Weapons of the weak

Violence often diminishes the power of those who employ it, necessitating the use of more violence in an attempt to gain or maintain control.


Power and violence are not the same. Power is a moral force that makes people want to obey. Violence enforces obedience through fear. Those who use violence may manage to temporarily impose their will, but their command is always tenuous because when the violence ends, or the threat of it lessens, there is even less incentive to obey the authorities. Control through violence requires constant vigilance. Too little violence may not create enough fear; too much violence can generate revolt.

Violence is the weapon of choice for the impotent.

Man throwing Molotov cocktail

Those who don’t have much power often attempt to control or influence others by using violence. Violence rarely creates power. In fact, groups or individuals that use violence often find their actions diminish what power they do have.

Groups that oppose governments often try to compensate for their perceived lack of power by using violence. Such violence reinforces state power.

A terrorist that blows up a building or assassinates a politician gives government the excuse it wants to crack down on individual liberties and expand its sphere of influence. Click To Tweet

Governments turn to violence when they feel their power is slipping away. Governments that rule through violence are weak. Dictators must rely on terror against their own populations to compensate for their powerlessness.

The US would feel no need to send troops to the Middle East if it had power in that region. The only way to maintain control in the absence of power is through the continual use of violence. Protracted violence results in diminished power, making more violence necessary.

May 2001
Revised 2019

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Text on this page by James L. VanHise licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Attribution: James L. VanHise – fragmentsweb.org.

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