Force Is A Must

Many times in the blogosphere I will see a libertarian make the claim that only voluntary actions are just, and I agree with this to a point. However, the contradiction that I find here is that in order to enforce the laws of any society, they must be enforced by force, otherwise they will be disregarded. A law is meaningless without force.

The deeper question is really when such force is to be considered just, and when it is not to be considered just. This is what libertarianism sets out to do, to define the just use of force in a world without a universal ethic, but many libertarians seem to forget this.

We can easily see why such things as the rule of force by majority-status is both unethical and illogical, but we shouldn’t do this by making a blanket statement such as “only voluntary actions are just”, because it only makes you look the fool in the face of reality. Defining the framework to determine which actions are just and which are not is the purview of libertarianism, not the rejection of force altogether.

Without force, all that will exist in society is a state of lawlessness. There is no justice in that.

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7 Comments on “Force Is A Must”

  1. Eric Evans Says:

    I think a proper definition of ‘force’ is definitely in order, else your entire line of reasoning is as vague as the statement you’re arguing against.


    • Yes, I can see what you’re talking about. I’ll use Oxford’s definition in this context.

      “coercion or compulsion, esp. with the use or threat of violence”

      In fact, when I wrote this I was struggling over the use of terms, mostly that between “force” and “violence”. Ultimately, force is violence. However, it is the justification that I am most concerned with.

      Clearly, I am not a pacifist.

      • Eric Evans Says:

        Given your definition, and while I don’t think of myself as a libertarian, I don’t think libertarians would necessarily disagree with you.

        In Robert Murphy’s “Chaos Theory,” for example (granted, he too is not a libertarian), he articulates within his hypothetical civil contract law society how A would be forced to compensate B (or C) for a crime(s) committed against B. Obviously he demonstrates a much softer approach to apprehension and punishment for crimes as high as murder, but it would still require force to enforce the agreed upon punishment.

        I suppose a more important question (and much tougher to theorize) is whether or not all “societies” (however that’s quantified) based on a greater degree of civil contract law would agree on the same levels of punishment for certain types of crimes.


      • I don’t think that many libertarians would disagree with me, however, I do see a lot of people on the internet doing exactly what I said. I just think that is the wrong approach to take in the course of debate. It is far too utopian to be taken seriously, and most non-libertarians will surely point this out.

        Yes, I know Dr. Murphy. He actually published my very first article on his blog (in fact, he’s the one that asked me to write it). Murphy IS a libertarian, a Rothbardian in fact. However, he also takes an ethical position, that being pacifism. It is very interesting the way he has taken the Rothbardian/Hoppeian framework and conformed it to his own pacifism. However, he fully understands that he is taking an ethical position that may not be the one found in a stateless society. Which brings me to my next point.

        I don’t think that there would be a general agreement amongst societies regarding punishment, because that will come from their ethical beliefs, for the most part. However, much of this problem is mitigated by the fact that there will exist no “public” property, and all relationships between actors will be based upon private contract. So, while there may be conflicting ethics, it is also true that the terms of use of property are agreed upon in advance.

        For those who didn’t agree upon the terms, that presents a different problem, but again, the problem is mostly ethical. Murphy would say something along the lines that even if there was no direct punishment (such as jailing), there does still exist the private property framework. Thus, even if you haven’t thrown the guy in jail, it still is not as if he can go roaming the streets, get food, travel, etc; because everything is privately-owned. So, that is an indirect societal punishment (i.e. I simply won’t do business with you).

        Of course, I don’t think that such a system would be very effective, and even Murphy admits that it probably wouldn’t be the case in real life (it is his ideal as a pacifist). However, one mustn’t forget that even in Murphy’s model, there still exists force. After all, one cannot deny an aggressor the use of their property without being able to effectively deal with those who refuse, which means force.

  2. Gee Says:

    >> but we shouldn’t do this by making a blanket statement such as “only voluntary actions are just”, because it only makes you look the fool in the face of reality.

    I dont see the problem with such a blanket statement. It doesn’t meen I’m a pacifist. It meens that force against me is only justified in the context that I previously agreed (voluntarily) with the laws of the privately-owned land where i broke the law.

  3. Bob Murphy Says:

    Yes, I want to confirm Joe’s summary of my position. I personally am a pacifist, but as an economist I can talk about what would happen if people with the values of current Americans all of a sudden became anarchists for some reason…

    By analogy, I can talk about what would happen if the State legalized heroin tomorrow. As a Christian I think using heroin is probably sinful (I actually don’t know much about it–I think it’s OK to drink as long as you don’t get hammered, for example) but as an economist I know there would be a market for heroin, and I can talk about why that market would be preferable to the underground market we have with drug prohibition.


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