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On Torture, or Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment

Author(s): TALAL ASAD


Source: Social Research, Vol. 63, No. 4 (WINTER 1996), pp. 1081-1109
Published by: The New School
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40971325
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On Torture,
or Cruel,
Inhuman,and
/
Degrading
Treatment*/

BY TALAL ASAD

in
In thispaper I discussthemodernconceptionof "cruelty,"
in
Article
of
5
the
as
Universal
represented
particular
Human
Declaration
Rights:"No one shall be subjectedto
of
tortureor to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatmentor
punishment."In this statementthe adjectives qualifying
or punishment"
seemto indicateformsof behavior
"treatment
thatif not quite equivalentto "torture,"at least have a close
withit.
affinity
Moral and legaljudgmentsthatderivefromthisrule have
an interesting
historyin the West,to whichI shall advertin
whatfollows.I wantto advance the thesisthatthe universal
rules enshrinedin the Declarationcover a wide range of
kindsofbehavior.Moreprecisely,
different
I shall
qualitatively
four
to
make
that
the
modern
try
points: first,
historyof
* An earlyversionof thispaperwasreadfirstin Bellagioat a conference
on "Social
in July1994; I thankthe organizersArthurKleinman,Veena Das, and
Suffering"
MaragaretLock fortheirhelpfulresponses.Laterversionswereread at seminarsin
The NewSchoolforSocialResearch,The University
of California
at SantaCruz,The
New York University,
and The University
of Sussex at
JohnsHopkinsUniversity,
I am grateful
to each of theseaudiencesfortheircriticisms
and comments.
Brighton.
In particular,I have benefitted
fromcriticalsuggestionsmade by the following:
VickiHattam,KiraKosnick,
Jonathan
Boyarin,
JeffGoldfarb,
JimMiller,KeithNield,
DavidScott,Don Scott,and BrianStreet.
DavidSchneider,
SOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 63, No. 4 (Winter1996)

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"torture"is not only a record of the progressiveprohibitionof


cruel, inhuman and degrading practices. It is also part of a
more complex storyof the modern secular concept of what it
means to be trulyhuman. The second point is this: the phrase
"torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment"serves
today as a cross-culturalcriterionfor making moral and legal
judgments about pain and suffering.Yet it is given much of
its operative sense historicallyand culturally.My thirdpoint is
linked to the first two. It is that the new ways of
(which include "mental torture"and
conceptualizingsuffering
(a term that now refers
"degrading treatment")and sufferer
also to non-humansand even to the natural environment)are
increasinglyuniversal in scope but particular in prescriptive
content. The final point is that the modern dedication to
eliminating pain and suffering often conflicts with other
commitmentsand values: the right of individuals to choose
and the duty of the state to maintainits interests.
Together, these four points aim at underscoring the
unstable character of a central categorydeployed in modern,
Westernsociety.The instabilityrelates,in brief,to the factthat
the ideas of torture, cruelty, inhumanity, and degrading
treatmentare intended to measure what are oftenincommensurable standardsof behavior. In addition, theyare applied in
particularcases in a contradictoryfashion.
I do not argue that there can be no such thingas cruelty.I
discoursesthat have
am merely skeptical about theuniversalist
been generated around it. But myskepticismis intellectual,not
moral. This paper is not concerned withattackingthe reforms
thattake theirinspirationfromthe United Nations condemnationof "tortureor cruel,inhuman and degrading treatment."I
am interestedprimarilyin the way Western discourses about
crueltyhang together,and the waysthatthe idea of torturecan
overlap with and substitutefor ideas of cruel, inhuman, and
degrading treatment-as well as of the inflictingof pain and
sufferingon others. In myview,such inquiriesare necessaryif
we seek to clarifyour transculturaljudgments.

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ON TORTURE

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Two Historiesof Torture

I beginwitha discussionof twobookswhichtogethershow


waysof writinghistoriesof cruelty.The first,
verydifferent
by G.R. Scott, representsphysicalcrueltyas a featureof
barbaricsocieties-that is, societiesthat have not yet been
humanized.The other book is by D. Rejali. It makes a
distinctionbetween two kinds of physical cruelty,one
appropriate to pre-modern and the other to modern
societies,and describes that differencein the context of
Iran.
contemporary
Scott was a Fellow of several Britishlearned societies,
includingamong them the Royal AnthropologicalInstitute.
His History
(1940) is perhapsthe firstmodernstory
ofTorture
of its kind. It deals at lengthwith "Savage and Primitive
Races," ancient and early modern European peoples, and
Asian "civilizations"
(China,Japan, and India). On the one
of
a
now largelydiscontinued
it
tells
hand,
story punishments
or suppressed; on the other, it speaks of motives for
inflictingsufferingthat are deep-rooted and pervasive.
His indebtednessto Krafft-Ebing's
ideas is evident not
in
in
form
his
only
explicit
chapters on "Sadism" and
schemehe
"Masochism,"but also in the generalevolutionary
to
which
the
to
inflict
employsaccording
primitive
urge
pain
remainsa latentpossibility(sometimesrealized) in civilized
society.
Scottis somewhatunusualforhistimein wantingto include
the mistreatment
of animalsin his accountof torture,and in
theirplightas a consequenceof thenon-recognition
describing
ofrights,
forlikeothermodernshe sees theextensionofrights
tobe crucialfortheelimination
ofcruelty.But in thecourseof
this
thesis
he
hits
on
a profoundand disturbing
arguing
ambiguity.It is not entirelyclear whetherhe thinksthat
humancrueltyis merelyan instanceof bestial
cruelty-thatis,a
workingout of the supposedlyuniversalinstinctof stronger
animals to hunt or attackthe weaker. Or whetherhuman

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crueltyis unique -not a characteristicof animal behavior at


all- and that everydayhuman ruthlessnesstoward animals is
essential for justifyingthe persecution of vulnerable people
(defeated enemies, uninitiated children, and so on) on the
ground that they are notfully human. In either case, Scott
disturbsliberal ideas of what it is to be trulyhuman: humans
are essentiallyno differentfrom other animals, or they are
differentby virtueof theirunique capacityfor cruelty.
It is worth noting that the instances of physical pain Scott
describes as "torture" belong sometimes to the involuntary
submission to punishmentand sometimes to the practices of
personal discipline (for example, rituals of endurance,
asceticism).He makes no distinctionbetween the two: pain is
regarded as an isolable experience to be condemned for what
it is.
In the encounter between "Savage Races" and modern
Euro-Americans,Scott has no doubt that "torture" is something the former do to the latter- perhaps because it is
synonymous with "barbarity." At any rate, the sufferings
inflicted on Native Americans by white settlers and the
expanding United States have no place in his history of
torture.
This is not to say that Scott asserts torture to be entirely
absent in the modern state.On the contrary,he is quite explicit
about its use by the police to secure confession ("the third
degree"). His positionis thatthe storyof modernityis in part a
story of the progressive elimination of all morally shocking
social behavior- including what is now described in international law as "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatmentor
punishment."Scottdoes not claim thatthatintentionhas been
fullyrealized, only that progress has been made. In this story
of progress, he tells us, the state's definitionand defense of
rightsis the most effectiveprotectionagainst cruelty.
In his importantbook, the Iranian political scientistDarius
Rejali makes the interestingargument that far from being a
barbaric survivalin the modern state as Scott's storysuggests,

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ON TORTURE

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tortureis in fact integralto it (Rejali, 1994). Althoughhe


he
classifiestortureintotwotypes,modernand pre-modern,
shareswithScottthe viewthatthe term"torture"has a fixed
bothof themassumethatto speakof
More precisely,
referent.
tortureis to referto a practicein whichthe agentforcibly
inflicts
painon anotherregardlessoftheplacethatthepractice
occupieswithina largermoraleconomy.
accountof the role of political
Rejali offersa sophisticated
in Iran both beforeand afterthe inceptionof
punishments
in thatcountry.Moderntorture,
he tellsus, is a
modernization
formof physicalsufferingthat is an inseparablepart of a
disciplinarysociety.In Iran, the practiceof tortureis as
essentialto the IslamicRepublictodayas it was to the Pahlevi
regime it replaced. Both in their own way are modern
societies.
disciplinary
believes
thathisbookrefuteswhatFoucaulthad to say
Rejali
and Punish(1979).1 He maintains
about torturein Discipline
thattorturedoes notgiveplace to disciplinein modernsociety,
as Foucaultclaimed,butpersistsin a majorway.This belief,in
myview,arisesfroma misreadingof Foucault,whosecentral
concern was not with "torture"but with "power": and
witha contrastbetweensovereignpower(which
consequently
needs to exhibititselfpublicly)and disciplinary
power(which
of everydaybehavior).
worksthroughthenormalization
Public rituals of tortureare no longer deemed to be
necessaryto the maintenanceof sovereignpower (whether
theywerein factfunctionally
necessaryto themaintenanceof
"socialorder"is, of course,anotherquestion).But Foucault's
thesisaboutdisciplinary
poweris notsubvertedbyevidenceof
in
torture
the
modern state. On the contrary,
surreptitious
preciselybecause torturecarriedout in secretis said to be
connectedwiththeextraction
of information,
itis an aspectof
whetherin modern
policing.(The actualmotivesof torturers,
or in premodernstates,are usually mixed and variable.)
Policingas a governmental
activitydirectedat defendinga
fundamental"interestof society"concernsthe ordinaryand

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extraordinarysecurityof the state and its citizens. It is an


institutionin which knowledge and power depend upon each
other: much of it- and this point is curiously neglected by
Rejali- circulatingin secret.
Modern tortureas part of policing is typicallysecret partly
because inflictingphysical pain on a prisoner to extract
information,or for any purpose whatever,is "uncivilized"and
thereforeillegal. It is also secretbecause policingagents do not
wish to advertise everything they learn from tortured
prisoners. After all, the effectivenessof certain kinds of
disciplinaryknowledge depends upon its secrecy. The secret
characterof knowledgeacquired in policing,therefore,relates
at once to the uncertaintyof outside criticsas to whether,and
if so how often, something illegal has been done by a
bureaucratic power to obtain it ("torture is intolerable in a
civilized society"), and also to how, when, and where
law-enforcingpower chooses to act once it possesses thatsecret
information("everysocietymust protectitselfagainst criminal
conspiracies").
Rejali's definitionof torture as "sanguinary violence condoned by public authorities" slips uneasily between the
legitimateand public practice of classical tortureon the one
hand, and, on the other hand, the secretbecause "uncivilized"
character of policing torturein modernizing states like Iran.
His fullerargumentdoes not address this difference.Modern
torture,he insistsat length,is integralto what Foucault called
disciplinary society. It is, if not itself quite identical with
discipline,then veryclose to it.
There are valuable insightsin Rejali's book relating to the
brutalizing aspect of the process of modernization. Here I
mention only two objections that might be made to his
argument. The first is that his main example (twentiethcenturyIran) relates to what many readers will identifyas a
"modernizing"rather than a "fullymodern" society.Whether
in Iran in the period covered by Rejali's
all the transformations
book truly represent modernization in the sense of moral

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ON TORTURE

1087

is- thesereaderswillsay- an open question,but


improvement
shockingevidenceof blatanttorturein thatcountrydoes not
I believethatRejali
provethattortureis integralto modernity.
is right,but his argumentat this point would have been
strongerif he had referredto a modern society,like Nazi
Germany,ratherthan a societymerelyon the way to being
an
For althoughNazi Germanywas notoriously
modernized.2
no
less
modern
than
other.
it
was
i/liberal
state,
any
certainly
The otherobjectionis this:Rejalidoes notexplainwhy,unlike
stateuse of torturerequiresthe rhetoricof
discipline,modern
societiesofthekindFoucaultcalledClasdenial.In pre-modern
outunapologetically
and in public.Why
was
carried
torture
sical,
nowtypically
does "torture"
generatea discourseofsecrecy-andto thisquestion,surely,is thatthere
The
brief
answer
exposure?
is now a new sensibility
regardingphysicalpain. Althoughit
occursfrequently
enoughin our time,the modernconscience
ofpainwithout
"goodreason"(toperform
regardstheinflicting
as an
a medicaloperation,say)as reprehensible
and, therefore,
objectof moralcondemnation.It is thisattitudeto pain that
helpsdefinethemodernnotionof cruelty.
The modern conscienceis also a secular conscience,a
categorythatsubsumeswhatwe nowknowas modernreligion.
whichwas traditionally
rootedin the doctrineof
Christianity,
to make good
Christ'spassion,consequentlyfindsit difficult
sense of suffering
today.Modern theologianshave begun to
concede that pain is essentiallyand entirelynegative."The
secularistchallenge,"writesa modernCatholictheologian,
eventhoughseparating
manyaspectsoflifefromthereligious
withita moresound,interpretive
the
field,brings
equilibrium;
even
sometimes
difficult
to
natural
underphenomena, though
thatcanandmust
stand,havetheircauseandrootsinprocesses
It is a man'sjob, therefore,
be recognized.
to enterintothis
of
the
of
in orderto be
analysis
meaning suffering,
cognitive
and conquerit. ... Throughhisworks,even
able to affront
beforehiswords,
thegoodness
of
JesusofNazareth
proclaimed
lifeand of health,as theimageof salvation.
For Himpainis
1987,p. 124).3
(Autiero,
negativeness

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The writerin this passage is clearly thinkingof disease, but


since pain can also be a consequence of human intention,it
followsthatsuch pain should be eliminatedfromthe world of
human interaction-even from religious disciplines and from
the enactmentof martyrdom,where it once had an effective
and honored place. The secular Christian must now abjure
passion and choose action. Pain is not merelynegativeness.It
is, literally,a scandal.
Torture
Abolishing

Why has the inflictionof physical pain now become


scandalous?A well-known
partof the answeris thisprogressiviststory:two centuriesago criticsof torturelike Beccaria
and Voltaire recognized how inhuman it was and how
the truthin a trial.Thus,
unreliableas a wayof ascertaining
they saw and articulatedwhat others before them had
(unaccountably)failed to see. Their powerfulcase against
rulersintoabolishing
judicial tortureshockedEnlightenment
it. The themeof itsintolerablecrueltyemergedmoreclearly
injudicialtorturewas declaredto be
becausethepain inflicted
on prisonersto makethemconfesswas
Paininflicted
gratuitous.
because it was grossly
it
was
immoral,
argued, particularly
in identifyingtheir guilt or innocence.4(The
inefficient
condemnphysidid not necessarily
reformers
Enlightenment
involved
considerations
it
cal punishmentas such, because
otherthansimpleinstrumental
ones,especiallyideas ofjustice.
however,theevolutionof modernideas ofjustice
Eventually,
to painfulpunishment.)
to growinghostility
wereto contribute
not
condemnedby critics
this
But whywas
gratuitouspain
earlier?What had preventedpeople fromseeing the truth
untilthe Enlightenment?
and theLaw of Proof,John
In his brilliantstudy,Torture
a
has
Langbein provided partialexplanation.He demonstrates
thattorturewas proscribedwhen the Roman canon law of

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ON TORTURE

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of
proof-whichrequiredeitherconfessionor the testimony
to convict-declinedin forcein the seventwo eyewitnesses
evidence
teenthcentury.Increasingresortto circumstantial
moreeasilyand speedily.The abolitionof
securedconvictions
judicial torturewas, thus,in effectthe moralcondemnation
and legal proscriptionof an extremelycumbersomeand
lengthyprocedurethatwas now comingto be regarded as
moreor lessredundant.Langbeinimpliesthatthemoraltruth
of a
aboutjudicialtorturewas linkedto thepriorconstruction
newconceptof legal truth(Langbein,1977).
was the object of vigorouspolemic in the
When torture
JeremyBenthamcame to the conclusion
eighteenthcentury,
thatthe pain of tortureis sometimeseasiertojustifythanthe
In thecourseof
in thenameof punishment.
inflicted
suffering
he maintained,for example,thatCourtsof
thisjustification
in cases of contemptmight
Law resortingto imprisonment
findthe applicationof physicalpain, or even the threatof
applyingit,wouldsecureobediencein a way"lesspenal" than
prison:
in prisonfora monthor two
A manmayhavebeenlingering
beforehe wouldmakeanswerto a questionwhichat theworst
withone strokeof therack,and therefore
almostalwayswith
thathe mightbe made to sufferthe rack,he
onlyknowing
ina moment;
wouldhaveanswered
justas a manwilllingeron a
Monthwiththe Toothach[sic]whichhe mighthave saved
fromat theexpenseofa momentary
himself
pang.5
It is not Bentham'sapparentrefusalto distinguishbetween
voluntaryand involuntary
subjectionto pain thatshould be
notedhere. It is the idea thatsubjectiveexperiencesof pain
can be objectivelycompared. This idea is crucial for the
modern understandingof "cruel, inhuman and degrading
in a cross-cultural
treatment"
context,althoughliberalstoday
wouldstrongly
Bentham's
viewregardingtheoccasional
reject
of tortureto imprisonment.
For it is precisely
preferability
in suffering
some notionof comparability
thatmakesof long

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years in prison (including solitaryconfinement)a "humane"


punishmentand of floggingan "inhumane" one, even though
of imprisonmentand of floggingare qualitatively
theexperience
different.
quite
In an interestingpassage in Disciplineand Punish Foucault
notes that in the nineteenth century imprisonment was
compared favorablyto other formsof legal punishmentmainly
because it was regarded as the most egalitarian (Foucault,
1979, p. 232). This was a consequence of the philosophical
doctrine that freedomwas the natural human condition.Penal
reformers reasoned that since the desire for liberty was
implantedequally in everyindividual,deprivingindividualsof
theirlibertymustbe a way of strikingat them equally- thatis,
regardless of their social status or physical constitution.For
just as fines were easier for the rich to pay, so physical pain
could be borne better by the more sturdy. No form of
punishmentaccorded so preciselywith our essentialhumanity,
therefore,as imprisonmentdid. That legal incarcerationwas
considered to be equitable contributed to the sense that
physicalpunishmentwas gratuitous.For this reason, although
modern liberalsmustregard Bentham wrongin the conclusion
he reached about torture,theymustconsider him rightto have
endorsed a quantitativecomparison of verydisparate kinds of
suffering.It is not difficultto see how the utilitariancalculus of
pleasure and pain has come to be central to cross-cultural
judgment in modern thoughtand practice. For by a reductive
operation,the idea of a calculus has facilitatedthe comparative
judgment of what would otherwiseremain incommensurable
qualities.6
HumanizingtheWorld
The historicalprocess of constructinga humane society,it is
said, has aimed at eliminatingcruelties.Thus, it has oftenbeen
observed that European rule in colonial countries, although

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ON TORTURE

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in
not itselfdemocratic,broughtabout moralimprovements
behavior-thatis, the abandonmentof practicesthatoffend
againstthehuman.
in thistransformation
weremodernlegal,
Majorinstruments
and educational practices. And a central
administrative,
categorydeployed in them was the modern categoryof
law.JamesRead writes:
customary
Of all therestrictions
of customary
laws
upontheapplication
the
colonial
the
test
of
'to
during
period,
repugnancy justiceor
was
the
most
forcustomary
laws
morality' potentially
sweeping:
couldhardly
be repugnant
to thetraditional
senseofjusticeor
of thecommunity
whichstillacceptedthem,and it is
morality
clearthatthejusticeor morality
therefore
ofthecolonialpower
wastoprovidethestandard
tobe applied.
Read pointsout that the phrase "repugnantto justice and
does nothavea preciselegalmeaning,and thatearly
morality"
legislationin the coloniessometimesemployedotherexpresand humanity,"
sions,suchas "notopposed to naturalmorality
to performthesame revolutionary
work(Read, 1972,p. 175).
But moraland social progressin thosecountrieshas been
uneven.AlthoughEuropeanstriedto suppresscruelpractices
and formsof suffering
thatwerepreviously
takenforgranted
in thenon-Europeanworldbymakingthepractitioners
legally
the
was
not
successful.
culpable, suppression
alwayscompletely
is takenup by
Today thestruggleto eliminatesocialsuffering
theUnitedNations.Or so thestorygoes.
I wantto propose,however,thatin theirattemptto outlaw
customsthe European rulersconsideredcruel it was not the
concern with indigenous sufferingthat dominated their
thinking,but the desire to impose what they considered
civilizedstandardsof justice and humanityon a subject
population-thatis, thedesireto createnew humansubjects.7
The anguishof subjectscompelledunder threatof punishmentto abandontraditional
practices-nowlegallybrandedas
to
and
or as "opposed to natural
"repugnant justice
morality,"

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SOCIAL

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moralityand humanity,"or even sometimesas "backward and


childish"- could not, therefore, play a decisive part in the
discourse of colonial reformers. On the contrary,as Lord
Cromer put it withreferenceto the miserycreated among the
Egyptian peasantry by legal reforms under British rule:
"Civilisationmust, unfortunately,have its victims"(1913, p.
44). In the process of learning to be "fullyhuman," only some
kinds of sufferingwere seen as an affrontto humanity,and
their eliminationsought. This was distinguishedfrom suffering that was necessaryto the process of realizing one's
humanity- that is, pain that was adequate to its end, not
wastefulpain.
Inhumansuffering,
typicallyassociatedwithbarbaricbehavior,
was a morallyinsufferablecondition for which someone was
thereforeresponsible; those requiringit (themselvesinhuman
enough to cause it to be inflicted)mustbe made to desistand, if
necessary,punished. That, at any rate, is the discourse of proactually
gressivereform.Whatindividualcolonialadministrators
felt,thought,or did is another (though not entirelyunrelated)
matter.Most experienced administratorswere prepared locally
to toleratevarious "uncivilized"practicesfor reasons of expediency,but all were no doubt aware of the dominantprogressivist
discourserooted in "civilized"societies.8
In a recent unpublished paper by Nicholas Dirks there is a
nice example of just this discourse in late nineteenth-century
British India. His account of the inquiry conducted by the
colonial authoritiesinto the ritual of hookswinging9contains
thissoberjudgment by the presidingBritishofficial:
at the end of the nineteenth
It is, in myopinion,unnecessary
in
centuryand, havingregardto the levelto whichcivilisation
India has attained,to consider the motivesby which the
are actuatedwhentakingpartin hook
themselves
performers
swinging,walkingthroughfire,and other barbarities.From
theirmotivesmaybe good or they
theirown moralstandpoint,
of
in satisfaction
be
may bad; theymayindulgein self-torture
for
the
most
and
in
all
made
vows
sincerity
fervently
pious

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ON TORTURE

1093

disinterested
reasons;or theymayindulgein itfromthelowest
forthealmsthey
whether
ofpersonal
motives
aggrandizement,
and
localeclatthat
distinction
or
for
the
receive
personal
might
iswhether
itmaybringthem;butthequestion
publicopinionin
actsoftheperformers,
isnotopposedtotheexternal
thiscountry
and
to the dictatesof humanity
as beingin factrepugnant
their
who
witness
to
all
and
to
themselves
may
demoralizing
I amoftheopinionthatthevoiceof Indiamost
performances.
thatis tosay,notonlythe
towithrespect,
tobe listened
entitled
voiceof the advancedschoolthathas receivedsomeof the
with
and hasbeenpermeated
education
ofwestern
advantages
non-Oriental
ideas,butalsothevoiceofthosewhoseviewsoflife
derivedfromAsiatic
havebeenmainly
ofconduct
andpropriety
timehadarrived
for
that
the
would
philosophy, gladlyproclaim
of itspeopleto effectively
in theinterests
theGovernment
put
of self-torture
exhibitions
downall degrading
(Dirks,unpublished,pp. 9-10).
declaredthattheyfelt
themselves
The factthattheperformers
no pain was irrelevant.So, too, was the plea thatthiswas a
werenotacceptable.It
religiousrite.Such claimsto difference
was the offencegiven by the performanceto a particular
different
conceptof being human thatreduced qualitatively
kindsof behaviorto a singlestandard.
was obtainedby listening
of its offensiveness
Confirmation
to somecolonizedvoicesonly.The latterincludedIndianswho
confirmawere directlywesternized.But, more significantly,
tionwas providedalso by thosewho accepteda westernized
Fromthe pointof view
exegesisof theirAsiaticphilosophy.10
of moral progress,the voices of those who took up a
reactionary
positioncould notbe attendedto.
in
Clearly, the cause of moralprogresstherewas suffering
I think,is not merelythat
Whatis interesting,
and suffering.
wereto be takenmoreseriouslythan
someformsof suffering
as opposedto "necessary"
others,butthat"inhuman"suffering
or "inevitable"sufferingwas regarded as being essentially
and thereforelegallypunishable.Pain endured in
gratuitous
themovementtowardbecoming"fullyhuman,"however,was
necessaryin the sensethatthereweresocialor moralreasons
whyit had to be suffered.This view is of a piece withthe

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1094

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post-Enlightenmentconcern to construct through judicial


punishmentthe most efficientmeans of reformingoffenders
and of guarding society'sinterests.11
As the idea of progressbecame increasinglydominantin the
affairs of Europe and the world, the need for measuring
sufferingwas felt and responded to with greater sophistication.
"
"Torture,ActingWithDeliberateCruelty
Representing
Pain is not always regarded as insufferable in modern
Euro-Americansocieties. In warfare,sport, and psychological
experimentation-as well as in the domain of sexual pleasure-inflictingphysicalsufferingis activelypracticedand also
legally condoned. This makes for contradictionswhich are
exploited in public debate. When transitivepain is described as
"cruel and inhuman," it is often referred to as torture.And
tortureitselfis condemned by public opinion and prohibited
by internationallaw.
It is hardly surprising, therefore,that the many liberaldemocratic governments12that have employed torture have
attemptedto do so in secret. And sometimesthey have been
concerned to redefine legally the categoryof pain-producing
treatmentin an attemptto avoid the label "torture."Thus,
Tortureis forbiddenby Israelilaw. Israeliauthorities
say that
tortureis notauthorizedor condonedin theoccupiedterritories
but acknowledgethat abuses occur and state that they are
In 1987 the Landau JudicialCommissionspecifiinvestigated.
callycondemned'torture'but allowed for 'moderatephysical
and
and psychological
pressure'to be used to secureconfessions
a classifiedannex to the reportdefining
to obtaininformation;
permissiblepressure has never been made public (U.S.
on HumanRights
for1993,
Reports
Departmentof State,Country
p. 1204).
Needless to say,other governmentsin the region (forexample,
Egypt, Turkey, and Iran) have also condoned

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ON TORTURE

1095

and unlikeliberal-democratic
torture,
governments,
theyhave
used it freelyagainsttheirown citizens.But the remarkable
featureof this case is the scrupulousconcernof a liberaldemocraticstatewithcalibratingthe amountof pain thatis
legallyallowable.There is evidentlya concernthattoomuch
pain should not be applied. It is assumed that "moderate
pressure"is at once necessaryand
physicaland psychological
to secureconfession.Beyondthatquantity,
sufficient
pressure
is held to be excessive(gratuitous)and therefore
presumably
becomes"torture."13
Otherstatesin theMiddleEastare rarely
so punctilious-or so modernin theirreasoning.
The use of tortureby liberal-democratic
statesrelatesto
theirattemptto controlpopulationsthatare not citizens.In
such cases, torture cannot be attributedto "primitive
urges"- as Scottsuggested;nor to governmental
techniques
for discipliningcitizens,as Rejali has argued. It is to be
understoodas a practicallogicintegralto the maintenanceof
thenationstate'ssovereignty.
Like warfare.
The categoryof tortureis no longerlimitedto applications
of physicalpain: it now includes psychologicalcoercionin
which disorientation,
isolation,and brainwashingare emin our day functionsnot only to
"torture"
Indeed,
ployed.
denotebehavioractuallyprohibitedbylaw,butalso desiredto
be so prohibitedin accordance with changingconceptsof
"inhumane"treatment
(forexample,the publicexecutionor
of
and child abuse, as well as animal
criminals,
flogging
and foxhunting).
experiments,
factory
farming,
This wider categoryof torture"or cruel, inhuman and
degrading treatment"could in theorybe applied to the
anguish and mental sufferingexperienced by people in
societiesobliged to give up theirbeliefsand "become fully
human"(in thesenseunderstoodby Euro-Americans).But by
a curiousparadox it is a versionof relativismthatprevents
suchan applicationof thecategory.For theanguishis itselfthe
in theTruthof beliefs
consequenceof a passionateinvestment
thatguidebehavior.The modernskeptical
posture,in contrast,

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1096

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regardssuch passionate convictionto be "uncivilized"as well as


a perpetual source of danger to others and of pain to oneself.
Beliefs should eitherhave no directconnectionto the way one
lives,or be held so lightlythat theycan be easily changed.
One mightbe inclined to thinkthat at least in humanizing
societies more sorts of inflictedpain come to be considered
morallyunacceptable withthe passage of time. In some cases,
however,pain-producingbehavior that was once shocking no
longer shocks. Or if it does, then not in the way it did in the
past. Puttinglarge numbers of people in prison for more and
more kinds of offenceis one example. Inflictingnew formsof
sufferingin battleis another.
Some writerson pain have claimed that war is "the most
obvious analogue to torture"(Scarry, 1985, p. 61). However
thatmay be, it is significantthatthe general concept of "cruel,
inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment" is not
applied to the normal conduct of war- although modern,
technologicalwarfareinvolvesformsof suffering,in numbers
and in kind, that are without precedent. The Geneva
Convention,it is true, seeks to regulate conduct in war.14But,
paradoxically,this has the effectof legalizing most of the new
kinds of sufferingendured in modern war by combatantsand
non-combatantsalike.
The military historian John Keegan wrote of the new
practicesof "deliberate cruelty"nearly two decades ago when
he described some of the weaponry employed in twentiethcenturywarfare:
Weapons have never been kind to human flesh, but the
directing
principlebehindtheirdesignhas usuallynotbeen that
thepain and damagetheycan cause. Beforethe
of maximizing
inventionof explosives,the limitsof muscle power in itself
butevenforsometimethereafter
theirhurtfulness;
constrained
of adding
fuelledbya senseof theunfairness
moralinhibitions,
to man'spowerto hurthis
mechanicaland chemicalincrements
ofdesign.Some
deliberatebarbarities
servedto restrain
brother,
of theseinhibitionsagainsttheuse of poisongas and explosive
bullets-were codifiedand given internationalforce by the

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ON TORTURE

1097

as
of 1899;15buttheriseof 'thing-killing'
HagueConvention
is
an
examto
weapons-heavyartillery
opposed man-killing
and
inflicted
grosssuffering
ple-whichby theirside-effects
As a resultrestraints
invalidated
theserestraints.
disfigurement,
of many
werecastto thewinds,and it is nowa desiredeffect
and
wounds
as
terrible
that
inflict
they
man-killing
weapons
for
is
filled
The
as
mine,
instance,
terrifyingpossible. claymore
withmetalcubes. . . , the clusterbombwithjagged metal
tears
in bothcasesbecausethatshapeof projectile
fragments,
thana smooth-bodied
one.The
moreextensively
and fractures
HEAT and HESH roundsfiredbyanti-tank
gunsaredesigned
of metal
of armoredvehicleswithshowers
to filltheinterior
thetankby
of moltenmetal,so disabling
or streams
splinters
disliked
forethicalreasonseven
itscrew.Andnapalm,
disabling
an ingredient
which
contains
minded
soldiers,
bymanytough
increasesthe adhesionof the burningpetrolto humanskin
in
so successful
overthepastcentury
surfaces.
Military
surgeons,
of
wounded
soldiers
and
wounds
repairing
resuscitating
have thus now to meet a challengeof
growingseverity,
conceivedto defeattheirskills
wounding
agentsdeliberately
(Keegan,1978,pp. 329-30).
One mightadd to thisthatthe manufacture,
possession,and
of
of
mass
destruction
(chemical,
weapons
deployment
nuclear, and biological) must be counted as instancesof
declared governmentalreadiness to engage in "cruel,
inhumanand degradingtreatment"againstcivilianpopulationseven when theyare not actuallyused. In brief,cruel
moderntechnologiesof destructionare integralto modern
warfare,and modernwarfareis an activityessentialto the
and powerof the modernstate,on whichthewelfare
security
of itscitizensdepends. In war,the modernstate
and identity
demandsfromits citizensnot only thattheykill and maim
others,but also that theythemselvessuffercruel pain and
death.16
So how can the calculatedcrueltiesof modern battle be
reconciled with the modern sensibilityregarding pain?
essence.
As in state
Preciselyby treatingpain as a quantifiable
an
can
made
to
be
measure
the
torture, attempt
physical
in
modern
in
inflicted
warfare
accordance
with
the
suffering

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1098

SOCIAL

RESEARCH

proportionalityof means to ends. The human destruction


inflictedshould not outweigh the strategicadvantage gained.
But given the aim of ultimatevictory,the notion of "military
necessity"can be extended indefinitely.Any measure that is
intended as a contributionto that aim, no matterhow much
sufferingit creates, may be justified in terms of "military
necessity."The standard of acceptabilityin such cases is set by
public opinion, and that standard varies as the lattermoves in
response to contingentcircumstances(for example, who the
enemy is, how the war is going).
I want to stressthat I am making no moraljudgment here.
My concern is to identifythe paradoxes of modern thought
and practice that relate to the deliberate inflictionof pain
between states as well as within them. If I focus on
state-condonedcrueltythis is not because I assume that the
state is its only source today,but because our moral discourse
about cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatmentor punishment is closely linked to legal concepts and politicalinterventions.
In the instancesdiscussed so far,I have tried to suggestthat
of the concept of physicalsufferingis at once the
the instability
source of ideological contradictionsand of strategiesavailable
for evading them. I now shiftmy attentionto the domain of
interpersonal relations that the modern state defines as
"private." Here we meet with a contradictionthat has deeper
roots, and one which cannot be resolved simply by, say,
redefiningthe concept of tortureor by prohibitingcalculated
crueltyin militarycombat.
SubjectingOneselfTo "Crueland DegradingTreatment"

While the categoryof "torture"has in recenttimesbeen


expanded to include cases of induced sufferingthat are
it has also been narrowed
or entirelypsychological,
primarily
of physical
to exclude some cases of the calculatedinfliction

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1099

But there is
pain. This sometimesleads to contradictions.
another kind of contradictionwhich is characteristicof
modernsociallife.
Moderns are aware of situationsin which the sharp
separationbetweenthe negativeexperienceof pain and the
positiveexperienceof pleasureare inseparable.Sadomasochto manypeople preciselybecause here they
ism is disturbing
thatis no longersimplypainful.
withsuffering
are confronted
It is at once pain and the oppositeof pain. Two centuriesof
powerfulcriticismdirected at the Utilitarian'scalculus of
pleasureversuspain has notdestroyedthecommonsenseview
thatthesetwoexperiencesshouldbe mutuallyexclusive.Yet,
the twoare intimately
of suffering
in the eroticization
linked,
and it is activelysoughtbysome.
Handbook
Here is an extractfroma sadomasochist
published
recently:
Because I consideranyattemptto defineSM in a singleconcise
or masochism-I
phraseto be the ultimateexercisein futilityto add yetanotherversionto the
shall foregothe temptation
great discarded stack of unsuccessful,inadequate verbal
I
garbage.Insteadlet me suggesta shortlistof characteristics
as SM:
findto be presentin mostsceneswhichI wouldclassify
(1) A dominant-submissive
relationship.
(2) A givingand receivingof pain thatis pleasurableto both
parties.
(3) Fantasyand/orrole playingon the part of one or both
partners.
(4) A conscious humblingof one partnerby the other
(humiliation).
(5) Some formof fetishinvolvement.
(6) The actingout of one or more ritualizedinteractions
etc.) (Townsend,1989,p. 15).
(bondage,flagellation,

of pain, still
Noticethatthistextspeaks not about expressions
but about pain experiless about conventionalplay-acting,
in whichbothpartners,theactiveand the
encedand inflicted,
are
jointly agents. So why is sadomasochismnot
passive,
rejectedby all modernswho condemn pain as a negative
experience?

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One answer, according to some interpreters,is that not


everyone "confuses the distinctionbetween unbridled sadism
and the social subculture of consensual fetishism.To argue
thatin consensual SM the 'dominant' has power, and the slave
has not, is to read theater for reality"(McClintock, 1993, p.
87).
However, the point of my question is not to dismiss the
distinctionbetween "unbridled sadism" and the "subcultureof
consensual fetishism." It is to ask what happens when
individual self-fashioningembraces every difference- including the differencebetween "pain" and "pleasure"- withinan
aestheticwhole. We are sometimestold that the hybridization
of categories, including those that organize our sensual
experience, is a mode by which stable authority may be
subvertedin the name of liberty.But it is possible also thatthe
eroticizationof pain is merely one of the ways in which the
modern self attemptsto secure its elusive foundation.
Recently, an article in a London newspaper gave the
followingaccount of a local performanceby an American artist
at the Instituteof ContemporaryArts:
Ron Atheyallows
Withhis faceset in a maskof concentration,
his head to be piercedwitha six-inchneedlejust above the
as the needle snakes along
eyebrow.You watch,transfixed,
beneaththeskinlikewaterpulsingthroughan emptyhosepipe.
A dropletof bloodwellsup at thepointwheresteelmeetsscalp.
's crown of thorns-a body
This is the firstspike of Athey
of
Christianiconography,an
tribute
to
the
power
piercer's
withthe needle,and a gay man'sdefiance
ex-junkie'sflirtation
withHIV.
of infection
the
time
the macabre 'sketch' is finished,Athey is
By
encrustedwithneedles,garlandedwithwireand oozingblood,
in whatappearsto be a parodyof thecrucifixion.
Ah, butis ita
so poor as to
as
'an
imitation
in
the
defined
dictionary
parody,
seema deliberatemockeryof theoriginal?'Or is it- as Athey's
supporterswould claim- an explorationof the nature of
in the
as manifestto a worldwidegay community
martyrdom,
era of Aids?(Armistead,1994,p. 26).
What is remarkableabout these opening paragraphs is that

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ON TORTURE

1101

the writerof this account finds herselfhaving to put the


word"sketch"in quotationmarks-but not
familiartheatrical
The
so the equallyfamiliartheologicalexpressionmartyrdom.
readeris givento understandthatthisis a realtributeto the
power of Christianiconography,a real explorationof the
but thatit only"appears"to
natureof (Christian)martyrdom,
be a formof theater,an "imitation."17
I stressthat I am not here challengingthis claim, but
underliningthe writer'srecognitionthatin the discourseof
the tension holding "real" and
modern self-fashioning,
"theatrical"apart can collapse. It is especiallyin a modern
culture,where the split between the real and its mere
has become institutionalized,
that it becomes
representation
from
time
to
time
that
a
to
assert
givenperformance
necessary
or thatanotherperformanceis notreally
is merely
theatrical,
theater.My point here, however,is that it is the difference
between"the real" and "the mimetic"-like the difference
between"pain" and "pleasure"-thatis availableto modern
And that,consequently,
the tensionbetween
self-fashioning.
"real" and "pretend"bondage is itselfaestheticized,
and the
betweenconsentand coercionproblematized.
cleardistinction
Of course,SM as definedin the text I quoted earlier is
fromthisperformance
at theI.C.A. For one thing,in
different
the latter there is a separationbetween performersand
observers.No experienceof givingand receivingpain binds
thetwotogetherin mutualpleasure.We findonlya one-sided
representation(presentation?)of an evocative image of
whichis precededby a painfulconstruction
of that
suffering,
on
the
its
intention
is
not
the
Furthermore,
image
stage.
of
We
cannot
know
whether
the
production privatepleasure.
variousmembersof Athey'saudiencerespondprimarily
to the
icon of Christ'slast passionor to the painfulconstruction
of
that icon on the stage- or to both. Nor can we tell what
difference
it would make to thosewho would like to ban this
iftheywereto be toldthatAtheysuffersfroma
performance
of the nervoussystemso thathe actuallyfeels
malfunctioning

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no pain. Or- more tellingly-that like a religious virtuoso he


has learnt to experience it positively.
Think of the Shi'a Muslim flagellants mourning the
martyrdomof the Prophet's grandson Hussain annually every
Muharram. That instance of self-inflicted
pain is at once real
and dramatic (not "theatrical"). It has even less to do with
"pleasure" than does Athey'sperformance.It differsfromthe
latter in being a collective rite of religious sufferingand
redemption. It is not a secular act that borrows a religious
metaphorto make a politicalstatementabout prejudice. Nor is
it premised on the rightto self-fashioningand the autonomy
of individual choice. Yet both strike against the modern
sensibilitythatrecoilsfroma willing,positiveengagementwith
suffering.Because for ascetics,as for sadomasochists,pain is
not merelya means which can be measured and pronounced
excessiveor gratuitousin relationto an end. Pain is not action,
but passion.
These briefreferencesto pain willinglyendured in modern
society help us to raise some questions at the trans-cultural
level.
The interestingthing about the criteriaenumerated in the
SM text I quoted above is that theycome up against Article5
of the UniversalDeclarationof Human Rights:"No one shall be

subjected to tortureor to cruel, inhuman or degrading


This rule is not qualifiedby the
or punishment."
treatment
are consenting
the
concerned
"unless
adults."In
parties
phrase
the same way and for the same reason that one may not
consentto sell oneselfintoslavery,even fora limitedperiod.
Not even if the partiesconcernedfind the relationshipof
bondageerotic.
So, too, the liberalizedChurch stronglydisapprovesof
monksbeing whipped at the commandof theirabbot for
penalizablefaults-evenwhenthepenancehas a ritualclosure
and a dramaticcharacter,and even if the monkshave taken
This followsfromthe
monasticvowsof obediencevoluntarily.
modern rejection of physical pain in general and of

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ON TORTURE

1103

in particular.But it is more preciseto


"gratuitous"
suffering
it
modern
this
the
is notsimplyto pain,it is
put
way:
hostility
to pain thatdoes not accord witha particularconceptionof
inexcess.
"Excess"is a concept
beinghuman- andthatistherefore
of measure.An essentialaspectof themodernattitudeto pain
restson a calculusthatdefinesappropriateactions.
Needlessto say,nothingI have said so faris an argument
against SM. I am not denouncing a "dangerous" sexual
Nor am I concernedto celebrateits"emancipatory"
practice.18
social potential.19
These antagonistic
positionsseem to me to
assumethat"sadomasochism"
has an essence.They are mirror
of
each
other.
But
the
essence
of whatlegal and moral
images
discourseconstructs,
polices,and contestsas "SM" is not the
of
object
my analysis.As in the field of "abnormal and
unnatural"sexualpracticesgenerally,
statepoweris,of course,
and
involveddirectly
vitally
helpingto defineand regulate
of
normality.
Myconcernhere,however,is withthe structure
debate
over
the
valorization
of
in
public
painfulexperience a
culturethatregardsit negatively.
In thatdebate,argumentis
on
the
one
hand, modernsdisapproveof
sharpenedbecause,
physicalpain as "degrading."On the other hand, theyare
committedto every individual'srightto pursue unlimited
physicalpleasure"in private"-so longas thatconformsto the
adultsand does notlead to death
legalprincipleof consenting
or serious injury.Thus, one way that modernsattemptto
resolvethiscontradiction
is by definingcrueltyin relationto
the principleof individualautonomywhichis the necessary
basis of free choice. However, if the concept of "cruel,
inhumanand degradingtreatment"cannot be consistently
deployed withoutreferenceto the principleof individual
freedom,it becomesrelativized.
This becomesclearerin thetrans-cultural
domain.For here
itis notsimplya matterof eliminating
particularcruelties,but
of imposingan entiremoderndiscourseof "being human,"
central to which are its ideas about individualismand
detachmentfrompassionatebelief.Thus, whileat home the

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principle of consenting adults within the bounds of the law


worksby invokingthe idea of free choice based on individual
autonomy,the presence of consentingadults abroad may often
be taken to indicate mere "false consciousness"- a fanatical
commitment to outmoded beliefs- which invites forcible
correction.
Yet, only the suspicious individual- suspicious of othersand
of herself- can be trulyautonomous, trulyfree of fanatical
convictions.But continuous suspicion introduces instabilityat
another level: that of the subject.
ConcludingComment
I have tried to problematize the basic idea underlyingthe
United Nations declaration that,"No one shall be subjected to
torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
punishment."I have suggestedthatthe idea is unstable,mainly
because the aspirationsand practicesto whichit is attached are
themselvescontradictory,ambiguous, or changing. Of course,
the fact that an idea is unstable may not be, in itself,reason
enough for abandoning it. But neither the attempt by
Euro-Americansto impose theirstandards by force on others
nor the willinginvocationof these standardsby weaker peoples
in the third world makes them stable or universal. It merely
globalizes them.
We need ethnographies of pain and cruelty which can
provide us with a better understanding of how relevant
practices are actually conducted in differenttraditions.Such
ethnographies will certainly show us that cruelty can be
experienced and addressed in waysother than as a violationof
rights- for example, as a failure of specific virtues or as an
expression of particularvices. They will also show us that if
crueltyis increasinglyrepresented in the language of rights
(and especiallyof human rights),then this is because perpetual
legal strugglehas now become the dominant mode of moral

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ON TORTURE

1105

uncertain,and rapidly
engagementin an interconnected,
changingworld.
Notes
1So, too,
Page DuBois (1991, pp. 153-57).
2 Z. Bauman
and processesof
(1989) has exploredthe structures
modesof cruelty
themodernstatethatmade possiblethedistinctive
underNazism.
3
thereis a curiousparadox in invokinga metaphor
Incidentally,
of militaryviolence ("to affrontand conquer") to describe the
compassionatework of healing. But such paradoxes abound in
of course.
Christianhistory,
Beccaria
denounces"the barbarousand useless tortures
Thus,
with
multiplied
prodigaland useless severityfor crimesthat are
eitherunprovenor chimerical"(1986, p. 4). And Voltaire,with
characteristic
sarcasm,remarksthat,"On a ditsouvent
que la question
de sauvertincoupablerobuste,
etde perdre
[thatis, torture]etaitun moyen
un innocenttropfaible"(1818, Vol. 26, p. 314).

5 See thetwo
firstpublishedas "Benthamon Torture"
fragments
in Bentham,1973,p. 45.
b In her
in theEnlightenment
work,ClassicalProbability
important
has
Lorraine
Daston
described
how, over two centuries,
(1988),
mathematicians
struggledto produce a model that
Enlightenment
would provide a moral calculus for "the reasonable man" in
conditionsof uncertainty.
Althoughmodernprobability
theoryhas
divorcedfromthismoralprojectsinceabout 1840,
becomeentirely
the idea of a calculuscontinuesto be powerfulin liberalwelfare
discourse.
' Lord
for Finance during the British
Milner,Under-Secretary
of
which
Occupation
Egypt
began in 1882, described Britain's
in
task
that
as
country follows:
imperial
This then,and no lessthanthis,was meantby'restoring
order.'
It meant reformingthe Egyptianadministration
root and
branch.Nay,itmeantmore.For whatwas thegood of recasting
the system,if it were leftto be workedby officialsof the old
type,animatedbytheold spirit?'Men, notmeasures,'is a good
watch-word
but to no countryis it moreprofoundly
anywhere,
applicable than to Egypt. Our task, therefore,included

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somethingmore than new principlesand new methods.It


involvednewmen.It involved'the educationof the
ultimately
to
people know,and thereforeto expect,orderlyand honest
the educationof a body of rulers capable of
governmentsupplyingit' (1899, p. 23).
need to createsubjects
Here Milnerenunciatesthe government's
(in both senses)as well as rulersinformedby new standardsof
humanbehaviorand politicaljustice.That thiswouldinvolvethe
application of some force and sufferingwas a secondary
consideration.I stress that my point is not that colonial
butthat
likeMilnerlacked"humanitarian"
administrators
motives,
theywereguidedbya particularconceptof "humanness."
8 I am
me that,"The word
gratefulto Jon Wilsonforinforming
find
and
is
one
that
we
again
again in ImperialIndia's
expediency
on
officialdocuments,from the 1820's to the Royal Commission
a
as
to
indicated
Resort
to
1928"
"interest,"
expediency,
of
Agriculture
of passionatebelief.See Hirschman,1977.
distrust
9
involvesa ceremonyin whichthecelebrantswings
Hookswinging
builtforthepurposeon a cart,suspendedbytwo
froma cross-beam
steelhooksthrustintothesmallof hisback.See Kosambe,1967.
10In relationto themorecelebratedBritish
ofsati(the
prohibition
of Hindu widowson the funeralpyre of their
self-immolation
husband)in 1829,Lata Mani notesthat,
Ratherthan arguingfor the outlawingof sati as a cruel and
barbarousact, as one mightexpect of a true 'moderniser,'
thatsuch
in favourofabolitionwereat painsto illustrate
officials
consonantwiththe principleof upgrading
a movewas entirely
indigenous tradition.Their strategywas to point to the
sanctionforsatiand to the factthat,for
questionablescriptural
one reasonor another,theybelieveditscontemporary
practice
'true'scriptural
itsoriginaland therefore
meaning
transgressed
(Mani, 1985,Vol. 1, p. 107).
Thus, itwasa modernized"Hinduism"thatwas made to yieldthe
judgmentthatsatiwas a crueland barbarousact.
1xReformative
to offenders
as being
theorypresentedpunishment
whileutilitarian
'in theirbestinterests'
theorycastitas an impartial
act of social necessity.In rejectingretributivetheory,the
reformers
sought,in effect,to taketheangerout of punishment.
was no longerto
to theprisoner,punishment
As itwaslegitimized

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ON TORTURE

1107

be, in Bentham'swords,'an act of wrathor vengeance',butan act


of thesocialgood and
ofcalculation,
disciplinedbyconsiderations
theoffenders'
needs (Ignatieff,
1989,p. 75).
12For
example,Francein Algeria,the UnitedStatesin Vietnam,
Israel in Gaza and the West Bank, Britainin Aden, Cyprus,and
NorthernIreland.
13This is
of
preciselyBentham'sargumentabout the rationality
torturein comparisonwithpunishment:
The purposeto whichTortureis appliedis suchthatwhenever
thatpurpose is actuallyattainedit may plainlybe seen to be
attained;and as soon as ever it is seen to be attainedit may
be made to cease. Withpunishment
itis necessarily
immediately
in orderto makesureof applyingas
otherwise.
Of punishment,
muchas is necessaryyoumustcommonly
runa risqueof applymore:
of
Torture
there
need
neverbe a grain
ingconsiderably
moreappliedthanwhatis necessary(Bentham,1973,p. 45).
14It should not be
thatmedievalwarfarealso had its
forgotten
rules(see, forexample,Contamine,1984). In one sense,the moral
ofconductin warfarewasevenstricter
in theearlymiddle
regulation
in
and
even
was
battle,
ages: killing
maiming,
regardedas a sin for
whichthechurchdemandedpenance(see Russell,1975).
la Of the
or "dum-dum"bullet,inventedin British
mushrooming
India in 1897,Daniel Headrickobserves:"This particularinvention
was so vicious,for it tore greatholes in the flesh,thatEuropeans
thoughtit too cruel to inflictupon one another,and used it only
againstAsiansand Africans"(Headrick,1979,p. 256).
lhThe
paradoxhereis thatthemoderncitizenis a freeindividual
and yethe is obligedto foregothe mostimportantchoice a free
humanbeingcan make- thataffecting
hislifeor death.The modern
statecan send itscitizensto theirunwilling
deathsin warand forbid
themfromwillingto end theirown livesin peace.
17Cf. McClintock
(1993, p. 106): "SM is the most liturgicalof
forms, sharing with Christianitya theatricaliconographyof
punishmentand expiation:washingrituals,bondage, flagellation,
and symbolictorture."But whyonlysymbolic}
body-piercing,
18See, for
example, Linden et al., 1982. See also the legal
in
judgments the Spanner case in England,now being appealed
in the EuropeanCourt.
against
19The radical
social criticismallegedly expressed by SM is
eloquentlyargued for in McClintock'sarticle,but the liberatory

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1108

SOCIAL

RESEARCH

of SM are explicitly
retractedat the end. (See also the
implications
cleverbook by AngelaCarter[1979].) Whilesuch writings
typically
theyalso seem
provideradicalpoliticaldecodingsof SM narratives,
tobe sayingthatas a modeofobtainingorgasm,SM is theproductof
sociallydistortedand sexuallyrepressiverelations.

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