By Hossein Aghababa (Tehran)


American History X: Violence and Democracy

The movie is about two brothers named Derek Vineyard (Edward Norton) and Danny Vineyard. Derek is a skinhead leader of a neo-Nazi group whose younger brother is deeply influenced by him. One night, two black kids attempt to steal Derek’s car when Derek realizes and kill both of them. He kills one of them so violently by kicking on his head while his mouth is on the groove. Shortly after his crime, he is arrested by cops and sentenced to jail for three years. He has stories in prison which have been depicted by director with hurry. Although Derek realizes the secret trades among his prisoner so-called racist friends and others like blacks and Hispanics, the viewer is hardly convinced how Derek, a violent racist, converted to a refreshed person. The story is centered on the concept “racism”. However, it is not all about racism. It is also about violence. The name of the movie is also interesting. As far as “X” refers to something unknown, American History as a whole is not something unknown. The lower layers of the movie describe a seemingly endless violence in an American society. Violence is not just beating, gangs’ street struggles, and murders. It may have other forms.

Religious and political ideologies have been the cause of interpersonal violence throughout history [1] Ideologues often falsely accuse others of violence, such as the ancient blood libel against Jews, the medieval accusations of casting witchcraft spells against women, caricatures of black men as “violent brutes” that helped excuse the late 19th century Jim Crow laws in the United States, [2] and modern accusations of satanic ritual abuse against day care center owners and others [3].

Both supporters and opponents of the 21st century War on Terrorism regard it largely as an ideological and religious war [4] Vittorio Bufacchi describes two different modern concepts of violence, one the “minimalist conception” of violence as an intentional act of excessive or destructive force, the other the “comprehensive conception” which includes violations of rights, including a long list of human needs [5].

Anti-capitalists assert that capitalism is violent. They believe private property, trade, interest and profit survive only because police violence defends them and that capitalist economies need war to expand [6]. They may use the term “structural violence” to describe the systematic ways in which a given social structure or institution kills people slowly by preventing them from meeting their basic needs, for example the deaths caused by diseases because of lack of medicine [7]. Free market supporters argue that it is violently enforced state laws intervening in markets – state capitalism – which cause many of the problems anti-capitalists attribute to structural violence [8].

Frantz Fanon critiqued the violence of colonialism and wrote about the counter violence of the “colonized victims [9] [10]”. Throughout history, most religions and individuals like Mahatma Gandhi have preached that humans are capable of eliminating individual violence and organizing societies through purely nonviolent means. Gandhi himself once wrote: “A society organized and run on the basis of complete non-violence would be the purest anarchy [11].” Modern political ideologies which espouse similar views include pacifist varieties of voluntarism, mutualism, anarchism and libertarianism.

Beyond these efforts to explain the violence, it is worth stepping back and considering the relationship between violence and democracy. In Politics as a Vocation, Max Weber reminds us that the state is that entity that which successfully claims a ‘monopoly on the legitimate use of violence’. The key to his definition are the twin notions of monopoly and legitimacy [12].

This movie did not go through these details on violence. However, when it comes to American history, violence definition should be able to cover many aspects. Violence is like an essential requirement for a democratic state. A democratic society needs free economic and private sector. Consequently, competition is an undeniable fact in democratic societies. There is not a long distance between competition and violence. In a society whose main pillar is democracy, the people are forced to secure themselves economically. In such societies, the state is not a godfather bargaining freedom with economy. American history has come all the way from violent days, whose one of its aspects is racism, to democracy. As long as people and politicians try to establish an ideal society, the violence is an inevitable affair.

Rating: 5/5

1. “Doctrinal War: Religion and Ideology in International Conflict”, in Bruce Kuklick (advisory ed.), The Monist: The Foundations of International Order, Vol. 89, No. 2 (April 2006), p. 46.
2. The Brute Caricature, Ferris State University Museum of Racist Memorabilia.
3. 42 M.V.M.O. Court Cases with Allegations of Multiple Sexual And Physical Abuse of Children.
4. John Edwards’ ‘Bumper Sticker’ Complaint Not So Off the Mark, New Memo Shows; Richard Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror, Free Press; 2004; Michael Scheuer, Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, Potomac Books Inc., June, 2004; Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilisation – The Conquest of the Middle East, Fourth Estate, London, October 2005; Leon Hadar, The Green Peril: Creating the Islamic Fundamentalist Threat, August 27, 1992; Michelle Malkin, Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week kicks off, October 22, 2007; John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, Oxford University Press, USA, September 2003.
5. Vittoriio Bufacchi, Two Concepts of Violence, Political Studies Review, April 2005, Volume 3, Issue 2, Page 193-204.
6. Michael Albert Life After Capitalism – And Now Too., December 10, 2004; Capitalism explained.
7. Bruce Bawer, The Peace Racket, September 7, 2007.
8. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, From the Economics of Laissez Faire to The Ethics of Libertarianism.
9. Charles E. Butterworth and Irene Gendzier. “Frantz Fanon and the Justice of Violence.” Middle East Journal, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Autumn, 1974), pp. 451-458
10. Adele Jinadu. “Fanon: The Revolutionary as Social Philosopher.” The Review of Politics, Vol. 34, No. 3 (Jul., 1972), pp. 433-436
11. Bharatan Kumarappa, Editor, “For Pacifists,” by M.K. Gandhi Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, India, 1949.


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