7.2.4 Government Abuse of Force and Reaction Against It

Government abuse of force, such as torture or an unnecessary degree of violence, causes people to turn against the authorities.

All governments use force to enforce the law, but some use disproportionate force against their own population – sometimes citing the need to protect society against a the threat of a complete collapse of law and order (7.2.6).  And several forms of State violence are forbidden by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Appendix 1).  State abuses of force are not uncommon:

●  Many authoritarian governments maintain control over the population by using brutal force against dissenters, to enforce conformity and instil a fear of stepping out of line.  This has been observed in both Russia ( and China (

●  If the population distrusts the result of an election, and cannot replace an unsatisfactory leader by democratic means, there is the potential for protests.  Sometimes these lead to violent crackdowns such as those described in BBC reports on What’s happening in Belarus? and in Myanmar: What has been happening since the 2021 coup?

As it is outside the framework of governance, government abuse of force is classified here as a form of Ungoverned Power.  The following sub-sections examine different aspects of this issue:

●  The use of torture cannot be justified (  It is of limited practical utility, and it undermines government legitimacy.

●  A government’s use of disproportionate force against its own people is illegal under international law, and it strengthens public resistance (

●  Public reactions to a State’s violent abuse of its power can lead to matching violence or even a descent into civil war (



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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/724.htm.