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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 a core concept of modern public law, which goes back to Jean Bodin's 1576 work Les Six livres de la République and Thomas Hobbes' 1651 book Leviathan.[citation needed] As the defining conception of the state, it was first described in sociology by Max Weber in his essay Politics as a Vocation (1919).[1] Weber claims that the state is the "only human Gemeinschaft which lays claim to the monopoly on the legitimated use of physical force. However, this monopoly is limited to a certain geographical area, and in fact this limitation to a particular area is one of the things that defines a state."[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.

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."[3][4] 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.[5]

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 his discussion of the state's monopoly of force:

  • 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.
  • For the same reasons, 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 one's self or property, but this right derives from the state's authority. This obviously contradicts directly with enlightenment principles of individual sovereignty that delegates power to the state by consent, and concepts of Natural Law that hold that individual rights deriving from sapient Self Ownership preexist the state and are only recognised and guaranteed by the state which may be restricted from limiting them by Constitutional Law.[citation needed]

Other writers on the monopoly of violence[edit]

According to Raymond Aron, international relations are characterized by the absence of widely acknowledged legitimacy in the use of force between states.[6]

Martha Lizabeth Phelps, writing in Politics & Policy, takes Weber's ideas on the legitimacy of private security a step further. Phelps claims that the use of private actors by the state remains legitimate if and only if military contractors are perceived as being controlled by the state.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Max Weber in Weber's Rationalism and Modern Society, translated and edited by Tony Waters and Dagmar Waters. Palgrave Books 2015, pp. 129-198
  2. ^ Max Weber in Weber's Rationalism and Modern Society, translated and edited by Tony Waters and Dagmar Waters. Palgrave Books 2015, p. 136
  3. ^ Parsons, Talcott (1964). The Theory Of Social And Economic Organization. Simon and Schuster. p. 154. ISBN 0684836408. 
  4. ^ Weber, Max. Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (1921). p. 29
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Raymond Aron. Paix et guerre entre les nations, Paris 1962; English: Peace and War, 1966. New edition 2003.
  7. ^ Phelps, Martha Lizabeth (December 2014). "Doppelgangers of the State: Private Security and Transferable Legitimacy". Politics & Policy. 42 (6): 824–849. doi:10.1111/polp.12100.