The Problem with “Coercion”
“…Unfortunately, the fundamental and grievous flaw in Hayek’s system appears when he proceeds to define “coercion.” For instead of defining coercion as is done in the present volume, as the invasive use of physical violence or the threat thereof against someone else’s person or (just) property, Hayek defines coercion far more fuzzily and inchoately: e.g., as “control of the environment or circumstances of a person by another (so) that, in order to avoid greater evil, he is forced to act not according to a coherent plan of his own but to serve the ends of another”; and again: “Coercion occurs when one man’s actions are made to serve another man’s will, not for his own but for the other’s purpose.”
For Hayek, “coercion” of course includes the aggressive use of physical violence, but the term unfortunately also includes peaceful and non-aggressive actions as well. Thus, Hayek states that “the threat of force or violence is the most important form of coercion. But they are not synonymous with coercion, for the threat of physical force is not the only way in which coercion can be exercised.”[…]
It seems clear that the fundamental problem is Hayek’s use of “coercion” as a portmanteau term to include, not only physical violence but also voluntary, nonviolent, and non-invasive actions such as nagging. The point, of course, is that the wife or husband is free to leave the offending partner, and that staying together is a voluntary choice on his or her part. Nagging might be morally or aesthetically unfortunate, but it is scarcely “coercive” in any sense similar to the use of physical violence.
Only confusion can be caused by lumping the two types of action together.”
— Murray Rothbard, F.A Hayek and the Concept of Coercion“I must confess that one of my nits is the use by libertarians of the word “coercion” to mean “aggression.” I suspect this is a habit inherited from Ayn Rand’s repeated misuse of the term. Let’s get it straight: we libertarians oppose aggression, i.e. the so-called “initiation of force”, not force itself. To coerce is just to use force to make someone do something, to compel them. Coercion is just a type of use of force. Libertarianism is no more against coercion or force than it is against guns, which may be used for good, or evil.”
— Stephan Kinsella, “Coercion” is annoying, but coercion is neutral“Dan, fair points. I can see the argument that the term coercion is not completely neutral and has largely negative connotations; and that maybe we generally should “oppose” it since it is generally unjust.But my point is mainly that I think it is misused as a synonym for aggression. Coercion, as I see it, is a set that intersects with aggression. That is, while some coercion is aggression, not all coercive acts are aggressive (e.g., threatening to harm an aggressor unless he returns to his jail cell); and not all acts of aggression employ coercion (if you simply murder someone, you have not used the threat of force to get them to do anything–it’s not coercion, it’s just aggression).Therefore, I think the use of coercion is yet another in a long string of libertarian imprecision and lack of rigor in defining terms. It’s symptomatic of the tendency to over-rely on the use of metaphors and liberal-arts type language.”
— Stephan Kinsella, More on “coercion”