The Right to Violence

“The concept of violence covers two different forms: the institutionalized violence of the established system and the violence of resistance … There is violence of suppression and violence of liberation; there is violence for the defense of life and violence of aggression.”
-Marcuse, “The Problem of Violence and Radical Opposition”

We consider citizenship to be a privilege. We trust in the government of our nation to protect our rights, way of life, and physical well-being. Every government operates by delivering to its citizens these civil liberties. We concede our right to seek retribution for crimes inflicted upon us to the courts of our nation. Citizens give up their right to directly access violence and instead give that right to their government. The government, therefor, has the right and the duty to enforce laws and inflict punishment for and upon its citizens. If the government is operating fairly and efficiently, they alone have the right to access institutionalized violence.
But if a government, like the government of Syria, allows transgressions of the law for certain religious groups, fails to protect its citizens natural rights, and historically violates the contract of trust between a government and its people, then the citizens can no longer be expected to concede their right to directly access violence. Syrians have been forced to take justice into their own hands, and as soon as they began protesting the Assad regime, they alienated the regime and denounced its legitimacy to rule. An overwhelming majority of the population of Syria no longer recognizes the regime as exercising “institutional violence of the established system”. The government is using violence they do not have the right to use. Even as the regime makes promises of reform with the Arab League, they continue to exercise violence against their citizens. I don’t think they can possibly remain in power, if they can even still be considered in power at all. The “citizens” no longer recognize the government as an institution with the right to control them, and I don’t think any compromise or promise of the Assad regime will be able to convince Syrians to relinquish their personal right to use violence now that they have been forced to take that right back for themselves. It may be a very long time before Syrians are able to trust in a government enough to relinquish the rights they have learned to take for themselves or risk losing all-together.

1 comment for “The Right to Violence

  1. Caroline
    November 6, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    Hannah,
    Thanks for a great post! I actually thought that your explanation for the legitimacy of the use of force against a government read a bit like the US Declaration of Independence. I guess it’s not surprising that many Americans can identify with the motives behind the Arab Spring, as part of our own national identity is built on the idea of freedom from tyranny (perhaps we should reflect on this when crafting our foreign policy and drafting our military maneuvers…). I was wondering about your thoughts on the use of violence by a third party on behalf of a population under duress, such as the international intervention in Libya. As you explained, the negligence or violence of a regime against its people justifies the violent resistance by the people, but does it also open the door for military intervention by a third party? Does the only legitimate resistance against a government come from its own people? Is it possible for the international community to participate in the violent opposition of a regime without influencing the will of the people living in that nation? These are questions that I have been thinking about it my blog posts, and I would love to hear your take on them if you continue with this topic.

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