Libertarians Misunderstand Coercion

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Notes towards creating this page:

Coercion is one of the basic abilities of ordinary humans. Two others are production and reproduction.

Coercion is one solution to almost any collective action problem, and in a large subset of them everyone would prefer to be coerced than to have autonomy.

Coecion of everyone is one solution to almost any collective action problem.

If a problem is worse than the coercion needed to solve it (even after non-coercive attempts at solutions), coercion is the logical choice. Even minimalist government libertarians come to this conclusion, requiring coercion to provide for defense.

"coercion" and "initiation of physical aggression" are libertarian newspeak. Frames, phatic expression, shibboleth, terms of art: very simply, they have a coded meaning for libertarians that is not standard English. Very simply, it boils down to this: "Rights are force we like. Coercion is force we don't like." Libertarians applaud initiation of physical aggression against people for the purposes of enforcing property rights. Libertarians applaud initiation of physical aggression against people who commit fraud, even though it is a voluntary act between two parties. If a mall owner required his tenants to pay a miniumum wage, libertarians would not consider that coercive or initiation of physical aggression. But when a state requires payment of a miniumum wage, somehow that is entirely different to a libertarian.

The function of State coercion is to override individual coercion, and, of course, coercion exercised by any association of individuals within the State. It is by this means that it maintains liberty of expression, security of person and property, genuine freedom of contract, the rights of public meeting and association, and finally its own power to carry out common objects undefeated by the recalcitrance of individual members. L. T. Hobhouse, "Liberalism", Chapter 7

The unable/coerced dichotomy for distinguishing freedom is usally false because most "unable" really means that you haven't the money to bribe your way past the coercive protections of property. (freedom as absence of restrictions does not apply in a market society, where all useful material and situations tend to be property, and you must bribe your way past coercion.)

You are equally unfree to do something if it is prohibited to you by government or if you haven't the money to bribe (pay) private owners not to coerce you.

Hayek defines coercion as "control of the environment or circumstances of a person by another (so) that, in order to avoid greater evil, he is forced to act not according to a coherent plan of his own but to serve the ends of another"; and again: "Coercion occurs when one man's actions are made to serve another man's will, not for his own but for the other's purpose." Const. of Liberty pp. 20–21,133 Most libertarians reject this as not being specific enough to be limited to person and property.

Nozick has a good definition of coercion similar to Hayek's but much more analytic.

Hayek (Const.OL p. 21) switches to ought when he has individuals creating their own private spheres. But really cannot prevent government from having rules about taxation and redistribution. He also has government mold the environment of rules in which the spontaneous order is to occur: but government is a rationalist order.