Reactions to Abuses of Power

Public reactions to abuses of power, such as torture or disproportionate violence, can result in violence against the State.

The two previous sub-sections describe the illegitimacy of government use of torture ( and excessive violence (  If such abuse of power is widespread, it is unlikely that the population has any recourse other than to protect itself by matching violence.  A BBC report, Syria: The story of the conflict, commented on how a heavy-handed government reaction to demands for democracy resulted in nationwide protests “and the country descended into civil war as rebel brigades were formed to battle government forces for control of cities, towns and the countryside”.

People will feel entitled to use any means at their disposal – up to, and including, terrorism, full-scale rebellion and civil war – to resist an unjust State.  Nowadays it is very easy for people to publish details of abuses and so to recruit support for such a struggle.

Public reactions to abuses of power can be more restrained, though, if the incidents are isolated and if the Legal Dimension of governance meets certain conditions:

●  Offenders must be prosecuted.

●  The judiciary must be independent from the government (5.2.8).

●  Enforcement of human-rights legislation can protect people (

●  Torture, genocide, ethnic cleansing and other ‘crimes against humanity’ can be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) if they are not being dealt with by the country’s own legal system (

●  International human-rights can also prevent a State from using legislation to endorse its abuse of power (

If these legal mechanisms fail to protect people against State abuse of power, though, they will feel that self-protection is their only recourse.


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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/edition04/7243.htm.