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Violence … is the last refuge of the incompetent. ~ Isaac Asimov

Violence is any act of aggression and/or abuse that causes or intends to cause injury to persons, animals, or property. It may include random violence, (such as unpremeditated or small-scale violence) and coordinated violence (such as actions carried out by sanctioned or unsanctioned violent groups -- including war, revolution, or terrorism).

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Violence can destroy power; it is utterly incapable of creating it. ~ Hannah Arendt
We are quite obviously faced with a need to organize some small defenses to the more flagrant abuses of the system now. ... While we await the precise moment when all of capitalism's victims will indignantly rise to destroy the system, we are being devoured. ... Some of us are going to have to take our courage in hand and build a hard revolutionary cadre for selective retaliatory violence. ~ Jonathan P. Jackson
If "violence never solved anything," cops wouldn’t have guns and slaves may never have been freed. ~ Jonah Goldberg


  • Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. It is the only resort by which incompetent men can thrive. The bully, the brute, the dictator.


  • The "hard law of value," the "law set in stone"—when it abandons us, what sadness, what panic! This is why there are still good days left to fascist and authoritarian methods, because they revive something of the violence necessary to life—whether suffered or inflicted. The violence of ritual, the violence of work, the violence of knowledge, the violence of blood, the violence of power and of the political is good! It is clear, luminous, the relations of force, contradictions, exploitation, repression! This is lacking today, and the need for it makes itself felt.
  • I had long put on one side the purist pacifist view that one should have nothing to do with a social revolution if any violence were involved... Nevertheless, the conviction remained in my mind that any revolution would fail to establish freedom and fraternity in proportion to its use of violence, that the use of violence inevitably brought in its train domination, repression, cruelty.
    • Fenner Brockway, Inside the Left (1942), also quoted in Martin Ceadel, Pacifism In Britain 1914-1945: The Defining of a Faith, Clarendon Press, 1980.
  • No matter what someone else has done, it still matters how we treat people. It matters to our humanity that we treat offenders according to standards that we recognize as just. Justice is not revenge — it's deciding for a solution that is oriented towards peace, peace being the harder but more human way of reacting to injury. That is the very basis of the idea of rights.
  • Violence as a tool is already operating in the world before anyone takes it up: that fact alone neither justifies nor discounts the use of the tool. What seems most important, however, is that the tool is already part of a practice, presupposing a world conducive to its use; that the use of the tool builds or rebuilds a specific kind of world, activating a sedimented legacy of use. When any of us commit acts of violence, we are, in and through those acts, building a more violent world.
  • Quite apart from assiduous efforts to restrict the use of violence as means rather than an end, the actualization of violence as a means can inadvertently become its own end, producing new violence, producing violence anew, reiterating the license, and licensing further violence. Violence does not exhaust itself in the realization of a just end; rather, it renews itself in directions that exceed both deliberate intention and instrumental schemes. In other words, by acting as if the use of violence can be a means to achieve a nonviolent end, one imagines that the practice of violence does not in the act posit violence as its own end. The technē is undermined by the praxis, and the use of violence only makes the world into a more violent place, by bringing more violence into the world.
  • Violence against the other is, in this sense, violence against oneself, something that becomes clear when we recognize that violence assaults the living interdependency that is, or should be, our social world.
  • The state monopolizes violence by calling its critics “violent”. [...] Hence, we should be wary about those who claim that violence is necessary to curb or check violence; those who praise the forces of law, including the police and the prisons, as the final arbiters. To oppose violence is to understand that violence does not always take the form of the blow.


  • There is another question which arises out of this. Can peace, goodwill, and confidence be built upon submission to wrong-doing backed by force? One may put this question in the largest form. Has any benefit or progress ever been achieved by the human race by submission to organised and calculated violence? As we look back over the long story of the nations we must see that, on the contrary, their glory has been founded upon the spirit of resistance to tyranny and injustice, especially when these evils seemed to be backed by heavier force. Since the dawn of the Christian era a certain way of life has slowly been shaping itself among the Western peoples, and certain standards of conduct and government have come to be esteemed. After many miseries and prolonged confusion, there arose into the broad light of day the conception of the right of the individual; his right to be consulted in the government of his country; his right to invoke the law even against the State itself. Independent Courts of Justice were created to affirm and inforce this hard-won custom. Thus was assured throughout the English-speaking world, and in France by the stern lessons of the Revolution, what Kipling called, “Leave to live by no man’s leave underneath the law.” Now in this resides all that makes existence precious to man, and all that confers honour and health upon the State.
  • Much of the sanctimonious abhorrence displayed by the ruling class and its apologists against the use of violence in the class struggle is rooted in the desire to maintain the integrity of its class monopoly of violence.
    • Oliver C. Cox, Caste, Class, and Race: A Study in Social Dynamics (1948), p. 168


  • The Lord examines the righteous,
    but the wicked, those who love violence,
    he hates with a passion.
  • For he will rescue the poor who cry for help,
    Also the lowly one and whoever has no helper.
    He will have pity on the lowly and the poor,
    And the lives of the poor he will save.
    From oppression and from violence he will rescue them,
    And their blood will be precious in his eyes.
  • Democracy don’t rule the world,/You’d better get that in your head,/This world is ruled by violence,/But I guess that’s better left unsaid./


  • "I wish your revolt well, my friend," said Bakhtin, "but beware that you don't end up merely repeating the same old story. The state abhors only one thing in the end, and that's the sound of laughter. Violence it can understand."
  • Heroism by order, senseless violence, and all the pestilent nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism — how I hate them! War seems to me a mean, contemptible thing: I would rather be hacked in pieces than take part in such an abominable business.
    • Albert Einstein, "Mein Weltbild" (1931) [English: My World-view] translated as the title essay "The World As I See It" in The World As I See It (1949) [1], New York: Philosophical Library, ISBN 0806527900.


  • In its bare reality, decolonization reeks of red-hot cannonballs and bloody knives. For the last can be the first only after a murderous and decisive confrontation between the two protagonists. This determination to have the last move up to the front, to have them clamber up (too quickly, say some) the famous echelons of an organized society, can only succeed by resorting to every means, including, of course, violence.


  • Victory won by violence is tantamount to defeat, for it is momentary.
  • Hitler...Mussolini...and Stalin are able to show the immediate effectiveness of violence. But it will be as transitory as that of Chenghis' slaughters. But the effects of Buddha's nonviolence persist and are likely to grow with age.
    • Mahatma Gandhi, March 1937, quoted in Pyarelal, Mahatma Gandhi: The Last Phase. Volume 2; Navajivan Publishing House, 1956 (p. 802).
  • If “violence never solved anything,” cops wouldn’t have guns and slaves may never have been freed. If it’s better that 10 guilty men go free to spare one innocent, why not free 100 or 1,000,000? Clichés begin arguments, they don’t settle them.
  • It is the technique of the baboon to try to get its way by violence.


  • Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst.


  • It is not a question of the necessity of violence, but how to organize it to fit our unique situation, to tie it with flawless exactitude to our political activity, and to organize it immediately.
  • We are quite obviously faced with a need to organize some small defenses to the more flagrant abuses of the system now. ... While we await the precise moment when all of capitalism's victims will indignantly rise to destroy the system, we are being devoured. ... Some of us are going to have to take our courage in hand and build a hard revolutionary cadre for selective retaliatory violence.
  • Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.
  • People often say that violence accomplishes nothing, that it's ineffective. Violence is dreadfully effective. That's why those in power use it.
    • Derrick Jensen, quoted in The Pied Pipers of Pacifism: Lee Hall, Gary Francione, and the Betrayal of Animal Liberation by Steven Best and Jason Miller (2009). p. 12.


  • The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.


  • There is nothing but violence in the universe; but we are spoiled by a modern philosophy that tells us all is good, whereas evil has tainted everything, and in a very real sense, all is evil, since nothing is in its place.
  • hopes
    for peace: hand clasped in hand
    firmer than fist on a gun
    or club, hand raised in greeting
    stronger than hand raised for violence
  • Violence is the whole essence of authoritarianism, just as the repudiation of violence is the whole essence of anarchism.
    • Errico Malatesta, "Anarchism, Authoritarian Socialism and Communism" in What Is Anarchism?: An Introduction by Donald Rooum, ed. (London: Freedom Press, 1992, 1995) p. 59.
  • Violence creates nothing but violence, no matter what we call it and what the excuse. And so it goes, down all the centuries.


  • Always, the rulers of an order, consistent with their own interests and solely of their own design, have employed what to them seemed to be the most optimal and efficient means of maintaining unquestioned social and economic advantage. Clear-cut superiority in things social and economic—by whatever means—has been a scruples-free premise of American ruling class authority from the society's inception to the present. The initial socioeconomic advantage, begotten by chattel slavery, was enforced by undaunted violence and the constant threat of more violence.


  • The only sound way to appraise the state of the world is to count. How many violent acts has the world seen compared with the number of opportunities? And is that number going up or down? [...] To be sure, adding up corpses and comparing the tallies across different times and places can seem callous, as if it minimized the tragedy of the victims in less violent decades and regions. But a quantitative mindset is in fact the morally enlightened one. It treats every human life as having equal value, rather than privileging the people who are closest to us or most photogenic. And it holds out the hope that we might identify the causes of violence and thereby implement the measures that are most likely to reduce it.


By what standard of morality can the violence used by a slave to break his chains be considered the same as the violence of a slave master? By what standards can we equate the violence of blacks who have been oppressed, suppressed, depressed and repressed for four centuries with the violence of white fascists? Violence aimed at the recovery of human dignity and at equality cannot be judged by the same yardstick as violence aimed at maintenance of discrimination and oppression. ~ Walter Rodney
  • Revolt, it will be said, implies violence; but this is an outmoded, an incompetent conception of revolt. The most effective form of revolt in this violent world we live in is non-violence.
  • Violence, contrary to popular belief, is not part of the anarchist philosophy. It has repeatedly been pointed out by anarchist thinkers that the revolution can neither be won, nor the anarchist society established and maintained, by armed violence. Recourse to violence then is an indication of weakness, not of strength, and the revolution with the greatest possibilities of a successful outcome will undoubtedly be the one in which there is no violence, or in which violence is reduced to a minimum, for such a revolution would indicate the near unanimity of the population in the objectives of the revolution. … Violence as a means breeds violence; the cult of personalities as a means breeds dictators--big and small--and servile masses; government--even with the collaboration of socialists and anarchists--breeds more government. Surely then, freedom as a means breeds more freedom, possibly even the Free Society! To Those who say this condemns one to political sterility and the Ivory Tower our reply is that 'realism' and their 'circumstantialism' invariably lead to disaster. We believe there is something more real, more positive and more revolutionary to resisting war than in participation in it; that it is more civilised and more revolutionary to defend the right of a fascist to live than to support the Tribunals which have the legal power to shoot him; that it is more realistic to talk to the people from the gutter than from government benches; that in the long run it is more rewarding to influence minds by discussion than to mould them by coercion.
    • Vernon Richards, "Anarchism and violence" in What Is Anarchism?: An Introduction by Donald Rooum, ed. (London: Freedom Press, 1992, 1995) pp. 50-51.
  • Violence stinks no matter which side of it you're on. But now and then there's nothing left to do but hit the other person over the head with a frying pan.
  • I am not part of the human race. Humanity has rejected me. The females of the human species have never wanted to mate with me, so how could I possibly consider myself part of humanity? Humanity has never accepted me among them, and now I know why. I am more than human. I am superior to them all. I am Elliot Rodger... Magnificent, glorious, supreme, eminent... Divine! I am the closest thing there is to a living god. Humanity is a disgusting, depraved, and evil species. It is my purpose to punish them all. I will purify the world of everything that is wrong with it. On the Day of Retribution, I will truly be a powerful god, punishing everyone I deem to be impure and depraved.
  • We were told that violence in itself is evil, and that, whatever the cause, it is unjustified morally. By what standard of morality can the violence used by a slave to break his chains be considered the same as the violence of a slave master? By what standards can we equate the violence of blacks who have been oppressed, suppressed, depressed and repressed for four centuries with the violence of white fascists? Violence aimed at the recovery of human dignity and at equality cannot be judged by the same yardstick as violence aimed at maintenance of discrimination and oppression.


  • We are a fine species with some potential. Yet we are racked by sickening amounts of violence. Unless we are hermints, we feel the threat of it, often as a daily shadow. And regardless of where we hide, should our leaders push the button, we will all be lost in a final global violence.
    • Robert Sapolsky, The Trouble With Testosterone: And Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament (New York: A Touchstone Book, Simon & Schuster, 1998), pp. 157–158.
  • The definition of “violence” has now expanded to include a new continuum of behaviors and feelings that are also generically used to ascribe a negative value to a person’s actions. The word “violence” has expanded far beyond the field of physical assault to also mean emotional abuse and, unfortunately, emotional conflict where there is no abuse. In recent years, we see “violence” and “abuse” being ascribed to social criticism, efforts to understand phenomena, and social and psychological analysis. “Abuse” is also regularly used to describe disagreement and misunderstanding. Accusations of “policing,” “shaming,” and other expressions of “call-out culture” demanding “safety” from uncomfortable ideas represent people and actions as laden with blame, refusing interactivity around the content of ideas and perceptions. This is in line with the similar practice of calling racial analysis “playing the race card.” Trying to understand and explain structures of pathology is repressed by accusations of wrong-doing. Thinking is wrong. Saying is wrong. Not only are revelations unwanted, they get mischaracterized as harm.
  • The word “violence” should be used to describe physical violence. Emotional cruelty, shunning, group bullying—these things can be worse than some violence, but they are not the same. If this wide range of precise experiences is all collapsed into the generic word “violence,” then nothing has any differentiation, therefore all the variations lose meaning. And as I have been arguing, rhetorical devices that hide details keep truth from being known and faced. Using the word “violence” without metaphor will help with the current discourse of overreaction and help us discern, with more awareness, the differences between Abuse and Conflict.
  • Physical violence has many varied manifestations, and non-defensive violence is never justified or desirable, nor does it solve problems. The most common scenario is the regularly violent spouse who initiates violence as a control mechanism, where it is used to enforce behaviors in the victim. Then there is the couple who both lack problem-solving skills and resort to violence irregularly, or in a single incident, in ways that are equally undesirable but don’t result in one person’s domination. They do not endanger each other physically, although there are clearly signs of problems that need to be faced and dealt with. These are obviously different phenomena. And I think they should be treated differently even though they both involve physical violence. Once we stop being determined to produce a victim and are instead focused on learning the truth of what actually happened, we become willing to accept the discomfort of recognizing two people as being Conflicted and embrace a more humane and acknowledging vision of social relationships. This is essential if we want peace.


  • Most humans are still in the grip of the egoic mode of consciousness: identified with their mind and run by their mind. If they do not free themselves from their mind in time, they will be destroyed by it. They will experience increasing confusion, conflict, violence, illness, despair, madness. Egoic mind has become like a sinking ship. If you don't get off, you will go down with it.
    • Eckhart Tolle in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose, p. 67, (2005)
  • For those who hold on to the old patterns, there will be increasing pain, violence, confusion, and madness.
    • Eckhart Tolle in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose, p. 101, (2005)
  • All violence consists in some people forcing others, under threat of suffering or death, to do what they do not want to do.
    • Leo Tolstoy, The Law of Love and the Law of Violence (1908).
  • As soon as men live entirely in accord with the law of love natural to their hearts and now revealed to them, which excludes all resistance by violence, and therefore hold aloof from all participation in violence — as soon as this happens, not only will hundreds be unable to enslave millions, but not even millions will be able to enslave a single individual.
  • People in favour of the use of force all think that it is just a means of attaining justice and peace. But peace and justice are free from violence...That is the final objective of history. If you abandon non-violence, you have no sense of history. You pass history by, you put history on ice, you are a traitor to history.


  • All violence is justified by the perpetrators and their supporters, and condemned by those who disagree. In other words, all humans support violence when they agree with the philosophy of the perpetrators and condemn violence when they disagree with that philosophy.
    • Paul Watson, "ELF and ALF - Terrorism Is as Terrorism Does", taken from Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals (2004), p. 283
  • Football combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings.
  • I wouldn't use physical violence even if I could, because one of my romantic ideas is that physical violence is beneath the dignity of a man, and that whatever you get by physical aggression costs more than it is worth.
  • The trouble about the use of force or violence as the primary instrument of a Government or society is the inordinate difficulty of stopping or stabilizing it. It does not matter whether the units be individuals, classes, or nations, the more they rely upon force to determine their relations, the more difficult it becomes to stabilize relations.
    • Leonard Woolf, "Meditation on Abyssinia", The Political Quarterly, January 1936. Volume Seven, Issue One. Reprinted in In Savage Times: Leonard Woolf on Peace and War, Containing Four Pamphlets, Garland Publishing, 1973.

Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989)

  • Violence is as American as cherry pie.
    • H. Rap Brown, press conference at the Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee headquarters, Washington, D.C., July 27, 1967, as reported by The Evening Star, Washington, D.C., July 27, 1967, p. 1.
  • The use of violence as an instrument of persuasion is therefore inviting and seems to the discontented to be the only effective protest.
  • Violence has no constitutional sanction; and every government from the beginning has moved against it. But where grievances pile high and most of the elected spokesmen represent the Establishment, violence may be the only effective response.
  • I'd hate to be in those [slum] conditions and I'll tell you if I were in those conditions, you'd have more trouble than you have already because I've got enough spark left in me to lead a mighty good revolt.
    • Hubert Humphrey, speech to the National Association of Counties in New Orleans, Louisiana, July 18, 1966, as reported by The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, July 19, 1966, p. 18.
  • I feel that we will continue to have a non-violent movement, and we will continue to find the vast majority of Negroes committed to non-violence, at least as the best tactical approach and from a pragmatic point of view as the best strategy in dealing with the problem of racial injustice. Realism impels me to admit, however, that when there is justice and the pursuit of justice, violence appears, and where there is injustice and frustration, the potentialities for violence are greater, and I would like to strongly stress the point that the more we can achieve victories through non-violence, the more it will be possible to keep the non-violent discipline at the center of the movement. But the more we find individuals facing conditions of frustration, conditions of disappointment and seething despair as a result of the slow pace of things and the failure to change conditions, the more it will be possible for the apostles of violence to interfere.
  • Lawlessness is lawlessness. Anarchy is anarchy is anarchy. Neither race nor color nor frustration is an excuse for either lawlessness or anarchy.
    • Thurgood Marshall, speech at the national convention of Alpha Phi Alpha, St. Louis, Missouri, August 15, 1966, as reported by the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, August 17, 1966, p. 1.
  • Our most serious challenges to date have been external—the kind this strong and resourceful country could unite against. While serious external dangers remain, the graver threats today are internal: haphazard urbanization, racial discrimination, disfiguring of the environment, unprecedented interdependence, the dislocation of human identity and motivation created by an affluent society—all resulting in a rising tide of individual and group violence.
    • To Establish Justice, to Insure Domestic Tranquility, final report of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (1960), p. xxxii. Dr. Milton S. Eisenhower was chairman of the commission.

See also


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