What Is Coercion?
My dictionary (Webster's New Collegiate) defines coerce as:
Coercion is essentially the overwhelming of the will of another by force or threat of force, or through less noticeable forms such as fraud. The use of coercion is the means by which a person or group of people impose their will upon another or others. (Coercion can also be used to forcibly or fraudulently take the property of others.) Ayn Rand made the crucial qualification of the initiation of force or the threat of force. As long as an individual has done nothing to harm others or violate another's rights, no one has the right to initiate force or the threat of force against that individual.
A distinction needs to be made between initiated force, and force used in self-defense. You are quite justified in using force, threat of force, bluff, deception, etc., to prevent others from coercing you. (Though you need to decide for yourself if, depending on the circumstances, it would be worth the risk of being harmed more by resisting someone's attempt to coerce you.)
How To Treat Your Neighbors
Suppose you want to organize a picnic with your neighbors. What would happen if you went to your neighbor's house and told him that he and his family must join you in organizing a picnic and that he must pay his "fair share"; and if he doesn't submit to "voluntary compliance", then you will "enforce" his "co-operation" by hiring some goons to confiscate his property and/or lock him up, and if he resists then they may have to shoot him!?
Would this way of behaving be a formula for conducting harmonious relationships? Or would it cause all kinds of resentment, conflict, and other problems?
Please think about this. Is this the sort of formula that "government" bureaucrats apply?
There is a common-law principle that states that for there to be a crime, there has to be a victim (corpus delicti). Without a victim there is no crime. There can't be a "victimless crime". There is also a principle which states that for a contract to be valid it has to be knowingly and voluntarily entered into. Attempting to force people to do something when they haven't committed a crime or entered into a contract to do it, is coercion.
Persuasion vs. Coercion
Coercion needs to be distinguished from persuasion (where someone may merely argue truthfully and convincingly with someone else over why (s)he should or shouldn't do something).
Many people are severely deficient in many thinking skills. People who can't think soundly about a particular area or topic, tend to substitute coercion for thought. Sometimes this happens in several areas of a person's life. Example: A parent, lacking the necessary persuasive skills to persuade a child to do "the right thing", resorts to coercion, establishing a pervasive and destructive pattern.
Coercive political systems are simply the extension of this phenomenon to the level of society. If people tolerate the substitution of coercion for thought in themselves, it's no wonder that they support coercive political systems to practice coercion on their behalf.
Levels Of Coercion
In its strongest form, coercion involves killing another. Next comes threatening to kill someone unless he or she obeys you. Threatening to beat, rob, or incarcerate comes next. The strong forms of coercion involve force or threat of force, sometimes deadly force. "Government" bureaucrats tend to operate at these levels as a last resort. Political power comes from the barrel of a gun, said Mao. This is also the level of the violent criminal, the robber or murderer.
Then there's blackmail: compelling someone to make a payment or perform a specific action, or be harmed in some way (typically by disclosure of a secret). And extortion: unjustly obtaining (money, promise, etc.) by violence, force (or threat of force), intimidation, persistent demands, etc. Sound familiar? Consider the possibility that the word "government" is largely a euphemism for institutionalized extortion.
The lowest level of coercion is to use misrepresentation or fraud to induce someone to do something (usually harmful to themselves) that they wouldn't do if they knew all the relevant facts. Much of "government" operates at this level. This is also the level of the sophisticated criminal, the conman, the embezzler. They lie to get your money. It is also the level of the brainwasher (e.g.: "government teacher", coercive religions, cults, etc.). They lie to get your mind.
We also need to examine indirect coercion. When I buy gas for my car, part of my money goes to "government" bureaucrats in the form of "taxes". Whenever I pay "taxes", I'm being coerced indirectly, and I'm also indirectly supporting the coercion perpetrated by terrocrats (terrorist bureaucrats or coercive "government" agents) - by paying their wages to practice more coercion. Terrocrats use this "tax"-money to pay more terrocrats to further coerce others through their "tax" and other "systems", and to murder people in their "wars", amongst countless other atrocities (like the massacre at Waco).
Most people think that they don't have a choice in this. However, if you read the Tax Reports and other relevant information available here, you'll discover that you always have a choice.
There is also a form of indirect coercion we might call "coercion by proxy" - instead of a terrocrat killing someone himself, he hires a hit man. Another example of coercion by proxy is where someone "votes" for a politician who'll give him some money (or more money) which was obtained through "taxing" someone else - instead of this person robbing the other person, he uses the "political system" to do it for him. (Of course the politician and his fellow terrocrats take a large portion of the "tax"-money before passing on the rest to their dependents.)
We can also make a distinction between individual coercion and organized coercion - the difference between the individual mugger and the criminal gang - for example, mafia (and, for the most part, "government").
More Examples Of Coercion:
All humans are free and sovereign by nature. For humans to submit to coercion is a perversion of human nature; yet almost all humans submit to various forms of coercion every day.
Most people are blind to subtle coercion. Why? Because so long as you always obey others, you may never notice when someone is coercing you - it may all seem perfectly normal and acceptable. Few people recognize the "requirement" that people register their cars with a "government" department as coercion or violence. If you don't "register" your car, a "policeman" might pull you over. If you resist his unwarranted coercion, he may physically attack you, and may shoot and kill you! Few people recognize that forcing children into schools is coercion. Many parents don't recognize the coercion they perpetrate against their own children as coercion or violence.
American culture - as in the rest of the world - teaches that the big and strong, especially those with guns, get their way through violence. Children must obey their parents because their parents are big, strong, and violent. Subjects must obey their "government" because their "government" is big, strong, and violent.
Coercion or violence is the hallmark of a feudal (slave/master) society. Voluntary co-operation is the essence of a free society.
Freedom Or Coercion
In other reports, I indicate that reading two books is essential to understanding freedom: How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne, and The Discovery of Freedom by Rose Wilder Lane. For those who are relatively new to freedom, I recommend a third book: For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto by Murray N. Rothbard (Collier Books, NY; 1978).
Consider that it might be a basic principle that freedom and coercion are incompatible.
Many people believe that certain things can only be done through coercion and we must have a "government" to coerce people. For a New Liberty brilliantly makes the case that initiated coercion is evil and unnecessary.
What is meant by "evil"? Evil is defined in my dictionary as: Something that causes harm; something that brings sorrow, distress, or calamity. Often, the greater the evil, the more blind we tend to be to it, the more difficult it is to confront. Some people default to "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil".
Of course, two boxers enter the ring to fight each other. The best fighter wins. This form of coercion is compatible with freedom because it is based on mutual consent with full knowledge. Whether you, I, or anyone else disapproves of their activities, is probably none of our business. Similarly, if two people want to fight a duel, the believer in freedom will use no more than persuasion to attempt to stop them.
Sometimes it's necessary to use coercion against children to prevent hurt or death. Suppose I see a young child about to run across the street into the path of a speeding car; I grab her and yank her out of the way. I have no right to practice such coercion, nor do I have a duty. I use my superior strength to overwhelm another's free will. But I justify my coercion by claiming that my superior wisdom and judgment enabled me to foresee what the child didn't see. Her ability to observe, think, and act appropriately isn't fully developed, so I use force to overwhelm her will and save her life. (If my absent-minded friend carelessly steps onto the road, I might do the same; or, without coercing him, I could simply yell out to him to "watch out for the car!".)
Can we formulate a principle: The only permissible coercion is that coercion - to prevent a greater evil - which someone personally initiates, performs, and takes full responsibility for?
Some people say, "I believe in freedom and individual sovereignty, except for..." The problem is that if you add up all the coercive exceptions of the people who profess their love for freedom and individual sovereignty, you get the modern slave-state that all countries are now in, at least to some extent.
Coercion is the essence of slavery. Coercion is the negation of individual freedom, self-ownership, and individual sovereignty.
Can we formulate another principle: Become wise, strong, and powerful - or suffer coercion?
Some forms of coercion imply that the information of the coerced or victim is no good and/or the victim can't think for himself or herself (can't process information). Therefore the coercer must decide for the victim. For example, compulsory state "education" (coercion at its most insidious), compulsory compliance with "regulations", "anti-drug laws", etc., imply that people are powerless victims, nothings, and nobodies who can't think for themselves. Most coercive bureaucracies operate on the same principle: creating dependency, helplessness, and powerlessness.
When coercion is perpetrated, there is almost always a loser. Coercive "government" is a win-lose or lose-lose game - it's destructive. In contrast, voluntary exchange is win-win - it benefits all parties.
Practice using your mind to persuade, instead of your muscles to force, and you'll become much more capable.
The recognition and rejection of coercion constitutes the shift from backwards, barbaric savagery, to true civilization! It is vital to our progress and survival that the currently increasing trend of coercion, perpetrated by those who call themselves "government", be stopped, reversed, and ultimately eliminated altogether!
The solution for the individual is to reject the use of coercion, prevent yourself from being coerced, and withdraw your support from coercers - the means for doing this is called Freedom Technology.
"He that always gives way to others will end in having no principles of his own." - Aesop