“Tempers on both sides have become inflamed,” Boris Johnson declared on Sunday while refusing to apologise for dismissing MPs’ concerns about far-right violence”. Only a few days before, his advisor Dominic Cummings used the same logic to answer a question about whether he believed MPs were liable for the abuse received. “People on all sides have said things that veered between unwise and very unpleasant, and sometimes criminal,” he said.

These comments bear more than a passing resemblance to Donald Trump’s remarks after a young woman was killed at the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. As he put it to reporters, he saw “blame on both sides”. But Johnson went even further than Trump: He didn’t just fail to condemn far-right violence; he effectively provided a philosophical justification for it.

That justification took the form of explaining, indeed defending, the appeal of military metaphors when discussing parliamentary politics. Johnson suggested he felt “very strongly” about that, about clarifying to the public why war metaphors were appropriate. If you cannot use martial metaphors in politics, he argued, “then you are impoverishing the language and diminishing parliamentary public debate”.

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War metaphors and the appeal to responsibility on all sides go hand-in-hand. In international relations, the theory of war is premised on recognising the symmetry between belligerent parties whilst registering the responsibilities of all sides. War is what nations resort to when they have run out of ways to negotiate, when diplomatic tools fail, and when deliberation breaks down.

In those circumstances, all parties agree that violence is an acceptable way to solve conflicts, armies line up against each other, and whoever wins decides the terms of the ensuing peace. War, as Carl von Clausewitz famously argued, is the continuation of politics by other means.

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UK news in pictures

Shape Created with Sketch.
UK news in pictures

1/50 29 September 2019

A sheep on London Bridge as Freemen of the City of London took up their historic entitlement to drive sheep over the bridge, which was once London’s only river crossing

2/50 28 September 2019

An Aldabra giant tortoise is fed watermelon as a treat at the Malvern Autumn Show, at the Three Counties Showground near Malvern in Worcestershire

3/50 27 September 2019

Gallery assistants pose with an artwork entitled ‘Devolved Parliament’ by British artist Banksy, during a press view in London ahead of Sotheby’s contemporary art sale, as part of the Frieze Art Fair

4/50 26 September 2019

England’s Jonathan Joseph is tackled by United State’s Marcel Brache during their group match at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. England scored seven tries on their way to winning 45-7

5/50 25 September 2019

Tributes for former Rangers player Fernando Ricksen at Ibrox Stadium. Today, the funeral procession will pass Ibrox Stadium before making the journey to Wellington Church

6/50 24 September 2019

A person dressed as a caricature of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a prison uniform stands outside the Supreme Court after it ruled that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal

7/50 23 September 2019

Thomas Cook aircraft are parked up at Manchester Airport on the day they collapsed after rescue talks failed. A total of 22,000 jobs – including 9,000 in UK – are to be lost following administration. More than 150,000 British holidaymakers need to be brought home, with the government and CAA hiring dozens of charter planes to fly customers home free of charge

8/50 22 September 2019

Fire performer Penella Bee performs before people take part in the North East Skinny Dip at Druridge Bay in Nothumberland, an annual event that marks the Autumn Equinox and raises money for MIND – the Mental Health Charity

9/50 21 September 2019

Protesters gather for a march and rally organised by “The People’s Vote” in Brighton, to call for politicians to give the public a final say referendum on Brexit

10/50 20 September 2019

Protesters in London joined millions across world to demand urgent action to save planet in the largest environmental protest in history

11/50 19 September 2019

Rapper Dave poses with the Mercury Prize: Albums of the Year Award at Apollo

12/50 18 September 2019

A surfer in action during sunrise at Tynemouth on the north east coast

13/50 17 September 2019

Protesters dressed as the Incredible Hulk and Robocop outside the Supreme Court in London where judges are due to consider legal challenges to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament. The Supreme Court will hear appeals over three days from two separate challenges to the prorogation of Parliament brought in England and Scotland

14/50 16 September 2019

Farmer Tom Hoggard harvests pumpkins at Howe Bridge Farm in Yorkshire, ahead of Halloween

15/50 15 September 2019

Team Europe celebrate winning the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in Auchterarder, Scotland. Europe won the last three singles matches to claim victory 14½-13½
Sunset at St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay

17/50 13 September 2019

Activists from PETA stage a demonstration outside a venue during London Fashion Week in London, Britain

18/50 12 September 2019

Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne attempts to stop a boundary in the fifth Test

19/50 11 September 2019

Storm clouds gather over the pier just off the North East coast at South Shields

20/50 10 September 2019

The peloton rides past the Angel of the North during stage four of the Tour of Britain from Gateshead to Kendal

21/50 9 September 2019

A penny farthing cyclist rides past St. John’s, Smith Square, Westminster, London

22/50 8 September 2019

Australia celebrate the wicket of England’s Craig Overton, which meant they won the fourth test and retained the Ashes

23/50 7 September 2019

Manchester City celebrate after Caroline Weir scored during their Women’s Super League match against Manchester United at Etihad Stadium. The WSL attendance record was smashed with 31,213 people watching the first Manchester derby of Women’s Super League era – nearly six times the previous WSL record

24/50 6 September 2019

A bull bumps into a plain clothes police officer (left) while being walked by Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his visit to Darnford Farm in Banchory near Aberdeen. It coincided with the publication of Lord Bew’s review and an announcement of extra funding for Scottish farmers

25/50 5 September 2019

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon cuts the hair of David Torrance MSP raising £1000 for the charity Maggie’s Centre in Kirkcaldy at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh

26/50 4 September 2019

Australia’s David Warner looks dejected after being dismissed by England’s Stuart Broad during day one of the fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford in Manchester

27/50 3 September 2019

Anti Brexit demonstrators attend a protest at Parliament Square. Lawmakers returned from their summer recess Tuesday for a pivotal day in British politics as they challenged Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s insistence that the UK leave the European Union on 31 October, even without a withdrawal agreement to cushion the economic blow

28/50 2 September 2019

Set building begins on Waterloo Place in Edinburgh ahead of filming for Fast and Furious 9

29/50 1 September 2019

Members of the Royal Southern Yacht Club and the Island Sailing Club take part during the annual cricket match between the clubs, which takes place on the Bramble Bank sandbank in the middle of the Solent at low tide
Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate at Whitehall in London

31/50 30 August 2019

One of the iconic ‘Girl with Balloon’ artworks by anonymous street artist Banksy is carried near one of the original locations the artwork appeared at on the Southbank in London

32/50 29 August 2019

The sun rises over the sculpture “The Couple” by artist Sean Henry, at Newbiggin-by-the-sea in Northumberland

33/50 28 August 2019

A person wearing a Boris Johnson ‘head’ digs a grave at the foot of a tombstone during a protest organised by Avaaz and Best for Britain, outside Downing Street in London

34/50 27 August 2019

Nat Lofthouse statue is covered in flags at the University of Bolton Stadium, Bolton

35/50 26 August 2019

Performers take part in Notting Hill Carnival. Nearly one million people were expected to attend Sunday and Monday’s carnival to celebrate Caribbean culture

36/50 25 August 2019

A competitor swims in the World Bog Snorkelling Championships in Llanwryd Wells, Powys

37/50 24 August 2019

People flock to Bournemouth beach as a heatwave spells potentially record high temperatures for the bank holiday weekend

38/50 23 August 2019

Fans of Bury FC deliver a symbolic coffin to the club’s home at Gigg Lane as the continuation of their membership to the football league lies in doubt. The club will lose their membership at midnight if they don’t find a buyer or prove that they have the means to pay off their debts

39/50 22 August 2019

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow DEFRA Secretary Sue Hayman during a visit to Rakefoot Farm, Castlerigg, Keswick where they are highlighting the danger of a No Deal Brexit to sheep farmers

40/50 21 August 2019

Festival goers walk along the towpath of the River Thames as they arrive for the Reading Festival at Richfield Avenue

41/50 20 August 2019

Police officers gather to pay their respects at the scene near Ufton Lane, where Thames Valley Police officer PC Andrew Harper, 28, died on Thursday. Jed Foster, 20, has appeared at Reading Magristrates’ Court where denied any involvement with the murder

42/50 19 August 2019

A fire that broke out at the site of Village Bakery on Coed Aben Road, Wrexham Industrial Estate in Wales

43/50 18 August 2019

England fielders crowd Pat Cummins as he see’s out the final over during day five of the second Ashes Test match against Australia at Lord’s Cricket Ground. The test ended in a draw

44/50 17 August 2019

Glew (centre) and Monroe Adams (right) pose for a selfie with a member of the public outside DragWorld London 2019, Europe’s largest drag convention, featuring drag stars from the US and UK during a two-day event at Olympia, London

45/50 16 August 2019

A grey seal with fishing net tangled around its neck amongst the colony on the beach at Horsey in Norfolk, as RSPCA data show the number of animals affected by plastic litter is at an all-time high, with incidents increasing by 22% in just four years

46/50 15 August 2019

A flock of sheep are herded past government buildings in London by members of Farmers for a People’s Vote, a campaign group

47/50 14 August 2019

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks during a press conference at the Mayflower Marina in Plymouth, southwest England, on August 14, 2019, ahead of her journey across the Atlantic to New York, aboard the Malizia II IMOCA class sailing yacht, where she will attend the UN Climate Action Summit next month. – A year after her school strike made her a figurehead for climate activists, Greta Thunberg believes her uncompromising message about global warming is getting through — even if action remains thin on the ground. The 16-year-old Swede, who sets sail for New York this week to take her message to the United States, has been a target for abuse but sees that as proof she is having an effect

48/50 12 August 2019

A hare runs on a moor near Ripon, North Yorkshire

49/50 11 August 2019

Britain’s Jamie Chadwick wins first-ever W Series title. She pocketed a prize of £410,000 and, having been signed as a development driver for Williams, she keeps up her hopes of making it into Formula One

50/50 10 August 2019

People gather on the beach as a raft carrying people dressed as clowns heads to shore during the annual Whitby Regatta in Whitby, England. At over 170 years old, the Whitby Regatta is thought to be the oldest sea regatta on the northeast coast of England and draws thousands of visitors each year

1/50 29 September 2019

A sheep on London Bridge as Freemen of the City of London took up their historic entitlement to drive sheep over the bridge, which was once London’s only river crossing

2/50 28 September 2019

An Aldabra giant tortoise is fed watermelon as a treat at the Malvern Autumn Show, at the Three Counties Showground near Malvern in Worcestershire

3/50 27 September 2019

Gallery assistants pose with an artwork entitled ‘Devolved Parliament’ by British artist Banksy, during a press view in London ahead of Sotheby’s contemporary art sale, as part of the Frieze Art Fair

4/50 26 September 2019

England’s Jonathan Joseph is tackled by United State’s Marcel Brache during their group match at the Rugby World Cup in Japan. England scored seven tries on their way to winning 45-7

5/50 25 September 2019

Tributes for former Rangers player Fernando Ricksen at Ibrox Stadium. Today, the funeral procession will pass Ibrox Stadium before making the journey to Wellington Church

6/50 24 September 2019

A person dressed as a caricature of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a prison uniform stands outside the Supreme Court after it ruled that his decision to suspend Parliament was illegal

7/50 23 September 2019

Thomas Cook aircraft are parked up at Manchester Airport on the day they collapsed after rescue talks failed. A total of 22,000 jobs – including 9,000 in UK – are to be lost following administration. More than 150,000 British holidaymakers need to be brought home, with the government and CAA hiring dozens of charter planes to fly customers home free of charge

8/50 22 September 2019

Fire performer Penella Bee performs before people take part in the North East Skinny Dip at Druridge Bay in Nothumberland, an annual event that marks the Autumn Equinox and raises money for MIND – the Mental Health Charity

9/50 21 September 2019

Protesters gather for a march and rally organised by “The People’s Vote” in Brighton, to call for politicians to give the public a final say referendum on Brexit

10/50 20 September 2019

Protesters in London joined millions across world to demand urgent action to save planet in the largest environmental protest in history

11/50 19 September 2019

Rapper Dave poses with the Mercury Prize: Albums of the Year Award at Apollo

12/50 18 September 2019

A surfer in action during sunrise at Tynemouth on the north east coast

13/50 17 September 2019

Protesters dressed as the Incredible Hulk and Robocop outside the Supreme Court in London where judges are due to consider legal challenges to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament. The Supreme Court will hear appeals over three days from two separate challenges to the prorogation of Parliament brought in England and Scotland

14/50 16 September 2019

Farmer Tom Hoggard harvests pumpkins at Howe Bridge Farm in Yorkshire, ahead of Halloween

15/50 15 September 2019

Team Europe celebrate winning the Solheim Cup at Gleneagles in Auchterarder, Scotland. Europe won the last three singles matches to claim victory 14½-13½
Sunset at St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay

17/50 13 September 2019

Activists from PETA stage a demonstration outside a venue during London Fashion Week in London, Britain

18/50 12 September 2019

Australia’s Marnus Labuschagne attempts to stop a boundary in the fifth Test

19/50 11 September 2019

Storm clouds gather over the pier just off the North East coast at South Shields

20/50 10 September 2019

The peloton rides past the Angel of the North during stage four of the Tour of Britain from Gateshead to Kendal

21/50 9 September 2019

A penny farthing cyclist rides past St. John’s, Smith Square, Westminster, London

22/50 8 September 2019

Australia celebrate the wicket of England’s Craig Overton, which meant they won the fourth test and retained the Ashes

23/50 7 September 2019

Manchester City celebrate after Caroline Weir scored during their Women’s Super League match against Manchester United at Etihad Stadium. The WSL attendance record was smashed with 31,213 people watching the first Manchester derby of Women’s Super League era – nearly six times the previous WSL record

24/50 6 September 2019

A bull bumps into a plain clothes police officer (left) while being walked by Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his visit to Darnford Farm in Banchory near Aberdeen. It coincided with the publication of Lord Bew’s review and an announcement of extra funding for Scottish farmers

25/50 5 September 2019

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon cuts the hair of David Torrance MSP raising £1000 for the charity Maggie’s Centre in Kirkcaldy at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh

26/50 4 September 2019

Australia’s David Warner looks dejected after being dismissed by England’s Stuart Broad during day one of the fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford in Manchester

27/50 3 September 2019

Anti Brexit demonstrators attend a protest at Parliament Square. Lawmakers returned from their summer recess Tuesday for a pivotal day in British politics as they challenged Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s insistence that the UK leave the European Union on 31 October, even without a withdrawal agreement to cushion the economic blow

28/50 2 September 2019

Set building begins on Waterloo Place in Edinburgh ahead of filming for Fast and Furious 9

29/50 1 September 2019

Members of the Royal Southern Yacht Club and the Island Sailing Club take part during the annual cricket match between the clubs, which takes place on the Bramble Bank sandbank in the middle of the Solent at low tide
Anti-Brexit protesters demonstrate at Whitehall in London

31/50 30 August 2019

One of the iconic ‘Girl with Balloon’ artworks by anonymous street artist Banksy is carried near one of the original locations the artwork appeared at on the Southbank in London

32/50 29 August 2019

The sun rises over the sculpture “The Couple” by artist Sean Henry, at Newbiggin-by-the-sea in Northumberland

33/50 28 August 2019

A person wearing a Boris Johnson ‘head’ digs a grave at the foot of a tombstone during a protest organised by Avaaz and Best for Britain, outside Downing Street in London

34/50 27 August 2019

Nat Lofthouse statue is covered in flags at the University of Bolton Stadium, Bolton

35/50 26 August 2019

Performers take part in Notting Hill Carnival. Nearly one million people were expected to attend Sunday and Monday’s carnival to celebrate Caribbean culture

36/50 25 August 2019

A competitor swims in the World Bog Snorkelling Championships in Llanwryd Wells, Powys

37/50 24 August 2019

People flock to Bournemouth beach as a heatwave spells potentially record high temperatures for the bank holiday weekend

38/50 23 August 2019

Fans of Bury FC deliver a symbolic coffin to the club’s home at Gigg Lane as the continuation of their membership to the football league lies in doubt. The club will lose their membership at midnight if they don’t find a buyer or prove that they have the means to pay off their debts

39/50 22 August 2019

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow DEFRA Secretary Sue Hayman during a visit to Rakefoot Farm, Castlerigg, Keswick where they are highlighting the danger of a No Deal Brexit to sheep farmers

40/50 21 August 2019

Festival goers walk along the towpath of the River Thames as they arrive for the Reading Festival at Richfield Avenue

41/50 20 August 2019

Police officers gather to pay their respects at the scene near Ufton Lane, where Thames Valley Police officer PC Andrew Harper, 28, died on Thursday. Jed Foster, 20, has appeared at Reading Magristrates’ Court where denied any involvement with the murder

42/50 19 August 2019

A fire that broke out at the site of Village Bakery on Coed Aben Road, Wrexham Industrial Estate in Wales

43/50 18 August 2019

England fielders crowd Pat Cummins as he see’s out the final over during day five of the second Ashes Test match against Australia at Lord’s Cricket Ground. The test ended in a draw

44/50 17 August 2019

Glew (centre) and Monroe Adams (right) pose for a selfie with a member of the public outside DragWorld London 2019, Europe’s largest drag convention, featuring drag stars from the US and UK during a two-day event at Olympia, London

45/50 16 August 2019

A grey seal with fishing net tangled around its neck amongst the colony on the beach at Horsey in Norfolk, as RSPCA data show the number of animals affected by plastic litter is at an all-time high, with incidents increasing by 22% in just four years

46/50 15 August 2019

A flock of sheep are herded past government buildings in London by members of Farmers for a People’s Vote, a campaign group

47/50 14 August 2019

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks during a press conference at the Mayflower Marina in Plymouth, southwest England, on August 14, 2019, ahead of her journey across the Atlantic to New York, aboard the Malizia II IMOCA class sailing yacht, where she will attend the UN Climate Action Summit next month. – A year after her school strike made her a figurehead for climate activists, Greta Thunberg believes her uncompromising message about global warming is getting through — even if action remains thin on the ground. The 16-year-old Swede, who sets sail for New York this week to take her message to the United States, has been a target for abuse but sees that as proof she is having an effect

48/50 12 August 2019

A hare runs on a moor near Ripon, North Yorkshire

49/50 11 August 2019

Britain’s Jamie Chadwick wins first-ever W Series title. She pocketed a prize of £410,000 and, having been signed as a development driver for Williams, she keeps up her hopes of making it into Formula One

50/50 10 August 2019

People gather on the beach as a raft carrying people dressed as clowns heads to shore during the annual Whitby Regatta in Whitby, England. At over 170 years old, the Whitby Regatta is thought to be the oldest sea regatta on the northeast coast of England and draws thousands of visitors each year

But at the national level, the relation between politics and war has always been very different. At the international level, might makes right only because of the absence of a sovereign authority able to establish and enforce common laws. At the national level, this is clearly not the case. National institutions exist to put an end to divisive conflicts between different parts of the political community. Within the state, war is not the continuation of politics; it is the collapse of it.

The celebration of violence, and the argument that all politics is essentially akin to war, are some of the most important tropes of far-right discourse. In the analysis of the Übermensch in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche – one of the far right’s philosophical inspirations – martial heroism is both a means to liberate humans from traditional authority and an expressive end in itself.

The Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt famously argued that all politics is reducible to a distinction between friend and enemy. He rejected liberal parliamentarism, mocked the separation of powers, and argued that in circumstances of crisis only the decisive intervention of a sovereign dictator can articulate the true will of the people.

For a prime minister who is failing to get his way in parliament, who has been found guilty of breaking the laws by the Supreme Court, and who has lied to the Queen, the far-right celebration of violence and the theory of sovereign dictatorship may be just what he needs to blur the boundary between ordinary politics and crisis politics.

War metaphors and the rhetoric of blaming all sides may come in handy to conceal the cost of Johnson’s deeds. But by endorsing martial metaphors in domestic politics, he aligns himself with a tradition of thinking in which those with whom we disagree are not just adversaries to engage with, but enemy targets to be destroyed. 

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This is how minorities and those who defend them come under threat. In blaming all sides when racism is at stake, in considering all parts at war with each other, protagonists in political events become morally indistinguishable. The legitimate anger of the victim is equated with the violence of the perpetrator.

The net result is that those who have been historically excluded and disenfranchised, those with less power, and those who deserve special protection by democratic institutions are reduced to the status of belligerent combatants.

In the symmetry of war, when all parts are equally culpable, and all authority has been destroyed, compromise loses ground. All that’s left to adjudicate each claim are violence and the will to power. This is how history is erased – and how fascism returns.