The one thing that the visionary writers of utopia made abundantly clear is that violence is at the birth of every society, and one way or another it continues to course through its veins. After all, every utopian society is founded on the violent upheaval of the old order, the old regime.
The game that the resident order must play is a product of this truism. The State, at its core, is only ever interested in maintaining its duration. And this is entirely dependent on marshaling the violent revolutionary forces that necessarily bubble away under the facade of a “polite” society.
At times these forces break free from the restraints that the State imposes on them. This, I think, is how we must account for the eruptions of violence that we have recently seen in Europe and elsewhere – the metropolitan riots seen in England and France; the popular revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and… Such events prove to the State that its very existence depends on quieting this revolutionary potential that ceaselessly foments within society.
This, then, is the context of Burgess’s novel. It talks of a State that seeks to maintain its grip on the people by drawing on its experience of violence; by making manifest a violence that has always worked its ways in a subterranean manner. One must talk here of the the Ludovico technique. It is the kind of violence that confirms Max Weber’s now infamous characterization of the State. The insidious process does more than “cure” the criminal; it excises the violent impulse and in so doing smooths the revolutionary potential of the people and guarantees the duration of the State.
Under such conditions, the exercise of violence by the people is no longer a question that belongs to the individual; it belongs to the social. Violence is seen as the only means by which the people can keep the State – or rather those that manage it – honest. Put another way, eruptions of violence against society is demonstrated to be a vital element of a healthy society: the moment in which society expresses itself most freely. One need only think of the last time North Korea experienced civil unrest to make the point. The reason is because the potential of violence has been successfully owned entirely by the State.
Burgess’s novel makes it clear that violence is not only an important element of a healthy society; it is absolutely vital.