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The Applicant Series #5: Coercion, Security and Power of State

The Applicant Series showcases works done by hopeful writers who have applied with inkmypapers over the years. The results and comments will be provided first, followed by the actual essay/report written by the applicant

Applicant’s Results: Failed

Title: The State has a monopoly over the use of coercion. Discuss preceding statement and compare the concepts of ‘security’ and ‘power’ of a State.

Comments: The applicant has a relatively good grasp on language usage. However, it is obvious he did not plan for the essay before writing it as ideas are scattered everywhere, with no flow whatsoever. It also fails to firstly state the key statement “The State has a monopoly over the use of coercion”, which is the basis for which the question is asked. Without stating the statement, the essay reads like a “for your information” kind of essay, and did not delve into answering the question on whether the state did indeed have a monopoly over the use of coercion.

To be honest, we are on the fence on whether to put the applicant through our training program. While his command of the English language means he has a good foundation, we ultimately did not let him pass this entrance test as his essay is way too off.

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German political thinker, Max Weber (1965), defined the “state” as necessarily being a community in which authority is exercised over a specific territory by a person or governing body with the exclusive right to coerce its constituents legally. This governing body is said to have a monopoly over the legitimate use of coercion or physical force. This is a definition that is widely accepted in modern political thought.

Christopher W. Morris (2012), argues the centrality of the concept of having a monopoly on the use of force on its constituents to the definition of a state, saying that there can be cases where states exist in a state of peace and order without the need to exercise physical force on its citizens. While this is definitely an ideal situation, to say that a state can totally exist without the use of any form of coercion, on the other hand, may be impossible.

Thomas Hobbes (1651), one of the first political thinkers to publish works regarding the idea of a “social contract theory”, discusses, at length, what he believes to be the “state of nature” or natural state of man in a society without law or government, wherein man, who has an insatiable thirst for power, so long as he can compete with another for a resource that only one or few may have, will be in a constant state of competition and, therefore, war. He further adds that this constant state of war is accompanied by persisting feelings of anxiety; man always fears the power that other men may have over him and what they might choose to do with that power. This thirst for power can, thus, only be mitigated by the desire for peace, which is a desire more acutely felt by some men than others. It is this desire that should, in Hobbes’ opinion, be sufficient to persuade people to submit themselves to the domination of an absolute authority who will protect their right to live in peace.

While the idea of giving absolute power to a single body may be controversial and susceptible to the possibility of corruption, this explains why the state has such a monopoly on the use of coercion; it must be able to, as a governing body, enforce laws (or enable bodies to enforce laws in the name of the state and its laws) and punish those who disobey in order to demonstrate the consequences of those who act against the state and the law. It is this monopoly that gives the state the power to give its constituents the feeling of security.

John Locke (1980), another philosopher who dealt with the idea of a social contract theory, defined man’s state of nature as being one in which all men are totally free and equal. He also, however, stated that this state is very vulnerable as, while man is completely free to exercise his free will and use his resources, there is no guarantee that he will be able to do so freely as he is constantly under threat of invasion by other men. This, Locke says, is the reason why man is generally willing to leave this state of total liberty to subordinate himself under an authority figure; so that he may be protected from invasion and permitted to pursue his right to property in a state that is relatively free.

When a state operates within the confines of the law to use the threat of monetary sanctions, incarceration, or even death as deterrents for breaking the law, it provides its citizens with the assurance that no man can simply exercise his power to take away the life, liberty, or property of another without consequences, especially if he does so unlawfully. It is this feeling of security for which people are normally willing to give up their total freedom – as, naturally, one must obey the law to come under its protection – and this is where any form of government is said to derive its power; the governed permit the state to exercise this monopoly on coercion legally in exchange for using this monopoly to do so in the interest of the state and its constituents.

In the case of the existence of bodies who threaten the state’s monopoly on coercion, such as terrorist groups or criminal organizations who can, through threat of violence, force individuals or groups to act in ways they otherwise would not, their power does not necessarily encroach on the power of the state as their methods are considered illegitimate, and done outside the confines of what is permitted by the law. The people do not willingly subordinate themselves to these groups, but only do so out of fear. It is in these cases that the government must use its monopoly on the legitimate use of coercion or physical force to protect the interests of the state, since these groups undermine the peace, order, and security provided by the law.

As the power that the state holds is ultimately derived from peoples’ need to protect their lives and property, and the promise that these will be guarded securely in exchange for subordination, it is worth noting, then, that, as André Munro (2013) states, any individual can legitimately use violence against others in self-defense. This, in turn, can result in the state monopoly on legitimate coercion being challenged by the increasing number of private security corporations and the oftentimes overwhelming influence of organized crime, such as drug cartels. In the case of a private security corporation, the individual/s entrusts his safety and wellbeing to an entity other than the government and, therefore, gives them permission to wield violence in a legitimate manner. In the case of organized crime, as these organizations have a level of influence that is so powerful and far-reaching, they can sometimes provide surrounding peoples with security and resources better than the immediate government can. In this way, the use of coercion is made legitimate because the people submit themselves willingly to these organizations, and the monopoly is then turned over to these groups.

Since the rise of organized crime and its influence on the monopoly on coercion is a relatively new phenomenon, legitimate governments are in the process of finding ways to counteract and neutralize this state of being, and there is still much to learn.


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