Violence, or the threat of violence has been one of the governing factors of human interaction for as long as humans have been in existence, from the earliest social groups right through to the foundation of the modern state. In the modern day, violence and the threat of violence are the fundamental underpinnings of state administration, in ensuring that taxes are paid and laws are obeyed. Many people, mostly from a libertarian or anarchist perspective question the legitimacy of this violence, based on the idea that it has no moral legitimacy. I would not disagree with them, in that violence is fundamentally immoral, however, given that it is so crucial to the underpinning of human society, the application of the threat of and actual violence must have some practical legitimacy. This short opinion piece aims to define this practical legitimacy.
I would argue that the practical legitimacy of violence is whatever the perpetrator of that violence is not brought to account for. This varies based on the society in which the violence is committed, for example, in Russia and some Middle Eastern states, it is permissible to beat one’s spouse and in the West it is highly unlikely that drone operators will be brought to account for the violence they conduct. Practically, their violence remains unpunished and therefore, by allowing the status quo to stand, that grants their actions legitimacy. This can similarly be applied to those that take part in illegal civil disorder. As long as they remain unpunished their actions would be legitimate.
The implication of the practical legitimacy of violence is that it demonstrates the need to have the capacity to respond to violence acted against oneself or the state that one occupies in order to deny the violence legitimacy. It means that we must come face to face with the idea that “might is right,” is the way that the world has been run and will continue to be run for the foreseeable future. Anyone that does not believe that is living in a fantasy. If you ever wish to live in a world where that is not the case, then you will have to be prepared to fight for it.