chapter  13
Pages 24

As cosmopolitan intellectuals, as observers, interpreters, and critics of global movements and historical events, Fanon seems to press on us the necessity to take sides: for violence or against. Among Fanon’s contemporaries, perhaps the most celebrated parties to the debate surrounding Fanon’s stance on violence were Jean-Paul Sartre and Hannah Arendt. In Sartre’s Preface to The Wretched of the Earth, he suggests that the asymmetry of violence through which the colonizing European upholds an exclusive claim to “humanity” can be righted only by violence from the other side; that the Hegelian struggle for recognition is achieved when the formerly colonized turn violence back on their European masters. Sartre’s celebration of this violence in the service of history is matched in vehemence only by Arendt’s disgust. In “On Violence,” she suggests that “the new undeniable glorification of violence by the student movement [of the late 1960s]” can only be explained by “the ignorance and nobility of sentiment of people exposed to unprecedented events and developments without any means of handling them mentally” (Arendt 1972:122). Fanon, in Arendt’s view, is largely to blame, for although she qualifies her condemnation by suggesting that Fanon’s text might contain a more complex and qualified assessment of violence, her continual evocation of Fanon as the exemplary influence promoting the new glorification of violence would imply that such complexities are ultimately of little matter. Does revolutionary violence liberate its agents to a new level of humanity? or does it further enslave its agents in animalistic passions which can never contribute to history or be historical? Is such violence a historical necessity for humanity or a corruption of humanity? For Sartre, violence is the only means of historical change. For Arendt, violence is mere animalistic behavior that cannot change anything; change will only come through positive human action.