On Violence | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | CWR
To talk of “violence” as if it is always and necessarily bad or irrational is itself irresponsible
Everyone is familiar with the principle, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” It is in fact a “principle”. As such, it is not a bad one. It was an effort to establish justice in a world where no effective legal system existed. The remedy for a crime depended on the relatives and friends of the victim. The retaliation was to be carried out according to proportion—an eye for an eye, no more, no less. It was in the name of deterrence and of restoring a just balance. The one who committed a crime should suffer the same penalty to himself that he meted out to another.
Generally speaking, the point of the “feud”, or the eye-for-an-eye principle, was subsumed into a legal order of a city or polity. This sub-sumption did not mean that the issue of just judgment, deterrence, and retaliation did not still exist. It just meant that the responsibility to define and repair the damage was placed not in the hands of the sufferer of violence but in those of the legal, judicial, and law-enforcement order. This aura of legality was, in turn, designed to eliminate, as much as possible, passion and prejudice from any unjust aggression. It could then be judged as objectively as possible. The norm of reason as defined by law and the judgment of peers was the rule. Both the victim and the attacker were required to follow this standard, however much either disagreed with the decision. This system was a key element of civil peace and of civilization itself.
The word “violence” is often used loosely. Such usage, without any distinction, causes enormous confusion and damage to everyone. Indeed, its loose employment often increases injustice by confusing what is legitimate and what is not. As such, “violence” means the use or threatened use of physical force against some other person. By analogy, we talk of “violent” storms or tigers. The “violence” of a truly “mad” man, one with no possibility of rational control, is not “voluntary”. It is closer to the storm or tiger in its moral status. Such a man was described in the Gospel of Mark (5:3). He was running about the tombs and could not easily be subdued even by strong man. “Violence” is properly addressed as if it were voluntary. The degree of voluntariness or intent indicates the heinousness of the crime.
Thus, we distinguish between manslaughter, first, and second degree murder on the basis of voluntary intent. It makes no sense to implore someone not to be “violent” if he has no desire or will not to be violent.