Use of Force Quotes: Exploring Use of Force and If Force Is Justified

It is the rare person who is opposed to the exercise of force. The real question is – when is force justified and when is it necessary? This is one of the most important questions in human philosophy, whether one is talking about defending oneself or bigger questions of war. 

We don’t pretend to have arrived at any conclusive answer on this question. We do, however, consider the words of many of history’s wisest men to be worth considering.

Even government force is not confined to the realm of war, but also the enforcement of laws. Should there be laws? If so, what ought they to be and why? When is it right and necessary for a man to resist these laws? These are, much like the above questions of the exercise of force, critical and crucial questions that go to the heart of human philosophy. Indeed, they are in many ways a simple restatement of these questions. 

The following collection of quotes comes from all over the political spectrum. We do not believe that there is a single viewpoint holding a monopoly on the truth with regard to this question. Rather, a multi-faceted approach provides a fuller picture of this important topic. We hope that you will read something here that will enhance your own thinking on the subject.

Quotes About the Justification of Force

“Here a question arises: whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse. The answer is, of course, that it would be best to be both loved and feared. But since the two rarely come together, anyone compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than in being loved…Love endures by a bond which men, being fickle, may break whenever it serves their advantage to do so; but fear is supported by the dread of pain, which is ever present.”

Niccoló Machiavelli

“Injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less; benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavor of them may last longer.”

Niccoló Machiavelli

“I am firmly convinced, therefore, that to set up a republic which is to last a long time, the way to set about it is to constitute it as Sparta and Venice were constituted; to place it in a strong position, and so to fortify it that no one will dream of taking it by a sudden assault; and, on the other hand, not to make it so large as to appear formidable to its neighbors. It should in this way be able to enjoy its form of government for a long time. For war is made on a commonwealth for two reasons: to subjugate it, and for fear of being subjugated by it.”

Niccoló Machiavelli

“You must know, then, that there are two methods of fighting, one with laws, the other with force: the first one is proper to man, the second to beasts; but because the first one often does not suffice, one has to have recourse to the second. Therefore, it is necessary for a prince to know well how to use the beast and the man.”

Niccoló Machiavelli

“I believe that human nature is constant. It’s like water – it doesn’t change. The pump changes. The delivery system changes. But there’s always going to be evil in the world. And what creates deterrence and allows innocent people in the world not to end up like those in the Balkans, in Rwanda, or the Hutus is not the utopian idea that you can eliminate war. But the realistic and pragmatic idea that you have to have military force to prevent killers from killing the innocent.”

Victor Davis Hanson

“Colombianos las armas os han dado la independencia, las leyes os darán la libertad.”

“Colombians arms have given us independence, laws will give us liberty.”

Francisco José de Paula Santander

On the all-out bombing campaign the U.S. didn’t do at the beginning of the Korean War: 

“So we go on and don’t do it, and let the war go on. Over a period of 3 and a half or four years, we did burn down every town in North Korea. And every town in South Korea. And what? Killed off 20% of the Korean population. What I’m trying to say is, once you make a decision to use military force to solve your problem – then you ought to use it. And use an overwhelming military force.  Use too much. And deliberately use too much. So that you don’t make an error on the other side, and not quite have enough. And you roll over everything to start with. And you close it down just like that. You save resources. You save lives. Not only your own but the enemies too. And the recovery is quicker. And everybody is back to peaceful existence – hopefully in a shorter period of time.” 

Curtis Lemay at the 2hr 57m mark of Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History episode “The Destroyer of Worlds”

“There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights.”

Smedley Butler

Quotes About War and the Detrimental Effects of Long-term Warfare

“War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.”

George Orwell

“Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

“War is a racket. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.”

Smedley Butler

“The great armies, accumulated to provide security and preserve the peace, carried the nations to war by their own weight.”

A.J.P. Taylor

“Wars begin when you will, but they do not end when you please.”

Niccoló Machiavelli

“The belief in the possibility of a short decisive war appears to be one of the most ancient and dangerous of human illusions.”

Robert Lynd

It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood…War is hell.”

William Tecumseh Sherman

No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

James Madison

Before the war is ended, the war party assumes the divine right to denounce and silence all opposition to war as unpatriotic and cowardly.”

Senator Robert M. La Follette

In times of peace, the war party insists on making preparation for war. As soon as prepared for, it insists on making war.”

Senator Robert M. LaFollette

Military glory – that attractive rainbow, that rises in showers of blood – that serpent’s eye, that charms to destroy…”

Abraham Lincoln

Old men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die.”

Herbert Hoover

A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny.”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

People do not make wars; governments do.”

Ronald Reagan

Quotes About Resistance to Civil Government

“A man who says that no patriot should attack the Boer War until it is over is not worth answering intelligently; he is saying that no good son should warn his mother off a cliff until she has fallen over it.”

G.K. Chesterton

“When a nation which has long groaned under the intolerable yoke of a tyrant rises at last and throws off its chains, do you call that weakness? The man who, to rescue his house from the flames, finds his physical strength redoubled, so that he lifts burdens with ease which in the absence of excitement he could scarcely move; he who under the rage of an insult attacks and puts to flight half a score of his enemies,—are such persons to be called weak? My good friend, if resistance be strength, how can the highest degree of resistance be a weakness?”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther

Experience has shown that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny; and it is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this is to illuminate the minds of the people at large, possessed with the knowledge of other ages and countries so that they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes and promptly exert their natural powers to defeat it.”

Thomas Jefferson

“The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive.”

Thomas Jefferson

“My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.”

Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail

“Resistance to sudden violence, for the preservation not only of my person, my limbs, and life, but of my property, is an indisputable right of nature which I have never surrendered to the public by the compact of society, and which perhaps, I could not surrender if I would.”

John Adams, Boston Gazette, September 5, 1763

“Certainly one of the chief guarantees of freedom under any government, no matter how popular and respected, is the right of the citizens to keep and bear arms…the right of the citizens to bear arms is just one guarantee against arbitrary government and one more safeguard against a tyranny which now appears remote in America, but which historically has proved to be always possible.”

Hubert H. Humphrey

“This country belongs to the people and whenever they shall grow weary of their government they can exercise their constitutional right to amend it, or revolutionary right to dismember it or overthrow it.”

Abraham Lincoln

“I heartily accept the motto, ‘That government is best which governs least’; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe – ‘That government is best which governs not at all’; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.”

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience

Quotes About Self Defense

“The necessary consequence of man’s right to life is his right to self-defense. In a civilized society, force may be used only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use. All the reasons which make the initiation of physical force an evil, make the retaliatory use of physical force a moral imperative.”

“If some ‘pacifist’ society renounced the retaliatory use of force, it would be left helplessly at the mercy of the first thug who decided to be immoral. Such a society would achieve the opposite of its intention: instead of abolishing evil, it would encourage and reward it.”

Ayn Rand

“Nature has made up her mind that what cannot defend itself shall not be defended.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Human beings are capable – every one of us – of awful shit against each other, to ourselves, and because of that, we kind of have to arm ourselves against our darker side. We have to understand that there are monsters, and we need to arm ourselves against the monsters, whether they’re our own monsters or someone else’s monsters. So I absolutely am in support of arming yourself or doing whatever we have to do to preserve our way of life.”

Maynard James Keenan

“There are no creatures that walk the earth, not even those animals we have labelled cowards, which will not show courage when required to defend themselves.”

Alexandre Dumas, The Vicomte de Bragelonne