows access to absolutely different opportunities in different countries (Bartels, 2008). Poverty brings together a large number of sociological concepts and categories, in particular, such as economic status and income, social stratification and inequality, the distribution of national wealth and standard of living, culture and subculture under-class lifestyle and deprivation, the necessities of life and consumer basket, poor socialization and others. The inequality means not only a minimum income, but the lifestyle and way of life, standards of conduct, and certain stereotypes of perception (Bartels, 2008). It can be defined as a special social phenomenon, characterized by the economic and socio-cultural status of people who have limited freedom of action, choice and opportunity, as well as access to social benefits.
With regard to poverty indicators, the simplest and most widely used is the poverty index, defined as the proportion of people whose consumption, or other applicable measure of living standards, less than the poverty line (Green, 2008). Less often sociologists use indicator of the depth of poverty or the poverty gap, which is based on the difference between the poverty line and the level of the corresponding indicator of welfare (consumption, expenses, income) of the poor. For example, in the United States the richest 0.05% of US families own 35% of the value of personal property while the middle class constituting owns only 30% of total property value. The lowest rungs of the economic ladder represent more than 34 million. It is 14.4% of the US population (Abramsky, 2013).
In the 80 years, it has been proposed the subjective approach to poverty assessment. This approach explicitly recognizes that any definition of the poverty line due to the nature of the measured phenomena is based on subjective judgments of people about what the socially acceptable minimum standard of living is in every particular society. Methods of implementation of this approach are based on surveys revealing the relationship between the notions adequate minimum income and its actual level (Blindenbacher& Koller, 2003).
The Gini coefficient is a statistical measure of the degree of social stratification of the country or region in relation to any of the studied trait. The Gini coefficient ranges from 0 to 1. (Willes, 2007). The closer the value to zero, the more evenly distributed index is. Such estimation can be defined as a macroeconomic indicator of states inequality. It shows the differentiation of incomes of the population as a degree of deviation of the actual distribution of income from perfectly equal distribution among the inhabitants of the country. According to the 2009 estimations, Gini Index of the Scandinavian countries shows the best level of social equality. It rates less than 0.30. American Gini index is up to 0. 5. It is the same as in Mexico, China and some countries of Latin America (Abramsky, 2013).
The people who believe that ordinary Americans are rich do not take into consideration that life costs are relatively high in the USA. The average estimation of the middle class conducted in 2009 showed that Americans had a lower index of equality than Swedes, Netherlanders, Germans, Norwegians, Italians, French, Finns, Danes, Canadians, Japanese, Australians, Spaniards and Englishmen (Abramsky, 2013). In short, they were trailing at the end of the list of the ‘civilized world.’ One in five American homeless actually had a job, but nevertheless they did not earn enough money for paying the rent of a room. Many of them lived in their cars. The old machine cost was cheaper than pay for the rent. 15% of American households lived below the poverty line. 42% of the US population currently lives near the poverty line. 36 million of Americans are starving (Abramsky, 2013). The average American is forced to relocate every 3 years in the hope of finding a job. It means that every other time he is fired. Trade Unions lose their efficiency and along with them, people loose the rights for the paid sick leave, vacation or the insurance.
Another indicator of the standard of living of the US population is the right for medical insurance that covers the costs of treatment. The number of people, living and working without health insurance, increased to 800 thousand. Among the developed countries, the United States reside the22th position in children’s poverty (Bartels,2008). Of the 20 most developed countries of the world, the United States was the latest in terms of growth of aggregate remuneration of labor. At the same time, Americans work more hours per year than in any other industrialized country and have shorter holidays.
According to the statistic information given above, the United State is the country with striking inequality in the total country’s’ income redistribution. The historically stipulated support of the private sector has led to competition enhancement in the conditions of the world economic crises. This factor even worsened the inequality gap, driving more and more middle class families to the verge of poverty. In my opinion, it is the high time for the state take responsibility for the reconsideration of the states income redistribution politics and improvement of the welfare standards.

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