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Encyclopedia > Monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force

The monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force designs an essential attribute of the state's sovereignty. As a political concept, it was formalized by the sociologist Max Weber in his 1918 speech Politik als Beruf (Politics as a Vocation), but has since then entered common use in political theory. A state is an organized political community, occupying a territory, and possessing internal and external sovereignty, that enforces a monopoly on the use of force. ... Sovereignty is the exclusive right to exercise supreme political (e. ... Maximilian Weber (IPA: []) (April 21, 1864 – June 14, 1920) was a German political economist and sociologist who is considered one of the founders of the modern study of sociology and public administration. ... 1918 (MCMXVIII) was a common year starting on Tuesday of the Gregorian calendar (see link for calendar) or a common year starting on Wednesday of the Julian calendar. ... Politics as a Vocation (Politik als Beruf) is an 1918 essay written by Maximilian Weber, a German economist and sociologist. ...

Weber argued that the state cannot be characterized by its ends, since there are very few goals which no state would ever seek to achieve, and no particular task which is both exclusive to the state, and also unique to the state. A state is an organized political community, occupying a territory, and possessing internal and external sovereignty, that enforces a monopoly on the use of force. ...

He concluded therefore that the state must be characterized by the means which it, and only it, has at its disposal: "a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory". It has been suggested that coercive monopoly be merged into this article or section. ...

There are several caveats which apply to this basic principle:

  • Weber intended his statement as an observation, stating that it has not always been the case that the connection between the state and the use of violence has been so close. He uses the example of the Catholic Church, which historically placed limits on the absolute authority of the state which effectively were removed by later Protestant thought.
  • The actual application of force is delegated or permitted by the state. Weber's theory is not taken to mean that only the government uses force, but that the individuals and organisations which can legitimately use force or adjudicate on its legitimacy are precisely those authorized to do so by the state. So, for example, the law might permit individuals to use violence in defense of self or property - in this case the right to use force has been granted by the state, and only by the state. The state might also delegate certain tasks requiring the use of force to other bodies, such as law enforcement to the police.
  • The word "legitimate" is subject to controversy. To some, it has normative meaning, i.e., that the state should monopolize force. To others, it has positive meaning, i.e., that the people accept the "legitimacy" of the state monopoly.


In philosophy, normative is usually contrasted with descriptive or explanatory when describing types of theories, beliefs, or statements. ... In the humanities and social sciences, the term positive is used in a number of ways. ...

Support for the monopoly on the use of force

Generally speaking, those who support the existence of the state will support the belief that the state, and in particular the government, must be responsible both for defining the conditions for the legitimate use of force, and also for ensuring that illegitimate violence is prevented or punished.

In a constitutional democracy, where the government does not have absolute authority, it may also not have an absolute monopoly on the use of force. For example in the United States of America, the Second Amendment to the constitution is frequently taken to authorize the existence of armed civilian militias, which in theory could challenge the government or, conversely help enforce the law. However, in most other powerful western states, the government alone is responsible for maintaining civil order. Amendment II (the Second Amendment) of the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, declares the necessity for a well regulated militia, and prohibits infringement of the right of the people to keep and bear arms. // Text The Second Amendment, as passed by the House and...

Supporters of the state monopoly argue that if a monopoly on the use of force does not exist, private individuals or groups will inevitably arm themselves and use violence against others. Thus, they claim that anarchy results in more violence than even the most violent state.

In support of such reasoning, they sometimes point to areas and periods where (on their reading of events) there was something close to a 'free market' in violence and security, such as modern Somalia and Europe during the Dark Ages - they contend that such instances show that the attainment by any government of a monopoly on force would have improved the lives of the inhabitants. Petrarch, who conceived the idea of a European Dark Age. From Cycle of Famous Men and Women, Andrea di Bartolo di Bargillac, c. ...

The philosopher Thomas Hobbes strongly supported the right of the state to use force as he believed that only the threat and use of force by the state maintains an orderly society. Hobbes redirects here. ...

Objections to the monopoly on the use of force

Anarchist political theory objects in general to the existence of the state, and in particular to its use of coercion through physical force. Thus, examples of the use and abuse of the monopoly on physical force are common in anarchist discussion. For example, it has been seen that in many cases bodies delegated to use force have broken the law or violated human rights. Amnesty International (which is not an anarchist group) estimates that torture is used by state officials in two thirds of the countries of the world. Even where such extreme violence does not occur, cases occur of officials being disciplined or prosecuted for using disproportionate or unjustified force. This article is becoming very long. ... Human rights are rights which some hold to be inalienable and belonging to all humans. ... Amnesty International logo Amnesty International (commonly known as Amnesty or AI) is an international, non-governmental organization with the stated purpose of promoting all the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international standards. ...

Such abuse can be carried out either by isolated individuals or systematically. Many anarchists, and others concerned by the authority of the state, believe it to be an inevitable result of the state's monopoly on violence. On the whole, however, only anarchists propose as a solution that the monopoly be removed - others typically prefer controls on the actions of state institutions and their officials.

Especially in the case of human rights, this then becomes an issue of the appropriate limits to the state's authority to use force. A common example of such a limit is habeas corpus, the right in many legal systems given to individuals not to be imprisoned without due cause and due process. Various governments have made what amount to exceptions from habeas corpus, for example the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 in the United Kingdom, and the holding by the USA of those termed "enemy combatants" from Afghanistan at Guantanamo Bay. Such cases give rise to opposition to the government's authority to use force. Human rights are rights which some hold to be inalienable and belonging to all humans. ... For other uses, see Habeas corpus (disambiguation). ... The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 is a British Act of Parliament intended to deal with the Law Lords ruling of 16 December 2004, that the detention without trial of nine foreigners at HM Prison Belmarsh under Part IV of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 was unlawful... Map of Cuba with location of Guantánamo Bay indicated. ...

Weber didn't regard violence as the predominant tool at the state's disposal. Anarchists, on the other hand, often argue that since the state's authority relies on its monopoly on violence, that violence is the essence of the state, permeating everything.

Many individualist anarchists, such as anarcho-capitalists, advocate competing defenders of liberty. They argue that there is no necessity to monopolize the function and that a competitive market-based system would provide superior results. In politics, individualist anarchism is a variety of anarchism that emphasises the importance of the individual. ... Anarcho-capitalism is a view that regards all forms of the state as unnecessary and harmful, particularly in matters of justice and self-defense, while being highly supportive of private property. ...

Apart from anarchists, many of the US Founding Fathers as well contended that the government should not have a monopoly on force. Founding Fathers are persons instrumental in the establishment of an institution, usually a political institution, especially those connected to the origination of its ideals. ...

Is coercion necessary for a legal system?

In practice, all functioning legal systems have relied to some extent on coercion rather than acting purely by consensus.

External links

  • Police State


    • Amnesty International
    • Politics as a Vocation (translation)
    Philosophy Portal

      Results from FactBites:
    Monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1043 words)
    2 Objections to the monopoly on the use of force
    Objections to the monopoly on the use of force
    Thus, examples of the use and abuse of the monopoly on physical force are common in anarchist discussion.
    Force (law) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (193 words)
    Forced entry is an expression falling under the category of unlawful violence; in force or forced sale would be examples of expressions in the category of lawful compulsion.
    When something is said to have been done "by force," it usually implies that it was done by actual or threatened violence ("might"), not necessarily by legal authority ("right").
    "Force of arms" is a special case that can be an example of unlawful violence or lawful compulsion dependent on who is exercizing the violence (or threat thereof) and their legal right and/or responsibility to do so.
      More results at FactBites »



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