The Threshold for Political Violence
Here’s a question for readers of all political stripes:
How big would a moral outrage have to be before you turned to violence?
Imagine that you live in a place in which what you perceive as a grave moral injustice–specifically violence against innocents–is enshrined in law. You may perceive your opponents as anywhere from mean-spirited to perfectly well-meaning, but either way they are determined to continue, and your prospects for overturning this outrage through the normal legal process any time soon are scarce or nil. In the meantime, you believe something horrific is happening on a massive scale.
For our purposes, try to think of different governments — direct democracy, representative democracy, oligarchy, monarchy, whatever.
At what point do you decide to act against law, by an alternative code? And specifically, I mean turning to violence: threats, destruction of property, assault, assassination, even terrorism* and revolution.
What prevents you from acting violently up to that point?
- The high personal cost?
- The low probability of success?
- The fear that things will turn out worse than simply allowing the grave injustice to continue?
- Simple aversion to personally engaging in violence, despite your belief that the status quo is violence under color of law?
I’m trying to get at what flips a switch in someone to get them to turn to political violence. Can you imagine a situation in which you would turn to such violence?
I suppose this turned into more of a thought experiment than a question. But your input is welcome.
* I prefer Philip Bobbitt’s definition of terrorism in Terror and Consent as “the pursuit of political goals through the use of violence against noncombatants in order to dissuade them from doing what they have a lawful right to do,” so remember, you oppose these noncombatants for supporting laws.