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A government holds a monopoly on the legal use of physical force, including retaliatory force (Ayn Rand, "The Nature of Government"). It is widely accepted that the threat of force constitutes the use of force. So does that mean that government holds a monopoly on the legal threat of retaliatory force?

See also http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/anarchism.html which is too extensive to fairly quote.

asked Jan 08 '13 at 15:09

anthony's gravatar image


I was initially going to say no, but after thinking about it further, I can imagine a scenario wherein a law enforcement officer could, after using his judgment, determine that an individual could be let off with a warning instead of actually serving a ticket or other punishment. The warning would constitute a threat; "If you're caught speeding again, you will be arrested."

I can think of many examples, like a police officer saying to a rambunctious passerby, "If you continue to disrupt my job duties, I will arrest you."

(Jan 09 '13 at 09:43) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

Same could be said on a national scale from one government to another: "Fly in our airspace again, and you won't have an air force anymore."

(Jan 09 '13 at 14:59) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

Being the brother of an extremely conservative police officer, I am well aware of what Anthony is trying to ask. I heard a few years ago that a man shot a burglar who had gotten into the home. The gun, however, was illegally owned and he went to jail. Even though he was well within his rights to blow the man away, he only went to prison for illegal possession of a firearm. My brother would never arrest someone for self-defense, and so he holds a benevolent view toward the concept of self-defense. He, as well as many of his friends in the NYPD, would uphold the rights of the just.

(Jan 09 '13 at 20:17) Collin1 Collin1's gravatar image
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An essential characteristic of government is that it holds a monopoly on the use of physical force in a geographic region. This is independent of other considerations like: whether the government is proper or not, whether the use of force is defensive or not, whether the force is employed directly by an agent of the government or by someone else, whether the control is objective or capricious, whether it is sudden and violent or gradual and subtle, and so on. Government is in charge of whether and how force is used in its jurisdiction, period.

Credible, objective, threats of physical force are, as you've noted, a use of physical force. Indeed, such threats are undertaken specifically to coerce someone to do something they would not otherwise choose to do. Getting someone's wallet by threatening to shoot him is no less a theft than getting it by actually shooting him and taking it from his pocket. Stopping an attack by threatening to shoot the aggressor is just as much a defense as stopping his attack by actually shooting him -- these are just different uses of force for the same purpose of removing a threat by preempting the attacker's choice. This is why threats of physical force are considered the same as actually unleashing physical force in the context of the Objectivist politics.

answered Jan 09 '13 at 17:01

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

edited Jan 09 '13 at 17:05

I see a serious ambiguity in this question about what is meant by the trem "threat." The question itself seems to take this term for granted and does not offer examples or clarifications about exactly what scope of meaning is intended. Comments so far have offered additional examples.

A different example occurred to me, however: the case of someone pointing a gun at someone else and saying to the other person, "I'm going to shoot you." That, too, certainly qualifies as a threat to use physical force. One could also argue that it is an actual use of force insofar as it puts the victim in immediate fear of serious bodily injury or death. This example could apply to both a robber saying to his victim, "Your money or your life," and to a property owner defending himself and his property from a trespasser, saying to the trespasser, "Leave now or I'll shoot." This type of example seems more in line with what Objectivism intends to refer to by using the term, "threat" (or "threaten"). In The Objectivist Lexicon, the last excerpt in the topic of "Anarchism" explains:

Private force is 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. In barring such private force, the government is retaliating against that threat.

Note also that physical force is what it is, regardless of who starts it. There is no difference, qua force, between initiation and retaliation. It is only in the moral evaluation of physical force that a distinction between initiation of physical force and physical force used in retaliation becomes essential. Physical force can also be indirect instead of direct. Refer to the Lexicon topic of "Physical Force" for additional discussion of what constitutes physical force.

answered Jan 09 '13 at 16:27

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

I guess there is ambiguity in the question about what is meant by threat. My intention was to use the word in a way such that "the threat of force constitutes the use of force". Pointing a gun at someone would be a quintessential example. But I think the examples given by JK Gregg also qualify.

As for a definition, how about "a[n objective] threat of force is an act which causes someone to reasonably apprehend the future use of force"?

(Jan 09 '13 at 18:13) anthony anthony's gravatar image

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Asked: Jan 08 '13 at 15:09

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Last updated: Jan 09 '13 at 20:17