When is violence justified as a response to manifest and apparently
immovable injustice? My answer, with Martin Luther King is: Never, or
measure, my reasoning is consequentialist. Violence directed against
established authority rarely works, and hardly ever produces enduring
gains. Most revolutions fail, and most successful revolutions produce a
new tyranny, often worse than the old, followed eventually by a return
to the status quo ante..
aren't the only arguments. Symbolic violence involves essentially
random harm to people or destruction of goods or productive capacity.
Even where a case can be made that the targets are in some sense
deserving, random and capricious punishment is always unjust. And the
obvious enjoyment that so many of those who engage in symbolic violence
take in the activity is morally indefensible.
Violence on a scale
sufficient to effect political change is bound to lead to the deaths of
innocent people, both directly and indirectly.
immediate victims of political violence are likely to be working people
- police or soldiers (often conscripts). Once deadly violence has been
adopted as an instrument, whether by a state, a nationalist movement or
political organization, the class of 'legitimate' targets expands
steadily, to include alleged propagandists, collaborators and so on,
and then to would-be neutrals. Moreover the tolerance for "collateral
damage" invariably increases over time.
Typically, these direct
deaths are only the beginning - retaliation from the other side,
especially from a state against a revolutionary movement, is usually
far more deadly...
further important point is that the belief that injustice is immovable
is often wrong. The advocates of the Iraq War argued that Saddam's
regime was immovable, and that the inevitable death and suffering
associated with an invasion would be less than that from leaving the
regime in power for decades to come. The Arab Spring has shown that
claim to be, at best, highly questionable.
How far does this
argument go? Not to the point of denying a right of self-defence
against an attacker who is trying to kill or maim you, or (with more
qualifications) to defend others against such attacks. Or to the point
of disallowing resistance to slavery by whatever means necessary.
don't have a final position on this, beyond saying that the presumption
against violence ought to be much stronger than it has generally been.
Yep. Reading Quiggin's words takes much of the sting out of our European unemployment bet. If I'm going to lose, I'd rather lose to a fellow pacifist.