Violence and Power Confront Each Other in Tehran

"Violence can always destroy power; out of the barrel of a gun grows the most effective command, resulting in the most instant and perfect obedience. What never can grow of it [violence] is power."

— Hannah Arendt, On Violence.



Violence and power are often confused as being two sides of the same coin, when in fact they are contradictory. Real power in a state depends on consent and support of the population. Violence requires no such constituency. Prior to last week’s demonstrations, the Iranian government seemed to enjoy reasonable support for the institutions of the state.



This all changed after the election. By organizing together in the streets of Tehran and across Iran, the Iranian people where able to achieve enormous (and competing) power that fundamentally challenged the existing theocracy — Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s own statement confirms the extent of the leadership’s fear over the challenge. When confronted by such a visible and unmistakable demonstration of power, illiberal states face a critical choice: They can either violently suppress their own people, or risk their hold on the levers of the state.



Governments always win these battles when they are merely in a contest of violence. The use of violence is fundamentally about the loss of power, meaning a state no longer has the ability to influence its citizens peacefully. They may win the battle in the short term, but they may never be able to regain the power they once possessed.



The one caveat here is that the ruling mullahs still require the support of the militias and the army to carry out the repressive violence. If these groups refuse to pull the triggers on their fellow Iranians, then the Iranian government will almost surely fall.



The views expressed in this blog do not represent the views or opinions of Generations United.

More in Civil Rights

The US human rights record on repeat

Read more »