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First, an excerpt from the Ayn Rand Lexicon entry on Anarchism:

Private force is force not authorized by the government, not validated by its procedural safeguards, and not subject to its supervision. The government has to regard such private force as a threat—i.e., as a potential violation of individual rights.

Now imagine a private entity that specializes in some craft that requires the initiation of force, for example a professional bodyguard service. Said company is objectively operated, has some system of checks and balances on its own power, and has a record of initiation force only in proper circumstances (i.e. in self-defense or in defense of its clients).

Is this an example of an illegitimate private force? If not, how far can a self-defense business go before, as the quote above mentions, there exists a potential of abuse? (Abuse meaning the initiating of force outside the context of defense.) Does not a government have that same potential?

asked Feb 21 '12 at 17:44

JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

JK Gregg ♦

edited Feb 21 '12 at 17:46

Perhaps my question is still vague. Consider this alternative example:

A contingent of 50 well-armed men guarding a single man wherever he goes certainly represents a private force (one not to be reckoned with) and it also has the potential to become an armed gang willing and able to violate rights. At what point does such private security become a threat?

(Feb 21 '12 at 17:51) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

The point at which weaponry becomes a threat which ought to be regulated by government is a specialized question of law. Keeping a handgun in a drawer by your bed is one thing. Keeping a bunch of rocket launchers and ammunition in your shed in your backyard is another. (Maintaining a private militia of 50 who follows you around everywhere is yet another.)

(Feb 26 '12 at 20:45) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I think that a private company should be able to use force to protect a person or their property only to the extent that the person himself would be legally entitled to use force in self-defense. For example, if a private citizen notices that he has been robbed after the fact, he cannot legally use force against the person who he thinks robbed him--he must resort to the courts so that the dispute can be resolved by objective rules of law. Thus, it should also be illegal for his private security force to use force against the alleged robber. On the other hand, it is permissible for a private citizen to use force to stop an assault in progress. Accordingly, it should be permissible for the citizen's private security force to use force in that circumstance.

Binswanger's quotation against the private use of retaliatory force is a statement of the general principle articulated by Rand that a government must have a monopoly on the retaliatory use of force, and I agree with it wholeheartedly, but the quotation cannot be regarded as an absolute out of context (of course the principle is an absolute within its context, but the single statement does not include within it all the complexities and details that may go into the context). Rand acknowledged the rights of the individual to use force in self-defense where necessary (i.e., where the threat of harm is immediate and one cannot wait for the government to protect you). This is clearly an instance of private force, which Rand sanctions. I believe the reasons that justify the private use of force by an individual equally justify the private use of force by a security firm.

As far as the question implied in your comment, I do not think that the mere existence of a private security force (be it 1 man or 50) constitutes a threat to others, let alone an objective threat of the kind rising to the level of a rights violation. It is certainly possible that the security force could be used to harass, intimidate, or threaten people, in which case it would be violating rights and it would be proper to stop them. However, this is not inevitable--the mere presence of armed men is not a threat.

answered Feb 21 '12 at 18:13

ericmaughan43's gravatar image

ericmaughan43 ♦

edited Feb 21 '12 at 18:24

When you say that the mere presence of armed men is not a threat, are you speaking personally, or do you believe this is an answer which follows from Objectivism?

If my neighbor started assembling 50 armed men near the border between my property and his (on his side), I certainly believe their "mere presence" would constitute an objective threat. I'd call the cops, and I believe it would be right for them to intervene.

(Feb 26 '12 at 20:49) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Context is everything when it comes to assesing threats. The same action can be a threat in one context and not in another. Thats why I said the mere presence of a private security force is not a threat. Amassing on a border is a fact relevent to assessing a threat, which weighs for there being a threat. If the neighbor had previously threatened you, that would weigh even more for finding a threat. If the men are pointing their weapons at you or your property, now it is definitely a threat.

(Feb 26 '12 at 23:25) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

As for your first question, my answers are obviously only my own. I believe they are based on and consistent with Objectivist principles. When Rand has said something on the topic I am answering I try to indicate it in my answer (as above I indicated that Rand endorsed self-defense when necessary). Other Objectivists can and certainly do disagree with me.

(Feb 26 '12 at 23:29) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image
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Asked: Feb 21 '12 at 17:44

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Last updated: Feb 26 '12 at 23:29