Perhaps one of the most enduring political violence of modern times is the Arab-Israeli conflict, which owns its genesis in the legality of the Israel state. Of course there exist many other forms of political violence that continues to be demonstrated today by individuals and nations, including the ever present threat of terrorism from Muslim fundamentalists.
Ellina & Moore argues that discontent or deprivation of one form or another is generally taken to be the root cause of violent political behavior (267). Aristotle was of the opinion that an infuriated sense of justice triggers most political revolutions, while Karl Marx opined that political violence generally results from continuous ‘immiseration’ of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie.
More recently, according to Ellina & Moore, some political theorists have argued that political violence originates from the frustrations of individuals who fail to attain the values they believe they are entitled to achieve. These viewpoints draw their strength from the relative deprivation theory, which largely depends on individual interpretations of reality.
The theory has received criticisms for demonstrating subjectivity in justifying political violence. This paper purposes to make an argument for the moral justification of political violence against a sitting government and the factors that should be considered before engaging in political violence.
Men are innately violent in nature (Sedernberg 3), but this form of argument should not be allowed to take precedence in justifying political violence. However, some forms of actions taken by a sitting government may morally justify political violence when other efforts aimed at finding an amicable solution to the problem have been exhausted.
Consider governments that force the population to follow alien philosophical orientations or prescribe to a particular religious order! A good example could be Fidel Castro’s socialist philosophies on the Cuban people and the former Taliban’s appetite for all people of Afghanistan to strictly follow the Sharia teachings according to the Muslim faith.
Such governments first and foremost trample the basic human rights of freedom of association and worship as may be enshrined in the constitution and, as such, there exist a moral justification for political violence aimed at driving them out of power to establish order (Sedernberg 48). It should be noted that the underlying rationale for engaging in political violence in such a scenario must never be based on the propensity for hurting or killing others, but driving the oppressive government out of power.
Political violence in a democracy may also be justified on account of forcing changes in policy on certain issues that may be affecting a large proportion of the population (Vries para. 2). However, this justification must be rigorously evaluated and tested against certain variables, such as the scale of the problem brought about by a particular policy deemed unfit, the number of people affected, if the government itself is the major cause of the problem, or when the government acts to obstruct effective solving of the problem.
Political violence in such a scenario is justified by the fact that people should always ascribe to do good over evil, and therefore have a moral duty to use undemocratic means to reverse a punishing or evil policy. Democracy must never be carried in high value or esteem than the priority of good over evil (Vries para. 5).
However, objective evaluations must be made beforehand to authenticate the fact that existence of such a policy has negatively affected a large proportion of the population, and reversing the policy is the only way to solve the problem. To pass the credibility test, such political violence should be devoid of subjective meanings or hurting personalities; on the contrary, it should be carried out to clean up the system and, again, establish order.
Corrupt governments and others which abet crimes, such as money laundering, human trafficking and drugs trade, have no moral right to be in office and to continue governing the masses (Sedernberg 52). As such, the citizens have a moral right to use all the means within their reach to force such governments out of power, including the use of political violence.
Again, political violence in this context should be viewed as a means to achieve the greater good to the greatest proportion of people, in line with the utilitarian theory of morality (Ellina & Moore 272), and must never be viewed as a strategy for enhancing personal vendetta or a concerted effort to take over power through the backdoor.
Such a framework of political violence can be used to free countries such as Columbia from the drug trade. Successive governments in the country, though democratically elected by the electorate, are bankrolled and to a large extent controlled by the mafia cartels. Respecting such administrations certainly imply that the ‘democracy of drug lords and mafia cartels’ is a higher value than the moral priority and justification of doing what is good (Vries para. 5).
Lastly, political violence may be justified when governments fail to respect the constitution as the supreme law of the land, and when the sitting administration governs as though it is administering a personal entity (Sedernberg 55). According to the relative deprivation theory, people will always feel aggravated by situations that purpose to rob them of their basic rights, resources, wealth, and jobs, among others (Ellina & Moore 274).
Some governments, especially in Africa and Asia, have total disregard of the constitution and rule through parochial interests, sidelining whole societies from enjoying the national cake due to personal vendetta or for the reason that such societies did not vote for them (Sunstein 7).
In Africa, this is the root cause of political violence, and it is morally justified in as far as the people concerned are fighting to get what is rightfully theirs according to the constitution. The task therefore is for the governments to always ensure that they govern in tandem with the wishes and aspirations of those who elected them – the electorate.
Ellina, M., & Moore, W.H. Discrimination and Political Violence: A Cross-National Study with Two Time Periods. The Western Political Quarterly 43.2 (1990): 267-278
Sedernberg, PC. Fires Within: Political Violence and Revolutionary Change. London: Harper Collins College Press. 1994
Sunstein, C.R. Legal Reasoning & Political Conflict. New York: Oxford University Press. 1996
Vries, G.M. Justifications for Terrorism. 2005. Retrieved 9 Nov 2010