The Causes of Violence
NOVEMBER 01, 1965 by FRANCIS MAHAFFY
The Reverend Mr. Mahaffy has served since ¹945 as a missionary of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in
Violence in the streets of some of our large urban centers has stimulated an investigation of the underlying causes of these riots, bloodshed, hatred, disrespect for life, property, and the laws of society. Until we learn the causes, it will be hard to come by the cure for the disorder.
To some, the obvious cause is poverty. But poverty does not of itself produce violence. While the mobs were rioting in the United States, I was visiting in an African home. The four children and their parents, as well as the chickens, shared one small room in the hut.
Their beds consisted of mats on the hard earth with a piece of cloth or a block of wood for a pillow. But as I sat on the floor with them, eating a coarse bread with hot pepper sauce from a common dish, there was a pleasant exchange of banter followed by more serious discussion and study. The deep poverty of this African family did not lead to violence; rather, they all manifested the most gracious hospitality and sincere friendship. In Africa, violence frequently characterizes the activity of the newly educated and more economically advanced young people; the poor people more often retain their tradition of gracious hospitality and friendliness. There is no direct relationship between poverty and violence in Africa—or America.
It is my conviction that the causes of violence often lie in the philosophy of the welfare state society, promoted by politicians and widely accepted by many people.
Recently, a religious periodical reported that a Christian college received a large grant of Federal funds toward building a library. A student of that college wrote of Federal grants to provide on-campus jobs for the students. This college would be classed as a conservative school in its political and religious outlook. Not one of the professors would think of supporting open violence but would roundly condemn it. All would agree that the Moral Law of God summarized in the Ten Commandments provides the absolute norm for conduct. Yet the supporters of such Federal subsidies to education, like all supporters of the welfare state, are unwittingly endorsing violence as a way of life.¹
Perhaps the shooting of policemen and civilians, the plundering of stores and burning of buildings seem remote from the promotion of the welfare state society via Federal subsidies. The one manifests open and naked force against the lives and property of others; the other seemingly advocates Federal funds for worthy, peaceful ends. But both alike are manifestations of violence and are the fruits, in differing degrees of maturity, of the same basic philosophy.
Redistribution by Force
The measures of the welfare state are means for redistributing the wealth. The recipients may be the aged who receive Medicare, foreign nations who are given tractors and money in foreign aid, urban dwellers for whom new houses are built, farmers who sell their grain to the government at a subsidized price, private or government school beneficiaries of state and Federal grants, children who receive free or subsidized lunches, or those businesses whose projects are government financed. Whatever the means of redistribution may be, the recipient receives what has been seized by violence in taxes collected from others. He receives the fruit of legal plunder.
This legal plunder of property by the state is rooted in disrespect for life; for to seize property is to violate the life sustained by that property. Carried to its logical conclusions, the recipient of legal plunder assumes a right to the property and thus to the life of his better-situated neighbor. When legal plunder becomes the accepted norm of everyday life, it is little wonder that more naked violence occasionally breaks out in our cities. The perpetrators of the violence have been taught through effective propaganda that they have a right to the fruits of the labor of others. When they feel that the agents of the redistribution have stinted in the distribution of these fruits to them, they take into their own hands the logistics of the division, speeding up the process by open violence and plunder. They are only carrying out to its logical conclusion the principle of violence involved in Federal subsidies to some at the expense of others. They are engaging in illegal plunder and violence to accomplish what the welfare state does by means of legal plunder.
Dr. Ludwig von Mises has clearly pointed out the fact that socialism leads naturally to violence, bloodshed, and war.2 Whether this socialism be that of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy,
The causes of violence often lie in the philosophy of compulsion that characterizes all types of socialism. And because socialism involves violence, it flouts the moral law which restricts the use of force against others to the restraint of evil.
Restoring Moral Law and Order
The solution to the problem of violence does not lie in attributing it to poverty and promoting further violence by way of urban renewal and Federal subsidies. The solution is to abandon violence as a way of life. Required is a renewed respect for law rooted in respect for God, the Law-Giver, not only by individual citizens subject to the law, but especially by those citizens who have been delegated the power of the sword for the suppression of violence among us.
It is still true that "righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people."3 True righteousness will evidence itself not only in refraining from violence on the streets of our cities but in abandoning the philosophy of violence which characterizes the redistributionist activities of the welfare state.
1 Leonard E. Read, "Violence as a Way of life," Essays on Liberty, (Irvington, N. Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, 1962), Vol. IX, p. 303.
2 Ludwig von Mises, Human Action (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949), pp. 449, 680-84, 820.
3 Proverbs 14:34