English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth Presid...
English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States. Latviešu: Abrahams Linkolns, sešpadsmitais ASV prezidents. Српски / Srpski: Абрахам Линколн, шеснаести председник Сједињених Америчких Држава. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I wrote DO YOU THINK MIGHT MAKE RIGHT? — PART 6, scout observed here that most people do not practice the principle of “might makes right.” Moreover, he suggested the moral trajectory of mankind is upward. I don’t mean to sound cynical, but I doubt either assertion is true.  However, neither of us can provide absolute proof.  We can merely define the terms of the discussion and consider what we know of human nature.

To a large extent, DO YOU THINK MIGHT MAKE RIGHT? — PART 3 already explains my position with respect to scout‘s assertions.  That post considers what motivates people to believe “might makes right.”

So what is left? Here we will define the meaning of “might makes right,” and we will consider the practical implications of such a belief.

Two Distinctly Different Attitudes Towards Conflict Resolution

When some speak of “conflict  resolution,” it seems they are explaining a new science.

Conflict resolution, otherwise known as Reconciliation, is conceptualized as the methods and processes involved in facilitating the peaceful ending of conflict. Often, committed group members attempt to resolve group conflicts by actively communicating information about their conflicting motives or ideologies to the rest of the group (e.g., intentions; reasons for holding certain beliefs), and by engaging in collective negotiation. Ultimately, a wide range of methods and procedures for addressing conflict exist, including but not limited to, negotiation, mediation, diplomacy, and creative peacebuilding. (continued here)

Obviously, I could have named this post “Two Distinctly Different Attitudes Towards Reconciliation,” but I used the phrase “conflict  resolution” with a purpose in mind. I wanted to emphasize the current buzz words and the importance of attitude. Supposedly, conflict management is now an expertise. Hence we have professionals educated in the art of conflict resolution (See Conflict resolution => Education), and they are trained to apply various methods of conflict resolution.

So what is the problem with “scientific” methods of conflict resolution? Consider the role of a conflict manager. Doesn’t such a role presume that the parties to a conflict will be reasonable? Isn’t the job of a conflict manager to help the parties to a conflict to negotiate a fair and reasonable reconciliation? But what if one or more of the parties in a conflict has no interest in being fair and reasonable? What if one or more of the parties in a conflict define the conditions for peace as having it all his own way?

Go back and read DO YOU THINK MIGHT MAKE RIGHT? — PART 3. What people believe makes a big difference. What we believe determines whether we will respect the rights of others. When we are determined to have our own way — no matter what it might cost others — we will not negotiate to make peace. We will negotiate only as a means of getting what we  want.

Because some of us do not believe we have an obligation to respect the rights of others, we essentially have two differing attitudes towards conflict resolution.

  • Might makes right: when we do not love our neighbor, we regard our neighbor on as an object. Objects have no rights. Objects exist only to be exploited.  When an object has something we want, then all that matters is whether we have the power to exploit that object.
  • Right makes might: when we love our neighbor, we want what is best for that person. Thus, we respect their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When love is mutual, we can achieve peace with relative ease. Then we seek to achieve peace by doing what is right.

Is the belief that “right makes might” always sufficient to avoid conflict? No. That is because all the the parties to a conflict have to be willing to respect the rights of others. Too often that is just not the case. Consider the problem Abraham Lincoln faced when he confronted the problem of slavery.

Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States? If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively. Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored – contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong, vain as the search for a man who should be neither a living man nor a dead man – such as a policy of “don’t care” on a question about which all true men do care – such as Union appeals beseeching true Union men to yield to Disunionists, reversing the divine rule, and calling, not the sinners, but the righteous to repentance – such as invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did.

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. LET US HAVE FAITH THAT RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, AND IN THAT FAITH, LET US, TO THE END, DARE TO DO OUR DUTY AS WE UNDERSTAND IT. — Abraham Lincoln (Cooper Union Address, New York, New York, February 27, 1860)

Various Conflict Scenarios

Because we are what we are, human beings, we are not purely good or evil. Thus, few of us uphold as a pure belief either the ideal that “might makes right” or the ideal that “right makes might.” Nevertheless, for the sake of simplicity, we will consider only those scenarios where the conflict participants do have a well-defined belief about the relationship between might and right. In addition, we will only consider scenarios involving two participants in the conflict.

Scenario #1

Both participants in the conflict believe might makes right. How will this conflict be resolved? To make “peace,” one participant must subdue the other.

Real world example: When Adolf Hitler led Germany in the invasion of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, both participants fought with the same end in view. Both sought conquest.

Scenario #2

One participant believes “might makes right,” and one participant believes “right makes might.”  If the participant who believes “might makes right” believes he is the stronger, he will seek to make “peace” by subduing the other.

Real world example:  At the beginning of World War II, the Axis Powers held the mistaken belief that they could win the war. Therefore, they launched attacks on the nations that latter joined together to become the Allies. That included England, France, and the United States, relatively strong nations that showed no interest in conquest.

Scenario 3

One participant believes “might makes right,” and one participant believes “right makes might.” If the the participant who believes “right makes might” is the stronger, he will seek peace through strength. That is, he will keep the other at bay with the use of armed force. If the strategy of peace through strength fails, the participant who believe “right makes might” will then try to subdue the other in self-defense. At this point, he may appear to the ignorant much like someone who believes “might makes right.”

Real world example:  After World War I England and France initially sought to punish Germany with war reparations. The desire vengeance faded, but the desire to avoid a future war did not.  So  the strategy shifted to keeping Germany disarmed. Unfortunately this version of peace through strength latter shifted to appeasement, which failed.  With the exception of the USSR, the Allies in World War 2 fought solely in self-defense. Thus, at the end of the war, the United States worked to restore war torn economies and restore the vanquished Axis nations to the control of their own peoples.

Scenario #4

Both participants believe “right make might.” Here is the situation wherein conflict managers (diplomats) may work with the greatest effect. Even though both parties to a conflict may share similar attitudes towards the relationship between right and might, conflict may still result from misunderstanding or simply from our propensity towards sin.

Real world example: During the War of 1812, the United States fought the United Kingdom. Neither had much to gain. Both fought for the most part to protect their offended pride.

Why did the United Kingdom and the United States fight in 1812? When the temptation is sufficiently great, one or both sides in a conflict may allow pride to override principle. For as the Apostle Paul observed in Romans 7:14-25, without Jesus Christ we are sold as slaves to sin. Only when we know something of God can peacemakers remind us of the consequences of sin and show us a better way.

The Three Basic Methods Of Conflict Resolution

So what are the three basic methods of conflict resolution?

  • Conquest: I win. You lose. We see examples of this in scenarios # 1, # 2, and #3. In scenarios #1 and #2, the participant who believes “might makes right” applies the principle of conquest as a calculated risk.  In scenario #3, the participant who believes in “right makes might” adopts the principle of conquest as a last resort.
  • Peace Through Strength: Leave me alone or else. We see an example of this strategy in scenario #3.  The problem with this strategy is that it requires vigilance.
  • Negotiation: Scenario #4 illustrates this method. Here conflict managers (diplomats) seek a win-win compromise, but neither party actually wants a fight. Usually, each just wants an agreement where the other side demonstrates “a proper respect” for its rights.

So which method of conflict resolution have nations most often employed to avoid conflict? My belief is that war has more often been avoided because it is so costly than because of man’s better nature. Thus, what we usually define as peace is often just the recovery period between wars. Every generation brings with it a new race of men that has not known war.

Psalm 140:1-2 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

140 Rescue me, O Lord, from evil men;
Preserve me from violent men
Who devise evil things in their hearts;
They continually stir up wars.


  1. I really have no idea what you’re talking about, at least as it relates to my views. I don’t particularly idolize government. As a conservative, I am somewhat suspicious of it.

    I guess, as a Christian, I am of the view that the moral baseline of humanity is rather a low standard for judging anything. However, I do believe that a governmental system that derives its powers from the consent of the governed, however imperfect they may be individually (both morally and spiritually) is about as good as it gets in terms of permitting large populations to enjoy the fruits of liberty.

    In any event, it continues to impress me that you will invest so many words to say so little.

  2. Well, of course, I did just “clarify”, but, out of curiosity, how did you ever manage to interpret my earlier comment as suggesting that the “moral trajectory of mankind is upward.”? I said nothing of the sort. There is no possible reading of my comment that suggests anything other than the opposite. I am a patient fellow, but you do take great liberties.

    1. You already know the answer. Didn’t you state as much in your first comment on this post?

      You said.

      Our government is founded on the idea that the People grant the government certain powers for the common good (including the common good of protecting individual liberties). Since our founding, quite a few other governments have adopted, implicitly or expressly, that notion. I think that principle is well embedded here, and is gaining currency elsewhere. My sense is that the arc of history is bending more toward that ideal rather than less. (from here)

      Since the founding, I think we have experienced a steady trend towards majoritarian tyranny. That trend has even accelerated in recent years.

      Instead of protecting individual liberties, our leaders are far more interested in redistributing our wealth. Nevertheless, it is apparent you don’t see it that way.

      What surprises me? Without first improving their own morals, you apparently think a people can improve the morals of its government.

      I suppose what you believe is not especially unusual. Many, after all, do idolize government. I was certainly raised to “believe in America.” Thus, when the opposite is true, we want to believe government (the system) can somehow achieve a greater degree of morality than the people it represents, but logic says that cannot happen. Instead, we get the government we deserve, and idolizing our government just makes that problem worse.

  3. Tom – there is much worth thinking about in this post, but, as often happens, your reading comprehension disabilities got you off a bit on the wrong track. I have never suggested that the moral trajectory of humans is upward. As a Christian, I am somewhat of the view (I say “somewhat” because my conviction on this is subject to momentary oscillations when I observe acts of great generosity and self-sacrifice) that the human condition is one of perpetual and constant moral failure. I have nowhere (at your site or elsewhere) opined that that constant, immutable condition is somehow being rectified with the passage of time. My earlier point (which you so thoroughly misunderstood or just misstated for the heck of it) was that I sense that the notion that governments derive their legitimacy from the people is an idea that is clawing its way, however fitfully and non-linearly, upward. I also stated that I think that the inherently fallible nature of man manifesting itself on the individual level is what causes some of the shortcomings that you address in your “Might Make [sic] Right” posts, as opposed to the idea that there is some sort of majority oppression that explains almost everything that goes on in the world. This is a bit of a dorm lounge conversation for undergraduates, because none of this can be empirically proven, but is nonetheless a tempting way to pass idle time.

    I’ll take a closer squint at the rest of your post over the next couple of days and perhaps shower the blessings of additional views on you toward the end of the week. This will give you something to anticipate.

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