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The history of humanity is inundated with several instances of violence as a means of fighting for liberation. The concept of legitimate violence is has been a matter of much debate over the years. Often, the challenge arises because when violence is used inappropriately, it affects many people who might not be the targets. Similarly, the use of violence for whatever cause has been opposed in several quarters. It is hard to draw a clear line between legitimate violence and false violence. In the fight for liberation, it can sometimes be difficult to realize any progress without resorting to violence. Nat Turner and John Brown used violence to challenge slavery since they believed that armed resurrection was the only means of achieving the objective. Political philosophy has attempted to explore the concept of legitimate violence often with mixed results. In the case of Nat Turner and John Brown, the abolitionist movement had to resort to violence because morality and other avenues of conflict resolution did not seem to yield any progress.

The idea of violence in the ethical sense cannot be used in many instances. Violence can be justified in an environment where universal moral norms are not observed or obeyed (Bekkenkamp & Sherwood, 2003). If people can learn to observe ethicality in the humanistic sense, then violence as a solution can totally be eliminated. However, this is not normally the case in many situations. Often, those with the power and means to influence change value their ego and hence things like freedom of speech cannot work as designed. During the abolitionist movement, peaceful resistance was used as a way of fighting the institution of slavery. John Brown observed that such peaceful means did not have any effect and were, therefore, unnecessary (Ferrell, 2006). John Brown was highly concerned about the pacifism of the anti-slavery movement and therefore resorted to armed struggle. As a result of the Harpers Ferry raid, the South seceded, leading to the Civil War (Ferrell, 2006). While his methods remain controversial even today, he nevertheless gave up his life in order to free millions of people from slavery.

It is argued that the United States maintains its superpower status through violence. Violence characterizes many wars and conflicts, and this creates the question of the legitimacy of violence as a means to an end (Kirkpatrick, 2008). Many people simply claim that violence is abhorrent and that all parties to a violent confrontation are guilty. Often, many opponents of violence seek to maintain moral purity without delving into the intricacy of many conflicts. For instance, it is inappropriate for the world to stand and watch as an obdurate totalitarian massacre his subjects. It creates the need to understand violence within its very context and not simply as a general presumption. Nat Turner had tasted life as a free man and therefore knew the value of freedom. In parts of the South such as Virginia, slaves were kept too busy serving their masters and had little time to think about a revolution (Kirkpatrick, 2008). Nat Turner through his violence revolt created awareness amongst the slaves that freedom could be achieved through armed rebellion. [Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]

The enslavement of black people in the South was justified through religious righteousness and the seemingly white domination over blacks. Nat Turner’s plan was to shatter those theories and prove that blacks could also be enlightened to understand the need for freedom (Bekkenkamp & Sherwood, 2003). Although Nat’s short-term objectives were not met, his actions are fully justified since it would have been difficult to use nonviolence forms such as morality, religion, and dialogue. In the case of Brown, his use of violence was mainly to help in reshaping public image to the realization that slavery was unacceptable (Bekkenkamp & Sherwood, 2003). In the liberal philosophy of Locke, the legitimacy of revolution is keenly presented (Ferrell, 2006). When law and religion are used against the people rather than to the interest of the people, it creates a recipe for a revolution. Many armed liberation struggles across the world have been raised against political systems that are too entrenched in the master/slavery notion to the extent that no nonviolence options can work. In many cases, the association between the colonizer and the colonized begins with a violent interaction. The process of decolonization cannot occur unnoticed; violent events must trigger it.

In a system where domination occurs, values are often poisoned as a means of retaining dominance. People must face the reality that many governments and systems are sometimes too evil, cruel, and unjust (Kirkpatrick, 2008). The use of nonviolence only works to strengthen injustice against the people. Consequently, many situations justify the use of force as the only means to preserve human dignity. However, the use of violence must be accompanied by some limitations. In case there are other functional alternative strategies available, then force should not be used. Violence as an option must only be employed in the pursuance of well-defined social or political change. For instance, the Apartheid government in South Africa was in itself a violent regime. The struggle for freedom could not, therefore, be achieved through peaceful means since the authorities would thwart any attempts. Violence is only justified if there is a just cause (Kirkpatrick, 2008). The damage inflicted upon society during violent struggles must be minimized to justify the process.

The American experience has been shaped significantly by violence. During the Second World War, the interventionists insisted that the US had to enter the war since Britain and France were fighting for peace and humanity while the Axis was keen on eliminating humanity (O’Boyle, 2002). Considering the cause of the war, France was gone, and Britain was toppling. Without American intervention, the history of the world would have changed. However, in many instances, American foreign policy gives legitimacy to unnecessary violence. The use of peaceful means of conflict resolution usually only involves a few as others remain uncommitted. The use of violence antagonizes the nonpartisan group which is then forced to join the cause. As a result, progress can be achieved when everyone is on board. It is human nature to resist change and many people in power cannot simply accept to be toppled. Activists have a duty to arouse the political consciousness of the masses to grant them a chance for a better future. [“Write my essay for me?” Get help here.]

The use of violence in the modern age is a matter of great debate. Internationally, much progress has been achieved in creating institutions to address many challenges (Ferrell, 2006). In the past, violent struggles could be used to liberate enslaved people. However, the nature of modern forms of violence creates the need for careful analysis. In the case of Syria, for instance, the use of violence by the rebels sparked what has become an international concern with several parties now involved. In the end, the people have suffered, and peace cannot come anytime soon. Morality, as a component of human nature, does not work in the manner of ideology (Wright, 2016). Morality changes with respect to circumstances and cannot, therefore, be used generally.[Click Essay Writer to order your essay]

In conclusion, the use of violence options can, therefore, be justified in liberating oppressed people. In an ideal system where value systems and morality prevails, there is certainly no need for violence in any situation. However, the world faces many complexities where nonviolent forms cannot simply yield solutions. Nat Turner and John Brown opted to use force to raise awareness among the slaves on the need for freedom. The actions ultimately led to a series of events that culminated in freedom for the slaves. In any case, the human propensity to resist change sometimes justifies the need for the use of violence. When religion is used subjectively to propagate domination, like in the slave era, it raises concerns about the extent to which fairness can be realized through peaceful options.


Bekkenkamp, J., & Sherwood, Y. (Eds.). (2003). Sanctified aggression: Legacies of biblical and post-biblical vocabularies of violence. London, England: T & T Clark International.

Ferrell, C. L. (2006). The abolitionist movement. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Kirkpatrick, J. (2008). Uncivil disobedience: Studies in violence and democratic politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

O’Boyle, G. (2002). Theories of justification and political violence: Examples from four groups. Terrorism and Political Violence14(2), 23-46.

Wright, J. D. (2016). More religion, less justification for violence. Archive for the Psychology of Religion38(2), 159-183

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By Hanna Robinson

Hanna has won numerous writing awards. She specializes in academic writing, copywriting, business plans and resumes. After graduating from the Comosun College's journalism program, she went on to work at community newspapers throughout Atlantic Canada, before embarking on her freelancing journey.

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