Protective Use of Force: The Problems with Violence

This is the fourth installment in a multi-part series. Browse the Protective Use of Force index to read more.

     by Adam Herriott / Deep Green Resistance UK

It is difficult to find a clear, well-reasoned list of arguments against resistance movements using “violence” or force. Some critics argue that it’s authoritarian, but then list only authoritarian revolutions as examples. [1] Others argue that  the use of “violence” or force gives the state an advantage over resistance movements. Therefore it’s best to use nonviolence, which states may find more difficult to violently repress (more on this in future posts). [2]

Another common critique of “violence” or the use of force is that the end never justifies the means. Sharp argues that “violent” struggles against dictators have rarely won freedoms, and have resulted in brutal repression. [3] Saul Alinsky makes some useful points on this in chapter two of his book Rules for Radicals.

The most comprehensive list of arguments that pacifists articulate against the use of “violence” or force is in Endgame Volume II: Resistance by Derrick Jensen. [4] Jensen includes his response and counterargument to each one:

  1. Love leads to Pacifism, violence implies a failure to love
  2. You can’t use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house
  3. It’s easier to make war than peace
  4. We must visualise world peace
  5. If someone wins someone loses
  6. Schiller’s line: “peace rarely denied to the peaceful”
  7. The end never justifies the means
  8. Violence only begets violence
  9. We must be the change we wish to see
  10. If you use violence against exploiters you become like them
  11. If you use violence the media distorts our message
  12. Every act of violence sets back the movement 10 years
  13. If we use violence the state will come down hard on us
  14. The state has more capacity to inflict violence than us
  15. Violence never accomplishes anything

To conclude, in the last three posts I’ve attempted to clarify the vague concept of violence. I have listed a number of categories and definitions of violence. I’ve also stated that we need to consider the intention of those involved and the context of the situation. It is important to consider if a violation is taking place and instead of thinking in terms of violence, frame things in terms of how much justifiable force is need to defend humans, non-humans or the earth. I have described structural, subjective and objective violence and the concepts of state monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Finally, I’ve listed the problems with violence. The aim here is to move away from the binary thinking of violence vs nonviolence and to appreciate the complexity of this topic. In the next post I will explore nonviolence and pacifism.

This is the fourth installment in a multi-part series. Browse the Protective Use of Force index to read more.

Featured image: A Palestinian hurls a stone towards Israeli police during clashes in Shuafat, an Arab suburb of Jerusalem and home to the victim of a suspected revenge killing for the murder of three Israeli teenagers. By Baz Ratner/Reuters

Endnotes

  1. Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, Mark Kurlansky, 2007
  2. Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Non-Violent Techniques to Galvanise Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World, Srdja Popovic, 2015, page 86
  3. Dictatorship to Democracy, Gene Sharp, 1973, page 4
  4. For a thorough critique see pages 675-757 in Endgame Vol II or incomplete versions here and here

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