Coercion - Scope - Unspecific


Under unspecific or impersonal coercion the conditional threats come from well-known and socially accepted general rules and – rather than any individual or sub-group – and are directed against anybody in the stated conditions, according to clearly stated principles of due process. In practice, the narrowing down of individual choice may be here principally aimed at reducing the incidence of specific coercion, rather than forcing on everybody some special sub-set of positive goals. More generally, unspecific coercion may be the form taken by disciplinary coercion, and this appears to be in fact the case within the most effective command systems of the modern world.

Unspecific coercion is thus the same thing as the rule of law in its widest sense. This must not however be confused with the monopoly of coercion by the State. First, State coercion may very easily be arbitrary – indeed technically very specific, according to the above definition. Second, there are well-documented historical examples of (small) societies that have practiced unspecific coercion without the help of State institutions — like Iceland in the early Middle Ages. The identification between State and law is but a special normative principle introduced by (public) Roman law, which according to some, like Maitland, was for this very reason to be treated as the quintessential “law of tyranny”. Inspired by the “general will”, it should be entitled to enforcement by revolutionary coercion on the will of all. Later on, during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this French revolutionary principle – though not of course its specific way to identify the “general will” – percolated into first Socialist and then Fascist political thinking.

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