Conflicts, violence in Perspectives

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By Chris Odinaka Nwedo

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Conceptually, conflict implies ‘a state of opposition or hostilities, a fight or struggle, the clashing of the opposed principles etc.  In the realm of psychology, for instance, conflict stands for ‘an opposition of an incompatible wishes or needs in a person.1  For Hugo F. Reading, conflict ‘implies…pursuit of mutually exclusive goals by eliminating or weakening the opposition. It is an opposition process lacking a co-operative element, a situation of goal incompatibility between individual groups, a competitive situation in which each party seeks position he knows is incompatible with the wishes of others.2 Reading further describes conflict as fundamental opposition in society or group, situation in which individual is faced with incompatible goals, two unpleasant alternatives, a goal with both positive and negative valences…3 For some scholars, ‘conflict’ stands for a state of major disagreement that generate uneasiness, tension, misunderstanding, antagonism, opposition, struggle, contest and fight because of a threat envisaged, claimed or protected interests and position. Some schools of thoughts presume conflict to mean ‘contradictions arising from differences in interest, ideas, ideologies, orientations, perceptions and tendencies. These contradictions exist at all levels of the society, individuals, groups, institutions and nations as well as in interpersonal and international relations.4

In some confines, the assumption is that conflict is an indispensable component of a dynamic society which could be brought about by myriad of factors. According to Park and Borge, conflict is designed to resolve divergent dualism and achieve some kind of unity, even if it through annihilation of one of the conflicting parties.5 Karl Marx understands conflict as a phenomenon co-existential with monopoly and injustices generated by disequilibria in having and distribution of wealth, where sufficiency of one party implies the deprivation of the other. For him therefore, conflict is necessary as a panacea to class injustices in material redistribution. According to Marx, ‘the history of every epoch of human society is characterized by conflicts, the poor versus the rich, the free versus the slaves, the artisans versus the honourable, and his excellences etc., the root cause of every conflict is the scramble for the means of economic production.6 In his theories of dialectical materialism, Marx maintains that ‘it was as a result of conflict in the primitive societies that gave rise to capitalist society. The same conflict will continue between the opposing classes; the rich and the exploited masses, and expectedly, a socialist state could emerge where no individual would be in control of the means of production.7 One of the fundamental principles in dialectical materialism is the Marx’s assumption that the clash of the opposites would always produce a higher result, and that conflict is imperative for a needed changes in the society. He opined that strife over the control of scarce instruments of production is predicted to create, inexorably, economic democracy and sufficiency of all, having annihilated the avidity which gave rise to prejudices of class distinction and marginalization. This democracy tends to extirpate and destroy unjust economic institutions that create and sustain unnatural imbalance where significantly few individuals are empowered economically in the expense of the exploited majority.  Economic democracy however, is availability of equal accesses and rights to economic opportunities. It is the realization of the inviolable rights of individuals to participate in economic activities for material empowerment, the building and provision of facilities for every individual to develop, grow bigger and larger economically. As a form of life, democracy entails popular organization of culture, economy, politics and education, so much so that the citizens satisfactorily participate in all discussions affecting them or through their expressed representatives…It demands among other things social or distributive justice in economy, culture, politics and education, a jealously guarded bill of rights, a recognition and even a deliberate encouragement of plurality of views and opinions, culture of dialogue, real popular participation of the people in their own affairs at all levels.8 In the understanding of Deustch ‘conflicts generally exits and where it occurs  may result in win- lose character. The resolution, transformation and management of conflict may produce a win-win situation.9  There are different dimensions of conflicts. We have ideological conflict implying ‘social conflicts, conflicts over basic values.10

 Others forms of conflicts included cultural conflict, which represents conflict between the culture acquired by an individual and that of a group in which he finds himself, while communal conflict is a conflict within a structure of agreement. Heterogeneous conflict connotes conflict among parties or groups of different parties.  Homogeneous conflict is a variety of conflicts that exist between parties sharing the same values and aspirations while individual conflict denotes a conflict between one individual and another. In addition, there other brands of conflicts including inter-group conflict, intra-personal conflict, inter-societal conflict, induced conflict etc. Most conflicts imply a relationship between individual members of a society, social groups, subsystems and systems.11  Intrapersonal conflict, the most derogatory of all personal harms ‘expresses itself in forms of anxiety, fear, frustration, emotional outburst, anger tension and aggression.12

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 From the expositions, we can understand that conflicts, disequilibria, tensions and violence are co-existential and co-terminable with the human society. No human society is perfect, thus the never-ending plethora of conflicts of varied kinds. Man’s imperfectness follows him wherever he goes and actively participates in whatever he does to deliberately endorse its remarkable presence. As a result, there has never been human organization or institution devoid of embarrassingly nauseating profiles of strife, discords and tension. Tension gives birth to, and continuously reproduces itself and multiplies.

 Notwithstanding advancements in science and technology, and the increasing sophistication of the human civilization conflicts have persevered. This is because each stage of development has its curse. The curse expresses itself in one form of conflict or the other. Consequently, conflict ‘cannot be explored in isolation of man and the larger society. In other words, conflict is basically meaningful in human situation because it is an integral part of man. It is thus an inevitable social phenomenon that occurs whenever two or more human beings coexist’, and is been forever accelerated by the man’s insatiable dynamism and survivalism.13   Conflict may be seen as inevitable and occurs when two parties perceive difference between them and seek to resolve those differences to their own satisfaction ‘by deploying pre-rational instinct of defense and/or aggression.14

Broadly speaking, conflict can be precipitated by ‘irreconcilable’ disparities in values, ideas, interests, data and stereotypes. The plurality and complexity of our natural differences, the exigencies of our nature and the limitations of our natural resources entail that there will always be disagreements, conflicting ideologies, opinions, language, modes, etc…15 Conflicts are generated, reinforced and sustained by mutual distrust. Ordinarily, the inevitability of our naturally given differences should be seen as spicing agents and sanitizing factor in the consummations of our disparate values. Our common community ideally should be limitless fountain of contentment instead of centrifuge of discord, tension and disequilibria. According to Wilson and Kolb, conflict is negative totality as well as dysfunctional or disjunctive process, a breakdown of communication. For Ekanola A.E. ‘the notion of conflict connotes struggle, difference and disagreement, while violence stands for bestiality, cruelty and fighting. Although it is impossible for people to interact in the society without incidence of conflict, it possible to handle conflict constructively such that it does not degenerate into violent confrontation.16   This however, means that conflict may be accommodated in order to bring about a positive change in the society. There are too many cases of conflicts that ended up in violence because they are not handled constructively.17   

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Violence is conflict at the point of desperation.  Violence can be expressed in forms of physical harms, destruction of lives and properties. It also has grave psychological and emotional dimensions. These dimensions, unfortunately, are susceptible to an over-stretch to the point of suicide, free death.  Suicide according to Wilhelm Kamah is an expression, an exercise of right to self-determination, self-extermination. He understands ‘the right of human being to die as the moral permission to liberate oneself from a very unbearable, difficult and unreasonable life after a quiet and mature consideration…18  Wilhelm Kamah tended to understand life as mere biological property owned with unlimited autonomy and disposable at convenience. In contrast, Volker Eid noted that in so far as the concept of life is not limited to its biological and material aspects, human life is not merely a situative existence or simply a presence. Life is more of a personal history which extends from conception to death.19  According to Volker, the idea of human life cannot be limited to pure vitality or to continuity of bio-chemical processes. It consists of the integral whole of psychic existence which is primarily directed by reason, will, disposition, trait etc.; and which concretely expresses itself in human needs such as happiness, knowledge, communication, love, work, freedom etc.20  Considered from this perspective of  representing the whole process of human history, ‘life’ is then interpreted as the concrete, complex and mysterious realities of success and failures, trial and error, happiness and sorrow, good and bad fates, freedom and bondage, etc.21 This means however that the often unbearable, difficult and unreasonable nature of life do not necessarily imply that solution is in violence to others or oneself.

 Philosophically, life is interpreted as a mystery which gives rise to complex questions hardly answerable. Here personal experiences come into play, whereby one realises one’s reality of one’s death which is beyond personal choice. Theologically, human life is understood as God’s gift to man. God alone is Lord over life and death. Man has only the right of use of his life but not that of disposing of it. Christian morality ascribes to human life such fundamental values, qualities like ‘holiness’, ‘inalienability’, and ‘dignity’.22 Basically, the right to life is both inviolable and inalienable.  The events in today’s world relating to violence and death tend to suggest that ‘modern man is increasingly losing sight of the actual demands and implications of the right to life. This is mainly a consequence of modern man’s claim to ‘autonomy’, whereby, it is falsely asserted that one has the right to determine one’s life at will, and even the right to decree the time and manner of one’s death.23For Okechukwu, the ‘drastic effects of the ‘almighty’ creativeness of modern medicine and biology are also contributive to the loss of consciousness with regard to the inviolability and inalienability of human life. In their methods of procreation, experimentation with human life and the event of destruction of life itself, these sciences or their mentors fail to recognise that they trespass the boundaries of their competence and duty.24  

  Violence is an intentional or purposive act that produces damage and pain, physical or psychological, war, destruction and death. ‘Just as immortality is the common denominator of nature and history…in modern times, so is violence in the century, the common denominator of wars and revolutions.25  The tendency towards violence and the massively vast consequences of its destruction are ‘fortunately’empowered by development, advancement and sophistication of implements of violence. With the ubiquitous resources of science and technology paternalizing and mentoring, war and violence became dependable, attractive and justifiable commercial initiative. Man eventually ‘has produced a very powerful instrument of violence that has rendered man ‘powerless’. In other words he has produced two edge swords that cut to piece both the victorious and the vanquished.26 One fidgets in pains the unprecedented ease powerful instruments of violence are acquired by terrorist and the uncanny relish with which they utilize these to maximize sorrows, pain, destruction and death. In the contemporary era more than ever, technological development, apart from serving man with such highly sophisticated and invaluable instrument as computers, has provided man with instruments of which violence is in ‘dire’ need.27   

Paradoxically, some scholars regard conflict and violence as inextricable with the law of progress. This however implies an affirmation of violence as something positive. Karl Marx’s theory of dialectical materialism is a manifestation of such an affirmation. Marx understands conflict, contraction and tension, the clash of interest as sources generating high values which are connoted in the law of progress. He maintained ‘that it is the conflict in the primitive societies that gave rise to the capitalist society, the same conflict will continue between the opposing classes; the rich and the exploited masses, the poor, and a socialist society would emerge where no individual would be in control of the means of production.28   It is significant to know that there is an assumption that capitalism is embodiment violence. This assumption hinges firmly on the believe that private property, monopoly in trade, ‘interest and profit survive only because police violence defends them and that capitalist economies need war to expand.29  For Marxist ideologists, law and its institutions are, like the state, merely part of the superstructure of the society. Legal relations arise from economic relations and, thus, law serves class interest because, it is an expression of the will of the ruling class, an instrument of domination. Law is no more than an institutional weapon forged and wielded by those who own the instruments of production, law provides them with coercive power in a continuing class conflict. 

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The profoundly subjective attitude about the concept ‘violence’ has in many ramifications mystifies the phenomenon making difficult or impossible the objective understanding of the real value. ‘A glance at Hegel’s and Marx teachings on war and violence cast light on the people’s attitude to violence. For Hegel, war is not to be regarded as an absolute evil for just as the blowing of the winds preserves the sea from the foulness which would be the result of a long calm, so also corruption in nations would be the result of prolonged ‘perpetual’ peace.30  

To explain evocatively, the relative absoluteness of violence and /or war, Hegel states ‘in peace, civil life continuously expands; all its department wall themselves in, and in the long run men stagnate…. As a result of war nations are strengthened, but peoples involved in civil strife also acquire peace at home through making wars abroad… War produces insecurity of property but this insecurity of things is nothing but their transience, which is inevitable… The fact is that wars occur when the necessity of the case requires.31 The terminal destination of all conflicts and wars are violence, the effects of violence are irretrievable loses of lives and unconstrained destruction of properties.



  1. Oxford English Reference Dictionary, Revised edition, eds by Judy Pearsall and Bill Trumble (2003) New York, Oxford University Press. P.302
  2. Reading, H.F. A Dictionary of the Social Sciences, London Rutledge and Kegan Paul (1977), P.44
  3. Ibid.
  4. See Benedict Michael(2006) ‘Democratization and Conflict in an Emerging Civil Society in Philosophy and Africa op. cit. p.75.
  5. See Park and Borge in Benedict Michael(2006), op.cit.
  6. See Karl Marx cited in Ogoke Albert (2006)‘Conflicts in Democracy and Political Conflict in Nigeria  Demystifying the Philosopher- King Ideal’ in Philosophy and Africa 2006World Philosophy Day @UNIZIK  vol.1 edited by Ike Odimegwu.pp.118-119
  7. See Ogoke op cit. p.126
  8. See Akilu Sanni (1998) ‘Democracy and Education in Africa’ in Olusegun Oladipo (eds) Remaking of Africa: Challenge of the 21st century, Ibadan Hope Pub.
  9. See Benedict Michael, op. cit p.75.
  10.  Reading, H.F. A Dictionary of the Social Sciences, London Rutledge and Kegan Paul (1977), P.44
  11. Ogoke Albert ‘Conflicts in Democracy and Political Conflict in Nigeria  Demystifying the Philosopher- King Ideal’ in Philosophy and Africa (2006) vol.1 edited by Ike Odimegwu , P.110
  12. ibid.
  13. Nor, Z. M.(2006) ‘Representative Democracy and Political Conflict in Nigeria in Philosophy and Africa,op.cit. P.126
  14. Kegley, C. W. (Jnr) and Withkop, E.R. World Politics: Trends and Transformation. New York, St Martains/Werth pub. (1999) P.346
  15.  Ogoke, A. (2006) op. cit P. 110
  16. See Ekanola, ‘Towards an Enduring Social Peace in a violence ridden society: From a culture of war and violence to a culture of peace and non-violence’, in West African journal of philosophical studies vol. 8, Dec.2005 p.23.
  17. Balogun, O.A. (2006) and Ekanola, A.E. (2005) in Nwedo C.O. op.cit.
  18.  See Wilhelm Kamah in Okechukwu, S. N. (1990) The Right to Life and Right to Live: Ethics of International Solidarity. Germany, Verlag Lang
  19. See Volker Eid in Okechukwu S.N (1990), The Right to Life and Right to Live: Ethics of International Solidarity, Verlag Peter Lang Frankfurt pp.181-182
  20. See Volker in Okechukwu S.N. op.cit.p.181
  21. see Okechukwu S.N op.cit. p181
  22.  ibid.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Akam, J. B. Man: Unique But in Plural, Enugu, Nigeria, Snaap Press Ltd (1991) P.105
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Nor, Z.M. op. cit. P.126
  29. Hegel, G. W. in Akam, J. B. op. Cit P.110
  30. Michael Albert, Life After Capitalism    Dec. 10, 2004
  31. Akam, J.B (1991) op. Cit. P.110