Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Government Monopoly of Legitimate Violence

Let’s start with some definitions, if not of terms then of concepts.

Violence: Injury to a person, physical capture or restraint of a person, destruction or confiscation of a person’s property. Destruction or confiscation can be covert – without the person’s knowledge until the violence is accomplished – or it may be overt with the person aware that it is happened but threatened with injury or death if he resists.

Legitimacy: Immune from legitimate counter-violence. Now that’s circular and it is intended to be: Violence begets counter-violence; however, legitimate violence cannot, by definition, beget legitimate counter-violence. Legitimacy means there is no circularity. Legitimacy may be determined by custom or law. Despite there being no actual law in Nazi Germany, a Gestapo agent could legitimately kill a striker because there was no agency accepted by the rulers that could legitimately use violence against that Gestapo agent. In 1070a.d., a Norman knight could legitimately beat or kill a Saxon peasant for any reason because he (the Norman) would suffer no consequent legitimate violence: no other Norman noble would use violence against him and any Saxon who was violent against a Norman would suffer legitimate counter-violence from other Norman nobles. Norman violence against Saxons was legitimate (unless it somehow harmed the interest of another Norman), Saxon violence against Normans was illegitimate. Norman violence against a Norman depended on feudal rights and responsibilities for legitimacy.

Recognize that legitimacy is not necessarily determined by who struck the blow (or fired the arrow) but who accepts responsibility for the blow. A Norman noble might use a Saxon agent to legitimately do violence against a Norman vassal, though the Saxon might not legitimately act on his own.

Thus, legitimate violence does not depend on the Rule of Law though the Rule of Law defines and circumscribes legitimate violence and who may exercise (or threaten) it and under what circumstances.

Rulers and Governments not the Same

Rulers are those who have a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence to achieve their ends. Those who can use (or threaten) violence without the risk of legitimate counter-violence are among the rulers in that particular situation. While a Gestapo agent could, without risk of legitimate reprisal, use violence on his own initiative against a civilian to achieve any personal or governmental goal, he could not use violence against an SS officer, except in very limited circumstances, to achieve any goal whatsoever without incurring legitimate counter-violence. The Gestapo agent is part of the ruling power in the former circumstance but not in the latter.

The Nazi and Norman-English situations are examples of hierarchical, class-based ruling systems where legitimacy depends on accepted standards and not the Rule of Law. Legitimacy depends on who is using violence and against whom as much as the goal the violence is supporting.

All societies have rulers. Some have governments.

Necessity of the Rule of Law

By my definition, a Government depends on the Rule of Law: Laws which explicitly enable and explicitly circumscribe the government’s legitimate use of violence.

Governments act, and are prevented from acting, according to laws. Non-government rulers act and utilize violence or its threat based purely on relative power and the will of the ruler. Some rulers claim to be governments, but are not.

In a civilized state, government must have a monopoly on legitimate violence. In a liberal society, the people created the government which must act according to the rule of law; the people ultimately control the government and define the laws. Further, a liberal society limits what the government may do and limits what kinds of laws the people (directly or through their government) may enact. These limits can be changed by a super-majority of the citizens, but not by a simple majority.

Rulers act to their own ends. Liberal governments act to ends determined by the citizens. A non-liberal government may act to its own ends, or to ends it (government) believes are those the people do (or should) want; but these are essentially the same: government pursuing its own ends.

(Have you heard a government official claiming that, under government guidance, American auto companies will build cars the American people want? Have you noticed that the "cars the American people want" are cars the American people have resolutely refused to buy except in small numbers? That is non-liberal governance.)

Monopoly on Legitimate Violence: A Primary Governmental Responsibility

Government must maintain its monopoly on legitimate violence by acting against non-government entities that use violence (as defined above – no hankie wringing that offering lots of money for something is somehow violence against the owner of the something.)

Many of the complaints against capitalism are really complaints that a private entity has enforced its will by violence. The failure is of government, not of capitalism: the government is supposed to act according to law to enforce its monopoly on legitimate violence and take action against the private entity using violence to achieve its ends.

Marxists assert that wealthy capitalists are in cahoots with the rulers, or are de facto part of the ruling class. Marxists acknowledge only rulers, evidently believing governments are shams. Perhaps this is because Marxists see human society as a conflicting power centers and dismiss both individuality and voluntary transactions for mutual benefit.

As mentioned in earlier posts, liberty depends on government, the rule of law, and the restraints of tradition. One of the things government must do to enable liberty is jealously enforce its monopoly on legitimate violence.

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