Thursday, December 14

Can Violence Be Legitimate?

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Violence, as an act of will itself, should never be regarded at a first thought as something negative. What gives us the right to look at it this way is nothing but the impact that it has on a specific portion of our society. This being said, we can clearly delimitate two notions concerning violence: necessary violence – the one that we use in order to preserve the status quo of our civic and social values; the so-called legitimate violence – and unnecessary violence – the one that we use unjustly, for satisfying our beast-like instincts; the illegitimate violence – .

First of all, what makes any kind of violence, lawful and legitimate? Of course, one may argue that we ought to never use violence in any given circumstances. However, there are times of great need when people can resort to nothing else, but mere violent acts in order to prevent something even worse, maybe a state of generalized violence throughout society. Such is the case, for example, of the eighteenth century European interventionism in poor colonies’ civil wars. Without interfering in those forlorn, primitive pseudo-states, the internal clashes between different factions of the same ethnic group would have ended in nothing else but a series of horrible genocides. Observing this situation we have no other choice than to admit the legitimacy of nations to intervene violently in order to stop larger, crueler conflagrations.

On a more particular level we can also find “necessary” violence when referring to individual citizens. These types of actions are taken by them with the intention of conserving their own moral and corporal integrity, also being protected by the law under the names of either self-defense, or state of necessity. To illustrate these, we can relate to the more familiar case of an offender who is trying to attack, maybe even kill, a person. This person has not only the right to retaliate, but also the moral duty to do so.

On the other hand, there is another type of violence, prevalent in human societies throughout all our history as a species – the unnecessary violence. Not having an objective legitimacy, it answers to an old archetype, deeply rooted in the subconscious of man. From ancestral times, we used to look upon ourselves as the dominant being in the food chain, the supreme hunter. This conception later evolved gradually, leading to individual violence aimed at obtaining a better material situation for oneself. Then, spreading to the context of entire ethnic groups (e.g. tribes/clans) war appeared as a mean of securing the existence and economic independence of the population. In those times it had both a mythological and moral motivation (almost all the heathen cults of ancient times glorified the warrior nature of man, considering it the only honourable way to live).

Analyzing this shortened psychological history of illegitimate violence in human society, we finally reach our modern times, an age of progress, evolution and a claimed “age of reason”. Therefore we cannot deny the fact that traces of our ancestral warrior nature could never be entirely suppressed, still living in every one of us. We still kill, we still hurt people, we still fight one another and we definitely lack the self-control and pacifism that we boast to have obtained.

To conclude, we can follow no other path than the one of admitting our own deficiencies when it comes to confrontation among individuals and groups. Even though, ethically speaking, violence has become rather unnecessary in most cases and lawfully condemned, it has never stopped affecting our world.

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