Bosnia - the theory of dediscoursification and Dayton as a continuation of the state of war

Bosnia – the theory of dediscoursification and Dayton as a continuation of the state of war

The theory of dediscoursification explains in detail what exactly happens when language fails; that is, when some political actors gradually come to a realization that, to their shared problems or political conflict, they are unlikely to find a joint solution in the medium of language.

 Suggested Reading Collaborate Analysis

By Dražen Pehar

Over the last few years I have developed a theory of dediscoursification as one of the major causes of armed conflict.[1] The Key premise of the theory may be put in the words of a hero from Canadian writer Margaret Atwood’s novel, “war is what happens when language fails.” The theory of dediscoursification explains in detail what exactly happens when language fails; that is, when some political actors gradually come to a realization that, to their shared problems or political conflict, they are unlikely to find a joint solution in the medium of language, or that their ens loquens is likely to be replaced with ens belli.  The theory aims to elucidate the ways in which something tragically harmful is happening with language in the condition when some individuals use it in an insufficiently rational and considerate, and most importantly in an insufficiently moral, way.

Hence, when you have at least two actors who hold prima facie irreconcilable views of some key issues they consider of critical importance to themselves and their relationship, the two may try to bridge the difference through negotiations, i.e. through the use of language in accordance with some shared, commonly-accepted standards. However, if the two do not use language in accordance with such standards, the phenomenon of dediscoursification will take place, which means that they will cease to believe in the possibility of coming to an agreement within the medium of language, by negotiating. A special kind of silence will descend over such actors, one that indicates not only that the two have no further word to say to one another, but also that one actor started viewing another as a fundamentally immoral user of language: as one who uses it in such a way that the use demonstrates his or her non-sociability and general impenetrability to the negotiating effort. Typically, one actor starts characterizing another as a liar, or as a speaker generally disinclined to offer sound and initially plausible argument, or as incoherent, or often also as a promise-breaker. Whenever such a characterization is given, we know nearly for certain that the users of language will be, at worst, inclined to jump at each other’s throats, or at best, take a significant and enduring distance from each other. In other words, even in the best case scenario, after dediscoursificiation takes its toll in a social relationship, the relationship ceases to be, that is, the actors are no longer capable of forming a coherent whole, an association.

One of the key theses of the theory of dediscoursification reads as follows: such arriving at a conclusion concerning a discourse of one’s at least potential partner can be, and often is, fully based on rational grounds. In other words, one who characterizes another actor as a dediscoursifier, as a party who uses language in the way that ‘annihilates’ language itself, which opens the door to the use of non-discursive means as a tool of political conflict resolution, can be fully right in two senses: the dediscoursifier violates some intersubjectively valid standards of the use of discourse, and, secondly, his or her violation reaches the point at which one who qualifies him or her as a dediscoursifier cannot escape his own conclusion despite his best intentions. I deem this to be an acceptable idea simply due to the fact that the description of a speaker as a liar, or as a promise-breaker, can be both rational and well-founded, and can also be inter-subjetively valid in the sense that all rational users of language are likely to agree with such a description. However, we should also bear in mind that dediscoursification is in some societies generated as a cultural pattern; it is promoted through some stereotypes ‘triggered’ in some critical moments: for instance, in some societies one who aims to resolve political problems or conflicts by negotiating is valued less than those who respond to the fact of conflict by some violent response: as, for example, those who dare to fight physically for ‘the right’ that they claim.[2] I will here put such kind of propagation of dediscoursification aside – I think it is much less interesting than the case in which dediscoursification takes place through a series of experiences with an actual partner to an actual communicative process.

Hence, for a start, we should memorize that dediscoursification is a process triggered by some violations of some discursive values that, within a society, have the status of both discursive and moral values: for instance, truth, rational and coherent argumentation, and fulfilment of promise, without which language obviously would not make sense nor serve as a key means of the securing of cooperation within a group.[3] Implementation of such values reminds us of the fact that language is indeed a foundational, or Ur-, institution to any community, and that all other institutions depend on this basic one. There is no way for a functional institution to be staffed by liars or by those who often utter contradictions or by promise-breakers. The institutions that are so staffed disintegrate rapidly. The violation of discursive values as also moral ones lead unavoidably to the conclusion on principled non-sociability of some actors, which then leads to the conclusion that one is unable to arrive in partnership with such actors at an agreement concerning some issues that are of vital importance to a political conflict; this is, as the theory points out, a truly grave and dangerous situation: the other is taken as somebody over which we cannot exert a verbal influence, and as somebody who does not want to exert such influence over us. To this the process of dehumanization will soon follow as well simply because a human being defines him- or herself primarily as a being endowed with logos, a capacity of reasoned use of discourse; to which a tension, insecurity, distrust, uncertainty then follow automatically – in such a condition a noise of bumble bee is all one need to trigger the avalanche of violence, metaphorically speaking.

Obviously, the theory of dediscoursification is set on premises of discourse-ethics. There are many advocates of such ethical perspective, which is in contemporary setting normally related to the work of Karl Otto Apel and Jürgen Habermas.[4] However, it is important to have in mind that the tradition of discourse-ethics is much older than Apel or Habermas. I personally find some advocates of discourse-ethics who are more practice-oriented, and who standard philosophical or historical presentations do not include, much more inspiring and informative than either Apel or Habermas: for instance, a classical Greek rhetorician and theorist of language, Isocrates, or his follower from the era of Second Sophistic, Publius Aelius Aristides, and certainly George Orwell and Hannah Arendt among modern analysts.[5] Looking from the angle of political theory, the theory of dediscoursification leans primarily on two theoretical approaches: first, generally, in the sense of its conceptualization of the state of war, the theory draws on Hobbes and Clausewitz who both insist that “war is a continuation of politics by other means.” Secondly, and more specifically, the theory draws on republican political theory that theorizes the notion of liberty in light of the master-slave relationship as a relationship of primarily discursive character, and also as a relationship that involves continuation of the state of war through the period of an apparent peace (typically, a master treats his slave as ‘the spoils of war’).[6] Finally, from an epistemological-methodological point of view, the theory of dediscoursification adheres to the principles of methodological individualism – whenever we address the issue of dediscoursifying, we have to address some specific individuals as concrete users of language within a specific social-political context.[7] It is undeniable that a whole bunch of people suffers from an armed conflict, but we should not forget that, to a large extent, war is an effect of a flawed way in which some individuals use, and relate to, their own language primarily.

From the angle of empirical relevance of the theory of dediscoursification, I deem it well-grounded and supported by many examples from political history. The frequency with which some political actors assume a meta-lingual perspective concerning some other actors’ language, in the periods preceding the outbreak of war, is high; in other words, in the periods preceding the start of armed violence, some actors explicitly describe the other actors’ language as fundamentally flawed and irreparable: Egyptian president Nasser in 1968 emphasized that the force of arms is “the only language Israel understands;” similarly to Nasser, prior to the outbreak of war with Sparta in 5th century BC, Athenian statesman Pericles concluded that “they [Spartans] prefer war to negotiation as a means of settling the issue of complaints [about the Athenian way of interpreting of a clause of Thirty Year Peace]”, while the British Prime minister Chamberlain’s declaration of war against Germany in 1939 contains the following words: “The situation in which no word given by Germany’s ruler could be trusted, and no people or country could feel itself safe had become intolerable.” [8] The theory of dediscoursification is capable of providing a detailed and persuasive explanation of the ways through which the said political actors drew the conclusions embodied in the above propositions, and also through which some other political actors drew similar conclusions in similar situations (for instance, Milošević at the time of the collapse of Rambouillet negotiations, or Frederick Douglass in the aftermath of notorious ‘Dred Scott’ ruling by the US Supreme Court, which was one of the major causes of American Civil War).

To the readers from Balkans, or to those who are keenly interested in political relations within the region, the most interesting question may be put as follows: how is it with the process of dediscoursifying in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), especially prior to the outbreak of 1992-1995 armed violence, and perhaps even today?

Dražen Pehar has a PhD in politics and international relations from Keele University (SPIRE 2006), holds an assistant professorship (BiH) in the philosophy of law and in politics with sociology. Dražen is a DiploFoundation Associate, and previously served as Chief of Staff to the BiH Federation President (1996) and as a media analyst to the OHR (1999/2000). Dražen is also part of the Institute for Social and Political Research (IDPI), a member of theGlobal Coalition for Conflict Transformation

The second part of this paper will be published tomorrow.

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1) See Pehar (2011, 81-89), (2012), (2013); for some early response, see Matteucci (2012) and Chamberlain (2013); in my previous work I used the word ‘dediscoursation;’ following a sensible suggestion by Philip Pettit, the term is now changed to ‘dediscoursification.’

2) Also we need to remember that some nations are inclined to characterize themselves as nations ‘that in the times of peace lose the gains made in the times of war;’ we find such a cultural stereotype in diverse nations, for which see (2013, 14).

3) More precisely, in Pehar (2013) I advocate the view that such discursive values can be reduced to four foundamental ones: ‘meaning’, ‘truth’, ‘reason’, and ‘promising.’

4) Apel (1973), Habermas (1983); also Kettner (2006)

5) Orwell (1961), Arendt (1972)

6) For the principles of republican political theory, see, for example, Pettit (1999) and Bobbio, Viroli (2003)

7) Those who are interested in the perspective of methodological individualism should consult primarily the work by Jon Elster.

8) For the sources, see Pehar (2013, 3).

What are the principles of conflict transformation?



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