Dan Popp
Justifying force
By Dan Popp
August 14, 2014

Civilization is nothing more than the effort to reduce the use of force to the last resort. – José Ortega y Gasset

How do you justify using force – violence – against another human being?

In Judeo-Christian societies it's difficult to justify the use of force. This is not a random, pointless agglomeration of cells you're hurting – it's a bearer of God's image. To bring intentional harm to him is in some way to attack God. Nevertheless, violence against another human being is sometimes warranted, even necessary. If someone were to assault your wife or child, you are permitted – even expected – to strike back. We extend the circle of defensive force beyond family to all innocent persons. If you can prevent death or injury to an innocent person by causing death or injury to his attacker, we'll give you a medal, not a jail sentence. Even then, there might be questions as to whether you used more force than necessary.

Our individual rights to use force against evil are partially delegated to government, said John Locke, whose thinking had a great deal of influence on the American Founders.

But whether we're talking about violence done by you, or by your agents in Washington, within the Judeo-Christian paradigm force can be justified only against a wrongdoer .[1] Intentional violence against the innocent is never permissible. In this view the crucial requirement is the offender's own action – he brings the harm upon himself. This understanding was enshrined in our national restraining order.

No person shall ... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

That hasn't been repealed, by the way. The Fifth Amendment is still in the Constitution. Government power coming down on the upright is unconscionable in the Christian paradigm. Violence is allowed to prevent wickedness – only.

When Western societies begin to cast off their biblical moorings, they find other acceptable reasons to use compulsion. For example, anything. If someone wants to fornicate, but doesn't want to be "punished with a baby" (to quote our President), and furthermore doesn't want to pay the cost of contraception when choosing to fornicate, she may see her own lusts as a reason to use force against you. She'll remove some of your property without your consent, using the biggest coercive power on the planet.

On the other hand if she wants to have a baby, you're still liable for her decision. You don't know this person, are not related to this person, and will never communicate with this person. No matter. You may be required at the point of the government gun to provide all sorts of things for her and her child. You shall feed it, educate it, and pay someone to watch it while the mother chooses to go to work. If she chooses not to go to work, that choice will also be laid on your shoulders, as you'll be providing much more.

In this anti-Christian worldview, violence against the righteous is justified.

The reverse is also true. Though the barbarian is willing to use force against the upright at the drop of a hat, she's reluctant to speak sternly to the wicked. Lax enforcement of laws, lighter sentences, infinite delays and appeals, parole, amnesty and other techniques are used to soften the blow of righteous force against the criminal. In the upside-down world of the barbarian, force is justified not to prevent unjust actions, either directly or by example, but for the sake of vague ideas about the "village" and the "social contract."

This disagreement regarding the just use of force may help us understand the left's seemingly random responses to world events. We want out of Iraq, we just bombed Iraq. We're fighting them but we're not really "fighting" them. We have a red line for Syria, but you know, we've looked at that line again and it's more of a yellow color. We must stop the genocide there, but not there. The only filter a barbarian can use to help him determine when to use force is, What's in it for me? How is it polling? If I get good press out of it, we're taking decisive action. If not, well, we can't be the world's policemen. When you've intentionally forgotten that government is force, that its military is the sharp end of that force, and that force is justified only against the unjust, the end product is destruction without purpose.

These two philosophies cannot be reconciled. There's no common ground between the view that force against the innocent is never justified, and the position you have stuff, and we're entitled to it. There is civilization and there is barbarism. Choose.

Whenever government acts, violence is done to someone – that's the nature of the institution. The salient question isn't, "Where is my compassion?" but "What is your justification for using force against me?"

The violence of the wicked will destroy them, because they refuse to do justice. (Proverbs 21:7, NKJV)


[1]  Throughout this essay I use words like "righteous" and "innocent," and antonyms like "wrongdoer" and "wicked" where I would prefer to simply distinguish between law-abiding people and criminals. But since a legislature can criminalize anything and legalize anything, this would make my opponents' argument a tautology. We would agree that it's right to punish criminals, and a criminal could be defined as anyone they want to punish.

© Dan Popp


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