Human Violence: Why We Can’t Eradicate It

July 28, 2019
Human violence is innate and is a huge threat to any community and society in general. Among the multiple theories regarding the origin of violence and evil, some stand out. Discover them here!

The main function of human rights is to protect inalienable, fundamental rights to which we’re inherently entitled simply because we’re human beings. To guarantee respect for our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. However, these rights are of little use in times of war or other situations of human violence. It’s hard for someone to remain safe and not get hurt, damaged, or violated by others.

Hegel’s “theory of history” has the idea that the principles of thesis and antithesis (events of history) resolved in what came we know today as synthesis as a basis. Synthesis balanced opposing parties. However, it seems that Hegel, both in his theory of history and in his “master-slave dialectic”, was too optimistic.

It’s not crazy to posit that history advances on its bad side. From the current prism by which we can see past and present events and predict the future based on experience, that is.

Even in the book of Genesis, we can see that the god of the Abrahamic religions used violence when he cast out human beings from their earthly paradise. All for daring to taste forbidden knowledge. As they see it, God can only possess knowledge. Furthermore, Eve sinned arrogantly by eating an apple from the tree of wisdom. What follows is pain and violence as brothers Cain and Abel reveal to us the enigma of all tragedies through their actions. The desire for possession and for power. (Cain means “possession” and Abel represents “innocence”).

The Spirit of Domination and Death Drive

A marble sculpture.

We could say, without fear of being mistaken, that the desire for possession is a mere desire for domination. When someone doesn’t possess what they want, they must look for it elsewhere. It’s here when we find that, what that person longs for is to possess another. Additionally, they can only obtain it by just grabbing it and not letting it go.

It’s precisely this drive to possess that which leads us humans towards violence and urges us to kill. This is why Freud conceptualized it as a “death drive“. Possession is nothing more than the desire to dominate others in order to possess what they have. If the bearer of the object of desire refuses to give the dominator what they want, then they’ll die in an act of violence.

Or, as Nietzsche stated “There is will to power where there’s life. And even the strongest living things will risk their lives for more power. This suggests that the will to power is stronger than the will to survive“. That is, to preserve what you have, you must expand.

Who Wins in a Violent World

To Adolf Hitler, Germany alone represented culture and strength. His country had the will to power and no other master. After all, no other country had what Germany had. It was from this idea that his need to expand and kill to increase his empire arose.

As we said earlier, when you really want something, then you have to dominate the one who has it in order to possess it. In this case, and as Hegel already posited, the one with the less fear of dying wins.

The desire for mastery is spiritual and, therefore, motivating. However, the fear of dying is of the flesh and turns human beings into simple mammalian animals. Those who continue to fight maintain their condition as thinking humans.

The world belongs to the masters. They have the war and media power needed to conquer the world. Also, they can possess the world because people are afraid. And those who are afraid, don’t try to revolt.

“He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.”

-Adolf Hitler-

Human Violence and the Quest for Power

A man trying to bring down another.

For Nietzsche, the will to power prevails in humans and this is positive and vital. The will to power throws the human being into the world of life and not of work. The will to power exists because it’s a constant evolution. We love ourselves and don’t just want to keep what we have but also fight to obtain more.

It’s precisely in this confrontation between what you already have and what you want. Between the master and the slave; where the slave submits because they’re afraid to die and this is how they’re subdued and reduced to nothing. Only those who are less afraid, who desire more things, and who don’t mind harming others and fight to obtain what they want will retain their human dignity.

This theory of human violence posits that it exists because it’s always existed and shall exist forever. It’s inherent to humans and, fortunately, or unfortunately, a part of our nature.

  • De Zan, J. 2009: La Filosofía social y política de Hegel. Buenos Aires: Ediciones del Signo.