Coercion vs initiation of force

Posted: April 13th, 2010 by Militant Libertarian

by Kent McManigal, Examiner

A comment a while back on this column led to a google group where that particular column was critiqued.  I don’t really have the spare time to get involved in any new discussion groups so I will address the comments here and also post this column there, where I was invited to participate.

For the time being I will focus on one particular disagreement the author, Paul Wakfer, had with my assertion that it is always wrong to use coercion.  He says:

“Yes it is wrong to use government since the State is ultimately nothing but the use of physical force against others without their Permission in order to steal their Property and/or reduce their Liberty.” … “However that does not mean that coercion per se is always wrong – eg. use of physical force to stop a child from running into the street or to prevent an unwary adult from stepping out in front of an oncoming car, without hir (sic) permission ahead of its use.”

I notice a bait and switch.  Using physical force to stop a child from running into the street is an “initiation of force“, but it is not “coercion”.  You can coerce without using any force at all; using only words, guilt, threats, or other forms of manipulation.  Coercion is still always wrong.

Initiation of force may sometimes be necessary but you must always understand you have NO RIGHTto initiate force.  You can be held accountable for your initiation of force, even if you did it with the best of intentions.  You must accept that you have stepped outside exercising your rights into violatinghis, and you must accept any consequences your actions bring.

Sometimes when you feel you must initiate force you can be forgiven by your victim, such as in the case of the person about to step in front of a bus.  You do not have time to gather all the necessary information before you act.  This is why it is not a “fallacy”, as he claims, even though it can be complicated by circumstances.  If the person protests your “protective” actions, yet you persist in shoving him out of the way, you have gone from simply initiating force to actually using coercion to remove him from the bus’ path.  If the person wanted to step in front of the bus (suicide is a basic right, even if distasteful), then you might owe him restitution.

Of course, when he steps in front of the bus he would be initiating force upon the passengers of the bus and causing damage to property that is not his own.  Your debt to him could be nullified by your prevention of his initiation of force and resultant property destruction.  This is something to have in mind all the time.  To me, it is usually worth the risk, but I do understand where my rights end and hisbegin.  You do what you feel you must and accept any consequences of your actions.

Mr. Wakfer also addresses the notion that the parent “is the effective Owner of [a] child“, and that this gives the parent the authority to stop a child from running into the street.   I do not believe a parent owns the child.  The child may be your responsibility, but to “own” something gives you the right to destroy it.  You do not have that right with regards to “your” child.  To stop a child from running into the street is exercising your obligation to protect that child when possible.

Why is it OK to protect a child using force, but not OK for the State to protect me by using force?  Mostly because I do not consent to being “protected”, nor do I need anyone’s “protection” (especially when it comes at the cost of other people’s money and liberty).  The child lacks a fully-developed mind that would be capable of understanding cause and effect and lacks experience in the everyday laws of physics.  It is sometimes hard to see the difference between legitimately protecting the child and controlling him.  The distinction still exists whether you see it or not.  Someday the world will be free enough to make this type of discussion important.

Feel free to visit the group to read the rest of the critique.  I may address more of his points later.

A former police chief and city manager got beaten and robbed in an Albuquerque motel room.  While extortion, aggression, and theft are wrong- always and any time- there is something a little satisfying when a former “Only One”, and current government shill ends up being the target instead of aninnocent person.


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