Civilization and Violence: Regimes of Representation in Nineteenth-Century Colombia

Civilization and Violence: Regimes of Representation in Nineteenth-Century Colombia

Civilization and Violence: Regimes of Representation in Nineteenth-Century Colombia

Civilization and Violence: Regimes of Representation in Nineteenth-Century Colombia

Excerpt

When one examines what the general function of the concept of civilization
really is, and what common quality causes all these various human attitudes
and activities to be described as civilized, one starts with a very simple dis
covery: this concept expresses the self-consciousness of the West. One could
even say: the national consciousness
.

NORBERT ELIAS, THE CIVILIZING PROCESS (1939)

Norbert Elias’s history of civilization in Western Europe points to one of the major dilemmas for a scholar dedicated to the study of violence and civilization in a Third World country. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, when European nations believed that they had achieved civilization within their own societies, they saw themselves as “bearers of an existing or finished civilization to others, as standard-bearers of expanding civilization.” The process that made “civilization” an element of the national self-consciousness of the West was the same process that authorized violence in the name of civilization. The self-consciousness of civilization authorized bringing civilization to others by violent means. As he set off for Egypt in 1798, Napoleon announced, “Soldiers, you are undertaking a conquest with incalculable consequences for civilization.” Europe’s passion for conquest in the name of civilization caused the percentage of the earth’s land surface that it controlled to increase from 35 percent in 1800 to 84 percent in 1914.

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