Is state violence justified?

Topics: Social contract, Political philosophy, Human rights Pages: 7 (3680 words) Published: July 29, 2014
State laws are not always just. State violence is not always legitimate. Discuss these issues in relation to protest and dissent.

In his 1918 essay Politics as a Vocation, Max Weber described the monopoly of state violence as an essential characteristic of modern governments. (1918 p.1) State violence is monopolised towards the pursuit of societal compliance, which according to political history, is a necessary condition for a functioning democracy. (1918 p.2) As Tolstoy points out, history has demonstrated the advent of modern states to be forming under extreme violence. (1918 p.2) According to Noam Chomsky violence is legitimised by its efficacy at lessening a greater evil. (1967, p.1) This suggests that in order to assess the legitimacy of state violence, one must apply it to specific historical circumstances. This essay will focus on the state violence during the Civil Rights Movement in the USA from 1955-1968 arguing that state violence is legitimised by the fabrication of an objective morality, using laws created through an assumed national identity. Anthropology, as a subject, is concerned with people and how ideas of self-hood ally with their political society. The Civil Rights Movement started revolutionary protests like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and radical dissent movements such as the Black Panthers and political ideologies such as Black Power in self-defense against the state-advocated violence. (1990 p.111-116) The dissidence persisted against both the violence and the legal policies of the US, and was therefore seen as a threat, not only to national identity, but national security as well.

The need for a Civil Rights Movement in the USA to ensure equal liberties to all its citizens was an example of an unrepresentative government failing to provide its people with the justices they thought they deserved. Following the abolition of slavery in 1865, black Americans have been awarded minimal freedom and agency within their own country with laws disallowing their vote and most importantly the 1920 Jim Crow racial segregation law which was introduced by Ulysses Grant as a response to the continued racial violence which was present across the USA. (1990 p.21-30) After decades of dealing with substandard accessibility to public spaces and institutions such as transport and education, the black public organised themselves and began to protest using boycotts, marches and sit-ins such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Selma to Montgomery march. These protests most often resulted in violent clashes with the police and fellow citizens who opposed the idea of integrating African Americans into their society and rewarding them with equal American civil liberties. (ibid. p.31-36) This often resulted in many protesters criminally imprisoned and killed by citizen vigilante gangs and the police as the American government expressed their monopoly on violence. (ibid. p. 31-36)

Civil Rights Movement leader Angela Davis argued against the creation of laws and political imprisonment alluding to the violent struggle minorities have faced through hundreds of years of involuntary servitude followed by political oppression, legitimised by state laws and ideas of national identity which only represented a portion of the population. (1971 p. 11)As a black American, Davis witnessed how state violence around and within her community was frequently used to maintain civil obedience. She argued that the federal state policies imposed on its citizens an incessant state of poverty, defended police brutality and created political prisoners. (ibid.) Advocating resistance against state violence is something Davis adopted as a part of her personal objective and, using Marxist ideologies, called for a policy reformation for the people, using any means necessary. (ibid. p.12-16) The government's responded to resistance using force, expecting society to simmer down out of fear. Davis explained how minorities were no longer...

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