SOC203: Lecture 9 18.03.12
Torture: Weber VS Durkheim
1. Torture: some recent examples.
2. Torture as a concept.
3. Can torture be justified?
4. A Weberian argument.
5. A Durkheimian counter-argument.
6. What is the Durkheimian counter-argument missing?
Examples of U.S. military intelligence torture practices in Iraq
- Handcuffs using “flexicuff”
- Beatings with hard objects
- Punching, kicking, slapping
- Being paraded naked
- Prolonged exposure while hooded to hot weather, the sun, loud noises, stress positions
- The Feast of the Goat by Vargas Llosa discusses the depravity of the regime in the
Torture as a concept
- Torture: The infliction of excruciating pain. The torture might be physical or
psychological (e.g. humiliation may inflict psychological pain).
- Torture deals with moral authority.
- This also pits Weber against Durkheim (a position paper almost).
- According to Durkheim, to even consider whether torture is right under circumstances is
wrong and immoral. However, some like Weber say that being a political leader, we need
to make some unethical decisions.
- Lukes is interested in state torture, not criminal torture.
Can torture be justified?
Yes – Weber
- Liberal democratic states.
- Amnesty International is opposed to all forms of torture.
- Ticking-bomb scenario: Reason to believe that a predetermined attack will take place at a
certain time and place and information can be extracted from a suspect in custody.
o Lukes says this isn’t a good way of posing the problem.
o In practice, it is not likely that prisoners in custody of the states will have access
to such information. How can authorities really know that the suspect in custody
have access to such information?
- Weber is not a sentimental thinker when it comes to politics. He says the state is an
association with the monopoly over the use of violence. Violence is central to the
definition of the state. SOC203: Lecture 9 18.03.12
- Weber has a tragic view of politics. He believes that those who become involved in
politics with lovely visions of what’s ahead in practice have to accept that we need to
adopt unsavory/dirty means for good practices.
o Weber says as a politician, if you only engage in good actions, only good actions
will come and vice versa with evil. Sometimes, doing things we think are good
can have negative consequences.
o In politics, we enter a political gray-zone.
o According to Lukes, if one is a serious politician, one must be prepared to use
dirty means to achieve good ends. Under circumstances, it would imply that
torture could be justified.
No – Durkheim
- In 1894, a Jewish captain named Dreyfus was found guilty of treason in France for
passing secrets to the enemy. In 1896, new evidence points to another major general in
the army. Another trial is held, but the major general was found innocent.
- 1) Who did it? 2) Anti-Semitism.
- Were these kangaroo courts where it was impossible for Jews at the time to have a fair
- Anti-Dreyfusairs thought Dreyfus’ trial was an open-and-shut case. They were often
royalist or monarchist with traditional views on society, right-winged, military, and
believed in authority of the Church.
o Even if Dreyfus was innocent, he still did a huge disservice by
o How to maintain unity of France: Not turning matter into public debate to create
public division, not question authority of the military. The key was to uphold
traditional institutions in French society to keep France united.
o Zola accused the judges of supporting the military where Dreyfus did not have a
o There is a mistake in believing that Dreyfus has certain rights because for
conservatives national interests trumped individual interests (e.g. avoid inserting
divisive conflict into French society).
o Explaining the view of the conservatives: France had just fought a war against the
Prussians and their defeat was still fresh. In addition, WWI was on the horizon.
Thus, the conservatives wanted to preserve unity in the face of a common enemy.
Europe was losing influence in global affairs to Americans and Soviets,
- The Dreyfusairs believe he was mistreated, his crime was to be Jewish, left-winged,
socialists, believed the French Church had too much power (secularists), anti-
traditionalists, and did not believe the military was trustworthy.
- In 1906, there was a new trial and Dreyfus was found innocent and evidence of his
framing was found; he was reinstated and promoted.
- Durkheim said the anti-Dreyfusarians were wrong about traditional institutions. The new
civil religion is one of individualism. Increasingly in modern societies, the Church,
military, aristocracies, etc., the institutions no longer had the same moral authority. Thus,
these institutions no longer had capacity to unite French society. The new glue was the
religion of individualism. SOC203: Lecture 9 18.03.12
o The problem: In disrespecting the rights of Dreyfus, it is disrespecting the religion
of individualism. Durkheim says it’s important to maint