It is in the nature of humanity for there to be conflict and wars. If you doubt this, see the list of wars that have raged throughout history, or see how even now a large portion of the earth is engulfed in some form of conflict. So conflict is inevitable. Yet there is a spiritual principle, call Harmony through Conflict (also known as 4th Ray), which indicates that harmony can indeed result from conflict.
So political conflict does not necessarily result in wars. In this context, agonism is a very useful word, as you can see from its definition in Wikipedia. Agonism “emphasizes the potentially positive aspects of certain forms of political conflict [and]… seeks to show how people might accept and channel this positively”.
The recent World Goodwill Newsletter points at the deeper meaning of an agonistic approach as described by political theorist Samuel A. Chambers:
“Agonism implies a deep respect and concern for the other; indeed, the Greek agon refers most directly to an athletic contest oriented not merely toward victory or defeat, but emphasizing the importance of the struggle itself—a struggle that cannot exist without the opponent. Victory through forfeit or default, or over an unworthy opponent, comes up short compared to a defeat at the hands of a worthy opponent—a defeat that still brings honour. An agonistic discourse will therefore be one marked not merely by conflict but just as importantly, by mutual admiration…”
So agonism is the ideal in any conflict – a respect for the other side, some sort of struggle, and a result that brings honour to both sides. This is of course the original ideal behind sports, which still prevailed in the cricket of the unpaid ‘gentlemen’ in my youth, but was soon superseded by the professionalism of paid ‘players’.
The important underlying concepts are respect for the other, and dealing with honour. Are the protagonists in the current Brexit negotiations behaving with respect for the other and with honour? One suspects that the problem in reaching a final agreement lies in a certain lack of trust that they are dealing with people with these fine qualities? Which sounds like agony rather than agonism.
Featured image shows world conflict map from Statista.
The idea for this post came from World Goodwill Newsletter.
Britannica suggests that agonism is a biological term meaning ‘survivalist animal behaviour that includes aggression, defense, and avoidance’. ‘In human societies, agonistic behaviour can serve as a tool to bring about constructive activity as well as distinct antisocial, destructive acts.’
5 thoughts on “Agonism”
I fear your are right. Need it always be thus?
Thanks for commenting, Anthony. That there will be conflict is inevitable. Whether it is resolved in an agonistic way depends on the qualities of the parties involved. We hope for leaders with the right qualities, but many in our electorates are not so discriminating.
Fascinating to contemplate, Barry. I fear this behaviour is being used for destructive ends more than constructive ends too often these days.
Thanks, Jane. Hopefully the lack of agonistic qualities in any negotiation, and its manifest failure to address the issue, will lead to the rapid removal of the so-called leaders involved – particularly in democracies. We await a possible no-deal Brexit in trepidation!
I know. We’ve been following the Brexit negotiations obsessively, and I see just now that the EU is pulling back from this morning’s position a bit. Getting to the finish line is painful beyond belief, but, God, a no-deal Brexit would be an ultimate lose-lose situation. And even more lose for the UK than for the EU. It’s heartbreaking to watch. As you say, one can only hope that these fraught outcomes will have consequences at the polls – eventually. 😥
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