The Strategy of World Order - Vol. 1

By Richard A. Falk; Saul H. Mendlovitz | Go to book overview

Uses of violence

H. L. NIEBURG

The threat of violence, and the occasional outbreak of real violence (which gives the threat credibility), are essential elements in conflict resolution not only in international, but also in national communities.1 Individuals and groups, no less than nations, exploit the threat as an everyday matter. This fact induces flexibility and stability in democratic institutions and facilitates peaceful social change.

I refer not only to the police power of the state and the recognized right of self-defense, but also to private individual or group violence, whether purposive or futile, deliberate or desperate. Violence and the threat of violence, far from being meaningful only in international politics, is an underlying, tacit, recognized, and omnipresent fact of domestic life, of which democratic politics is sometimes only the shadow-play. It is the fact that instills dynamism to the structure and growth of the law, the settlement of disputes, the processes of accommodating interests, and that induces general respect for the verdict of the polls.

An effort by the state to obtain an absolute monopoly over violence, threatened or used on the behalf of private interests, leads inexorably to complete totalitarian repression of all activities and associations which may, however remotely, create a basis of antistate action. A democratic system preserves the right of organized action by private groups, risking their implicit capability of violence. By intervening at the earliest possible point in private activities, the totalitarian state increases the chance that potential violence will have to be demonstrated before it is socially effective. On the other hand, by permitting a pluralistic basis for action, the democratic state permits potential violence to have a social effect with only token demonstration, thus assuring greater opportunities for peaceful political and social change. A democratic system has greater viability and stability; it is not forced, like the totalitarian, to create an infinite deterrent to all nonstate (and thus potentially anti-state) activities. The early Jeffersonians recognized this essential element of social change when they guaranteed the private right to keep and bear arms (Second Amendment). The possibility of a violent revolution once each generation acts as a powerful solvent of political rigidities, rendering such revolutions unnecessary.

The argument of this essay is that the risk of violence is necessary and useful in preserving national societies.2 This specifically includes sporadic, uncontrolled, "irrational" violence in all of its forms. It is true that domestic violence, no less than interns

____________________
1
"Violence" is defined as direct or indirect action applied to restrain, injure, or destroy persons or property.
2
The role of violence in political organizations is vividly demonstrated by a recent event among a group of elks at the Bronx Zoo. A 4- year-old bull elk, Teddy, had his magnificent antlers sawed off to one-inch stumps. He had reigned as undisputed boss of a herd of six cow elks and one younger bull. But the breeding season was on, and he was becoming "a bit of a martinet." With his antlers off, he gets a new perspective on his authority and becomes a tolerable leader. A younger bull may try to take over as paramount leader of the herd, but if he does, the veterinarian will saw off his antlers, too ( New York Times, September 26, 1962, p. 35).

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