Violence 2023

The public debate about violence suffers from a lack of broad scientific reflection of the notion. C.A.J. Coady (1998, Vol.9 pp 615-17). In philosophy at least 2 theories address violence directly. A legitimate definition of violence treats violence as the illegitimate use of force. It is a kind of moralising appeal to reserve violence to those legally well-defined cases that receive their legitimacy from law. Next in the line of reasoning then is the definition of legitimacy. Slaves or colonies in this definition would never be allowed to use violence in their fight for freedom. This is recognised as a logical problem of such a definition. “In a legitimate state, shooting or savage beating by police will not count as violence, if it is a politically legitimate use of force.” (p.615).
The second theory of violence builds on the notion of “structural violence” (Johan Galtung, 1969). Structural violence is a much wider concept of violence. It includes social injustices inflicted on individuals or groups in society (suffering) as well as a broader view on perpetrators beyond individual persons to include police or institutions more generally. Coady stresses the point that both these theories are morally loaded without sufficient justification. Even a narrow definition of violence as “exercise of physical force” is too narrow, as it neglects the devastating effects of psychological violence. Part of the judgement therefore is motivation or intention of the person applying violence to clarify a moral stance. Psychic disorders or abuse in social upbringing are recognized as attenuating influences in legal procedures.
A wise conclusion is drawn by Coady: “Even justified violence is regrettable” (p.617). Living in permanent fear of abuse of violence by criminals or the police narrows the gap between authoritarian regimes and democracies. The basic social fabric of trust in the police is at risk in such a situation. It is very hard to re-establish trust in institutions once groups of society have lost it or even doubt that basic trust in the institutions of democracies is justified. (Image: Part of Pieter Brueghel II, De kindermoord te Bethlehem Musées royaux des beaux arts, Brussels, 16th century).

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