13th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Burelli

Carlo Burelli

No Rest for the Wicked. What Conflict is and Why it is Inevitable

This paper has two aims: first, to discuss the concept of conflict within the field of political philosophy, and second, to clarify how conflict, appropriately defined, is a necessary and inevitable feature of politics. I start by defining conflict as the situation characterized by (1) two or more actors having incompatible wills and (2) at least one of them prefers the situation in which his will is realized ‘against the resistance of the other party’. Second, I show how adopting such a definition allows to distinguish conflict from similar concepts in political philosophy like pluralism, disagreement, violent struggle, and war, with which it is often confused. Third, I tackle a few interesting features of conflict that are clarified through this definition. First, not all conflicts are political. Second: the use of violence is contingent, although always potential. Third: conflicts are content-neutral. They cannot be resolved by proving the enemy wrong. Fourth: conflicts may arise unilaterally. Only one actor needs to exhibit the will to prevail, in order for the other to be in a situation of conflict. Fourth, I claim that conflicts are permanent features of politics by showing that (1) and (2) cannot be completely eliminated. Contrasts of wills (1) are broadly recognized in the literature, both in political philosophy and in social and political sciences. The will to prevail (2) is not as unanimously acknowledged, but due to the unilateral emergence of conflict, we only need it to be possible, for conflicts to be inevitable.