Legitimate Use of Force

A comment made by a writing peer of mine got me thinking about something I had not thought on in some time: the legitimate use of force in the world. Who owns it? Why do they own it? Should that be where it is?

Having been out of grad school for some time, I’ve apologetically forgotten many of the specifics of my teachings but let me give this a shot for my own intellectual development.

Hobbes says that the legitimate use of force belongs to those who have the power to both own that use of force and, well, use it. He is one of the first to suggest the State as an entity even exists and exists for some reason other than divine right. However, his argument, if you haven’t noticed, is rather Darwinian. The State has the right to impose its will as it chooses with whomever it chooses as long as it has the power to enforce that will upon the other person or other State. Therefore legitimate use of force comes from strength. One obvious outcome of recent is the Cold War arms race.

Rousseau is a scholar that I tend to butt head with apologists of his camp. The reason? It turns out that he is one of the first political theorists that suggests the General Will (or at least is most commonly known as its founder). The General Will can best be understood as simply: Whatever the will of the majority of people is in  a given State, that Will should be the Will of the State. This is where the legitimacy of the State is derived. The Will of the majority becomes the Will of the All aka the State. Few argue with me on this point.

The point where neoliberals and I differ is on a very popular phrase he uses: for anyone within the State that does not abide by the General Will, that individual or group of individuals will be ‘forced to be free’. Now, in the past, believers of democracy in its many forms have suggested that this comment means that if you are not following the General Will, those agreeing with the General Will will guide you toward the light and show you the error of your ways. In this respect, it is very Judeo Christian in nature.

However, this is not what Rousseau says. He would not have used the word ‘force’ when discussing legitimacy and legitimacy of force if he did not mean FORCE. Unfortunately, this string of thought of the legitimate and well-intentioned General Will has been FORCED on such ‘barbaric’ cultures as Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Thinking in this way leads to colonization. The systematic rape, pillage, and destruction of entire civilizations while hiding behind the red herring of acting in the best interest of that raped and pillaged society by “forcing them to be free”.

One only need look to World War II and totalitarian regimes for proof of the destructive nature of this line of thinking. Stalinist Russia, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany were all amazing shows of ‘forcing’ people to be free. Even more recent, the 2nd Iraq war, once it was found that weapons of mass destruction did not exist, was argued as a forcing the Iraqi people to be free from oppression.  Democracy is the ultimate goal and the Ultimate Good, right? Even if you have to kill most of that population to force them into that democracy, right?

John Stuart Mill argued for a utilitarian (basically an early form of Libertarianism). He argued that States gained their legitimacy from utility. It only took the freedoms from you it needed to in order to create a basic level of security and a platform for unbiased judge and juries during disputes. Otherwise, the State and the individual is to remain out of the lives (no matter how quirky or irritating) of other States and other individuals.

Sticking only with the topic of legitimacy of the use of force by the State, Mill makes a comment about the ‘barbaric’ that struck in my undergrad years. He stated that barbaric societies are like children and should be governed over as if they were children. My undergrad thesis professor said I was over reaching, but I still believe this comment leads to legitimately colonizing the world. If these civilizations refused to act like adults (aka like rich, industrialized, white, Christian civilizations, then rich industrialized white Christian civilizations had a right…no, an obligation to rule over them like the children they are.

Much more recently are two equally damaging threads: Libertarianism and Neoliberalism.

Libertarianism argues in its most basic form for a hands off approach. The State deserves minimal legitimacy.  However, the State still retains ALL legitimate use of force in the world. Apologists contend that this legitimacy comes from the people. The same can be argued by Rousseau: all power comes from the people. Libertarianism rests on a basic premise that power ultimately resides in the individual human being. But that power, once handed to the State, cannot be reneged. This leads back to the same problem of all these other theories. The State retains all power to do as it chooses and is able to hide behind the veil of democracy of acting in a democratic and good matter. This veil of democracy is more dangerous than when the State hid behind its divine right.

Neoliberalism is by far the most dangerous of these theories for the same reason as Libertarianism: the Veil of Democracy. Democracy (actually only liberal democracy) is seen as the ultimate goal in social equality and peace. The problem with this is two fold.

First, the Veil of Democracy itself provides false legitimacy for the State the same way as Libertarianism and Rousseau does. Second, it provides an even more destructive version of Rousseau’s argument that one should be ‘forced to be free.’

Because liberal democracy (and by liberal democracy, neoliberals really mean a Westernized version of liberal democracy with Judeo Christian tenants) is such a perfect end and such a ‘humane’ outcome to be sought after, liberal democracy is something worth ‘forcing’ on lesser beings who do not follow the liberal democratic way.

Why do I bring these theories up? Because, as political theory of the legitimate use of force by the State ‘progresses’, it creates a system that is equally damaging to human populations. BUT, and this is the disturbing and large BUT. BUT, each change and more ‘humane’ form of the legitimate use of force simply creates the same damaging system while ratcheting up power of the Veil that the State can hide behind. As these theories become ‘more liberal’ and look more and more toward ‘the people’ to explain its monopoly on the use of force ex post facto, the people it claims to protect will move further and further into submission and find it harder and harder to climb out of the ditch humanity has dug for itself.

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