Monopoly on violence

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The monopoly on violence (Gewaltmonopol des Staates) is the definition of the state expounded by Max Weber in Politics as a Vocation, and has been predominant in philosophy of law and political philosophy in the twentieth century.

It defined a single entity, the state, exercising authority or violence over a given territory as territory was also deemed by Weber a characteristic of state. Importantly, such a monopoly, must occur via a process of legitimation, wherein a claim is laid on the state's use of violence as legitimate.


[edit] Max Weber's theory

Max Weber said in Politics as a Vocation that a necessary condition of an entity being a state is that it retain such a monopoly. He said, something is "a 'state' if and insofar as its administrative staff successfully upholds a claim on the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence in the enforcement of its order."[1]

According to Weber, the state was to be the source of legitimacy for any use of violence: if the police and the military were its main instruments, this did not mean only public force could be used. Private forces (as in private security) could be used, but its legitimacy derived from the state.

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 feudalism (where private warfare was permitted under certain conditions), and of the Catholic (and Anglican) Church courts, which had sole jurisdiction over some types of offenses, especially heresy from the religion in question, and sexual offenses (thus the nickname bawdy courts).
  • The actual application of violence is delegated or permitted by the state. Weber's theory is not taken to mean that only the government uses violence, but that the individuals and organizations which can legitimated violence 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 ability to use force has been granted by the state, and only by the state.[citation needed]
  • The word "legitimate" is subject to controversy. To some, it has normative meaning, i.e., that the state should monopolize violence. To others, it has positive meaning, i.e., that the people accept the "legitimacy" of the state monopoly. However, Weber's conceptualization opposed both: he did not claim that the people "accepted" the legitimacy, nor that the state should monopolize the legitimate use of violence, but simply defined the state as such. Suspending any moral judgment when doing sociological observations, an imperative of neutral axiology exposed in Science as a Vocation, leads to the conclusion that Weber did not consider this monopoly good or bad, but only considered it a realist description of the state and of its formation (which was not uncommon in German circles at the time — a close definition was provided by Rudolf von Jhering in Zweck im Recht, as did Rudolph Somh in 1911 or Georg Jellinek [2]).

[edit] Support for the monopoly on the use of force

Generally speaking, those who support the existence of the state believe that there should be a monopoly on the use of violence, or at least a near monopoly. That is, they believe private violence should be prevented or punished unless it is used solely in immediate self-defense from violence.

Supporters of the state monopoly argue that if a monopoly on the use of violence does not exist, private individuals or groups will, inevitably, arm themselves and use violence against each other and others; thus they claim that anarchy results in more violence than found in even the most violent state. However, the term anarchy is generally missapplied and in this instance what most scholars actually mean is anomie. In support of such reasoning, supporters sometimes point to areas and periods where, on their reading of events, this monopoly did not exist (or, in some sense, where there existed close to a "free market" in violence and security), such as modern Somalia, or Europe during the Dark Ages. They contend that such instances show that the attainment by any government of a monopoly on violence would have improved the lives of the inhabitants.

The philosopher Thomas Hobbes strongly supported a centralized practitioner of force, as he believed that that is the only way an orderly society could be maintained. As Hobbes writes in The Leviathan:

For the laws of nature, as justice, equity, modesty, mercy, and, in sum, doing to others as we would be done to, of themselves, without the terror of some power to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our natural passions, that carry us to partiality, pride, revenge, and the like. And covenants, without the sword, are but words and of no strength to secure a man at all. Therefore, notwithstanding the laws of nature (which every one hath then kept, when he has the will to keep them, when he can do it safely), if there be no power erected, or not great enough for our security, every man will and may lawfully rely on his own strength and art for caution against all other men.

[edit] Alternatives and Objections to Weber's theory

In some western constitutional democracies, the government may not have an absolute monopoly on the use of violence. In the United States, for example, the Second Amendment to the Constitution is frequently read to authorize the existence of armed civilian militias, which could theoretically challenge the government (cf. rebellion) or assist in law enforcement (cf. Posse comitatus). However, in most of the rest of the western world, the government alone is responsible for the maintenance of the civil order.

market anarchys are supportive of the use of legitimate violence (defensive and punitive violence), but they oppose a compulsory monopoly on the use of that violence. They believe the private sector should be allowed to provide its own police, jails, and courts when crimes take place on private property.

They may justify this on moral grounds or on pragmatic ones - that if these security services were supplied in a competitive market, like other services are in a market economy, service would be better and cheaper.

There have been historical records of functional market anarchy in various times, such as medieval Iceland,[3] Ireland,[4] and even what is known as the Wild West.[5] In addition, violence in Somalia actually increased with the establishment of a 'legitimate' government.[6] Therefore, it could be seen that a monopoly on violence may not be necessary for society to function.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Weber, Max. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (1964). p. 154
  2. ^ On this point, see Andreas Anter, Max Webers Theorie des modernen Staates, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, 1995
  3. ^ Solvason, Birgir Þór Runólfsson (December 1993). "Ordered Anarchy: Evolution of the Decentralized Legal Order in the Icelandic Commonwealth". Constitutional Political Economy (Univ of Iceland) 4 (1): 97–125. doi:10.1007/BF02393284. ISSN 1043-4062. Retrieved on 2007-01-29. 
  4. ^ Rothbard, Murray (1978, 2006). For a New Liberty. Collier- MacMillan - Mises Inst. pp. Ch 12. ISBN 978-0945466475. 
  5. ^ Anderson, Terry; Hill, Peter (2004). The Not So Wild, Wild West. Stanford Univ Press. ISBN 0804748543. 
  6. ^ Leeson, Peter. "Better Off Stateless: Somalia Before and After Government Collapse". 

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