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Monopoly on violence

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The monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force, also known as the monopoly on violence (German: Gewaltmonopol des Staates), is the defining conception of the state as first expounded by sociologist Max Weber in his essay Politics as a Vocation (1919). Weber claims that the state is any "human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory";[1] thus, "the modern state is a compulsory association which organizes domination."[2] In other words, Weber describes the state as any organization that succeeds in holding the exclusive right to use, threaten, or authorize physical force against residents of its territory. Such a monopoly, according to Weber, must occur via a process of legitimation.

According to Raymond Aron, international relations are characterized by the absence of widely acknowledged legitimacy in the use of force between states.[3]

Max Weber's theory[edit]

Max Weber wrote in Politics as a Vocation that a necessary condition of statehood is the retention of such a monopoly. His expanded definition was that something is "a 'state' if and insofar as its administrative staff successfully upholds a claim on the 'monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force' (German: das Monopol legitimen physischen Zwanges) in the enforcement of its order."[4][5] Weber's concept has been formalized to show that the exclusive policing power of the state benefits social welfare, provided the state acts benevolently in the interest of its citizens.[6]

According to Weber, the state is the source of legitimate physical force. The public police and military are its main instruments, but private security can also be used with state authorization.

Weber applied several caveats to this basic principle:

  • He intended the statement as a contemporary observation, noting that the connection between the state and the use of physical force has not always been so close. He uses the examples of feudalism, where private warfare was permitted under certain conditions, and of religious courts, which had sole jurisdiction over some types of offenses, especially heresy and sex crimes (thus the nickname "bawdy courts"). Regardless, the state exists wherever a single authority can legitimately authorize violence.
  • By the same token, the "monopoly" does not mean that only the government may use physical force, but that the state is the only source of legitimacy for all physical coercion or adjudication of coercion. For example, the law might permit individuals to use force in defense of self or property, but this right derives from the state's authority.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Daniel Warner (1991). An ethic of responsibility in international relations. Lynne Rienner Publishers. pp. 9–10. ISBN 9781555872663. Retrieved 5 April 2011. 
  2. ^ "From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology.". Oxford University Press. 1946. 
  3. ^ Raymond Aron. Paix et guerre entre les nations, Paris 1962; English: Peace and War, 1966. New edition 2003.
  4. ^ Parsons, Talcott (1964). The Theory Of Social And Economic Organization. Simon and Schuster. p. 154. ISBN 0684836408. 
  5. ^ Weber, Max. Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (1921). p. 29
  6. ^ K. Grechenig, M. Kolmar, The State's Enforcement Monopoly and the Private Protection of Property, Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE) 2014, vol. 170 (1), 5-23.