On 16 November 2020, Dr Irm Haleem, Assistant Professor from the Strategic Studies Programme at RSIS, spoke at a webinar on “Freedom and Violence”.
She began her talk by pointing out the common assumption that freedom and violence were inextricably linked. She outlined several reasons for this, such as the assumed zero-sum life-and-death struggles for freedom (according to philosophers G.W.F. Hegel, Axel Honneth, Franz Fanon); and the view that violence was incidental or accidental, as well as an intentional catalyst for freedom struggles (according to political scientist Stathis Kalyvas).
Dr Haleem argued that the subjective notion of responsibility was the fundamental reason for the inextricability of violence in freedom struggles She outlined that the notion of responsibility was central to philosophical discussions because it is thought to be a moral imperative. She noted that most perspectives on responsibility—including philosophical ones by Hannah Arendt and Thomas Nagel—were focused on the external standpoint, i.e., the levying of responsibility on others for their actions, which is necessarily subjective.
In contrast, Dr Haleem’s analysis of responsibility was focused on the internal standpoint, i.e., responsibility to ourself and our groups. While this was equally subjective, she noted that it explained the inextricability of violence in freedom struggles more effectively because responsibility to the self necessarily translated into irresponsibility to others. This was the paradox of responsibility, according to Dr Haleem.
With reference to Nagel’s arguments on the philosophical impossibility of objectivity, the internationally accepted Just War Doctrine, and American far-right and far-left groups, Dr Haleem then illustrated the paradox of responsibility, and defended why and how the subjectivity intrinsic to the internal standpoint of responsibility explained the inextricability of violence in freedom struggles more effectively.