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Autonomy in Political Philosophy  

Jakob Elster

The concept of autonomy is one of the key concepts of political philosophy. It plays an important role in discussions of the limits of state coercion, in particular in arguments against paternalistic laws and policies, and in questions concerning the legitimacy and authority of the state. Although the term “autonomy” is used in different ways, a common understanding of the concept of autonomy relates to the idea of leading one’s own life: the autonomous person develops her own understanding of how her life should be and acts accordingly, without interference by others. Autonomy plays three main roles in political philosophy. First, autonomy provides a goal, to be realized through political means; this requires that the state protect people from interference with their autonomy, ensure the availability of sufficient resources, and foster the mental abilities necessary for autonomy. Not least, promoting autonomy can entail that the form of government be democratic, as citizens’ autonomy is best protected in a democratic regime. Next, autonomy can impose a set of constraints, limiting the legitimate use of coercion in realizing political goals. First, coercion can only be used for certain purposes. The most well-known constraint of this kind involves the rejection of paternalism: coercion may never be used to promote a person’s own good against her will. Next, there are constraints connected with the kind of justification that can be given for coercive actions: in order to be compatible with autonomy, these must be justified in ways that the coerced have actually accepted or could have accepted. Finally, autonomy can play a role in arguments about the grounds for political authority. Although authority and autonomy might seem to be inimical, autonomy can ground the right to command either through citizens’ consent or through their voluntary actions by which they become committed to follow a common set of rules. Autonomy can only play these roles if it is valuable, and there are several arguments why autonomy is valuable. First, there are instrumental reasons: the good both of individuals and of society is best served if people have a large degree of autonomy. Next, people have an interest in their choices and actions being their own, representative of who they are. Also, there is a strong symbolic and relational aspect to the right to autonomy: being denied this right is insulting and amounts to a denial of one’s equal standing. Finally, there might be an intrinsic value to autonomy, as only autonomy allows us to be fully human.


Manipulation in Politics  

Robert Noggle

Manipulation is a means by which a person is gotten to do something that the person was not initially inclined to do. As such, it is a form of power. Distinguishing it from other forms of power, such as persuasion, coercion, and physical force, is both important and difficult. It is important because it often matters which form of power a political actor uses, and manipulation is commonly thought to be a form of power whose exercise is undesirable. It is difficult because the line between manipulation and persuasion is often obscure, and because the term manipulation can be applied to tactics that influence the target’s state of mind, and tactics that change the target’s situation. Political theorists and philosophers have offered several accounts of manipulation: Some see it as deceptive influence, some see it as covert influence, some see it as influence with covert intent, some see it as offering bad reasons, and some see it as changing the external situation. While each of these approaches gets some things right about manipulation, each faces important challenges as well. One reason why manipulation seems undesirable is that it appears to undermine autonomy. This fact helps explain why concerns about manipulation arise in discussions of “nudges” that are meant to improve people’s decision making without coercion. Even if nudges benefit their targets, they may be undesirable on balance if they involve autonomy-undermining manipulation. Manipulation is a useful tool for autocrats, but it poses serious problems for democracies. This is because it appears to undermine the consent on which democratic legitimacy depends. Some political theorists argue that the problems posed by manipulation can be best addressed through deliberative democracy. Others dispute this suggestion. At the level of practice, there is reason to worry that late-20th- and 21st-century developments in psychology and the social and information sciences, as well as changes to the media landscape, threaten to make manipulation more prevalent and effective.


Coercive Diplomacy as Crisis Management  

Peter Viggo Jakobsen

In war-threatening crises, the contestants face a crucial dilemma: Should they yield to the opponent’s demands to avoid war or risk war to protect their interests? Coercive diplomacy is a holistic “stick-and-carrot” crisis management strategy devised to tackle this dilemma and enable policymakers to resolve crises by means of mutually acceptable compromises short of war. It is in focus here because it integrates the three principal strands of crisis management theory into a single strategy. The first component is coercive. It involves threats to do harm (political, economic, or military) and action that would hurt the adversary in order to influence it to stop/undo its hostile activities. Hurting action may involve political, economic, and military measures, but actual use of force must be limited and serve signaling and influencing purposes only. Its purpose is to bring the opponent to the negotiating table, not to defeat it or render it incapable of continued resistance. The second component is conciliatory and accommodating. It involves the use of positive incentives for compliance with the coercer’s demands. Their purpose is to reduce the cost of compliance and thereby increase the prospects for finding a mutually acceptable solution to the crisis short of war. The third component is the use of assurances to convince the adversary that the coercer will keep three promises: (a) that it will stop hurting the adversary if it complies with the coercer’s demands, (b) that the promised compensation for compliance will be forthcoming, and finally, (c) that compliance will not result in new demands in the future. This combination of coercion and accommodation situates coercive diplomacy in the middle of the crisis management continuum, which has winning at the one end and war avoidance at the other. It also sets coercive diplomacy apart from strategies relying solely on coercion, such as compellence and deterrence, or solely on accommodation and positive inducements, such as appeasement. Coercive diplomacy is a hard-to-use, high-risk strategy with a low success rate—especially with respect to solving crises without any use of force. Success hinges on a favorable context, skillful diplomacy, and psychological factors beyond the coercer’s control. The many factors affecting its successful use and the holistic nature of the strategy involving coercion, positive inducements, and assurances have produced a rich but also fragmented and dichotomous literature, which has been marred by a number of theoretical, methodological, and definitional disputes. Since 2010, a new generation of scholars has taken promising steps to overcome some of these problems using sophisticated mixed-methods research designs. Significant progress can be made if scholars begin to use such designs to better understand how the interaction of coercion, positive inducements, and assurances affects the scope for resolving crises short of war.


Popular Expectations, Theory, and Empirical Findings on Air Power  

Carla Martinez Machain

Since the inception of air power as a technological innovation, both scholars and military practitioners have given much thought to the use of aircraft during conflict settings and how it might influence both outcomes and the way states fight. Air power can greatly expand the targets that are available to an attacker, making it so that it is not necessary to get through the opponent’s military defenses in order to target their population centers or other centers of gravity. At the same time, air power can reduce the costs of the attacker, allowing them to potentially achieve their coercive aims without necessarily incurring the costs, both financial and in terms of casualties, that a ground invasion can entail. Though the writing on air power from the theoretical and military strategic perspectives is vast and informative, there is also a relatively new research agenda focused on empirical work on air power within the field of international relations. This work has expanded in the last 20 years but still has much room for growth. Traditionally, air power has been thought of as a tool used by major powers, the states with the largest militaries and also the most economic resources. Work on air power has found that particularly major powers that are sensitive to incurring costs through military interventions, such as democratic powers, are prone to using air power. The reason for this is that these states perceive air power as a low-cost and low-commitment way to engage in international coercion. More recent work on air power supports some of these expectations, but challenges others. As scholars collect new data on coercive episodes of aerial bombing, evidence shows that air power is also used by powerful autocracies, and that as technologies develop, minor powers may also become involved in the use of coercive air power, particularly when it comes to the use of remotely piloted aircraft (drones). New research has also engaged the question of how different aerial strategies can affect the duration and outcomes of aerial campaigns. Recent work moves beyond traditional distinctions between punishment and denial strategies and considers cases in which mixed strategies are used, as well as distinguishing between how discriminate the cases of bombing either civilian or military targets are. In addition, new research shows that the use of air power during intrastate conflict and against non-state actors such as insurgent groups or terrorist organizations is prevalent and a topic that should be studied by political scientists.


Gabon: An Uneasy Civil‒Military Concord  

Olaf Bachmann

Like many other African military forces, the Gabonese national army was a direct offshoot of a colonial army—the French one, in this case. Like many of their former brothers in arms on the African continent, the Gabonese military has had difficulty finding their bearings in the newly independent nation, with which they have experienced no bonding. A coup carried out by a handful of officers in 1964 dealt an early blow to the development of civil‒military concord. As of 1965, the political leadership, then firmly in the hands of the Bongo family, made sure it would keep the military under control. An important part of the security belt created by the Bongo regime was the propping up—and corresponding generous endowment—of a Presidential Guard and the paramilitary forces of the Gendarmerie. With the regime feeling more and more secure, among other reasons thanks to the agile management of an extensive patronage system fuelled by the country’s oil wealth, the army was allowed to grow and develop somewhat, although it never reached the capacity to defend the country’s sovereignty against any serious threat. Over the more than four decades of Omar Bongo’s rule (1967‒2009), Gabon’s defense remained outsourced to France through a range of initially secret and later publicly “legitimized” defense treaties. Occasional tensions, such as in the mid-1970s, did not significantly alter that pattern. With its security firmly guaranteed by the Garde Républicaine, the Gendarmerie, and the French, the regime worked to integrate the army into its control system. This was done though accelerating creation of a large number of senior officers’ posts, and these officers were gratified with honors, financial rewards, and at times official government posts. Meanwhile, the rank and file were kept at bay. Consequentially, a two-tier army that mirrored the country’s sociopolitical makeup evolved. Small pockets of professional soldiers did emerge in the country over the years, especially among up to colonel-rank commissioned officers, who benefited from excellent training abroad and were able to perfect their skills on peacekeeping operations. However, professionalism did not percolate through the institution. In 2020, 10 years into the reign of Omar Bongo’s son, Ali, the relationship of the military to the political power is unclear. On the one hand, the army may be an instrument of repression used by a ruling elite that is less and less benevolent in distributing benefits because it has lost the resources to do so. Such was the case in response to unrest after the 2016 elections. On the other hand, it cannot be excluded that part of the army’s lumpenmilitariat could side with the people in a revolt against the government. Because the legitimacy of the clientelist order is under duress, the coercive force provided by the carriers of arms can provide one line of defense, but the military may also turn against their increasingly anemic patron.


Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore Revisited: Ideologically-Bounded Democracies?  

Kai Ostwald

Malaysia and Singapore were long seen as quintessential hybrid regimes that combined elements of electoral democracy and autocracy to achieve remarkable political stability: the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) dominated Malaysia’s politics for over six decades before its unexpected defeat in 2018, while the People’s Action Party (PAP) has led Singapore since the country’s independence and remains in power today. Both parties attained dominance through similar channels. UMNO and the PAP accrued significant legitimacy by overseeing decades of rapid socioeconomic development that transformed the citizenry’s lives. Embedding ideological frameworks—based on empowerment of the Indigenous Malay majority in Malaysia and overcoming systemic vulnerability in Singapore—throughout the state and the electorate provided electoral advantages and further bolstered legitimacy. This was supplemented by regularly reshaping institutions to strengthen incumbency advantages, as well as occasional usage of coercion to limit inroads by opposition challengers. Both regimes have evolved in key ways since the turn of the 21st century. UMNO saw its dominance gradually erode in the decade before its 2018 defeat. It mounted a brief comeback in 2020, but its decisive loss in the 2022 election marked a clear end to its hegemonic rule. While the PAP remains in power, it faces stiffer opposition and a “politically awakened” electorate, also marking a departure from earlier phases of uncontested dominance. While there is disagreement on how extensively these developments change the nature of the underlying regimes, several points are clear. Even if party dominance has declined, the ideological frameworks that both parties established remain intact and fundamentally shape political competition, which is free and relatively fair within the ideological bounds imposed by those frameworks. Moreover, the strength of the ideological bounds is such that no political actor has the agency to unilaterally remove them, which may preclude democratization as it is typically understood. On the opposition side, strong inroads, made in part by conforming to the ideological frameworks, have allowed opposition parties to accrue legitimacy of their own. This has made coercion more costly and has diminished its role in maintaining power. In short, elements of the regimes in Malaysia and Singapore remain resilient. But they are fundamentally different than during the peak of UMNO and PAP dominance: the opposition has accrued legitimacy, the role of coercion has diminished, and political competition now occurs relatively freely within the bounds imposed by the respective ideological frameworks. This puts the current regimes in tension with the assumptions underpinning their earlier “hybrid” classifications, and raises a question: rather than assessing how every political twist and turn moves the needle on a two-dimensional autocracy–democracy spectrum, could it be more practical to think of Malaysia and Singapore as having evolved into relatively stable vernacular democracies that, albeit not fully democratic by conventional standards, are as democratic as the ideological constraints left behind by their founding and long-dominant parties credibly allow?


Law and Political Philosophy  

Jens Damgaard Thaysen

Modern states pursue most of their (domestic) ends by creating law and acting in accordance with the law they create. Moreover, many believe states ought to pursue most of their ends this way. If a state ought to do something, then chances are it ought to do it by creating, abolishing, changing, upholding, or enforcing some law. Therefore, almost any kind of political philosophy with bearing on what states should do has bearing on what law should be like. Justifying the legal proscription of some conduct involves more than just showing that citizens ought to refrain from that conduct. Legally restricting conduct is an exercise of coercion and must be justified as such. Criminal prohibitions in particular require special justification, as they are not only coercive but also commit the state to deliberately inflict the harm and stigma of punishment on some of its own citizens. Nevertheless, if the state must coerce its citizens, it ought generally to do so through a law that conforms to the rule of law. Law conforms to the rule of law if it is capable of guiding the citizens as they act and plan for the future. This the law can do only if it is open, clear, prospective, and stable, such that citizens can know what it demands now and predict with reasonable certainty what it will demand in the future. Conformity to the rule of law promotes freedom and is required to respect human dignity. Much of the debate about the justification and scope of legal coercion revolves around several principles that advance claims about what considerations are relevant to the justifiability of law. These principles all have the following structure: The fact that a legal restriction of a certain kind is related in a certain way to a certain type of conduct has a certain impact on whether that restriction is justifiable. Common principles include (a) legal moralism, according to which it is always a good reason to criminalize conduct that the conduct is wrongful; (b) the wrongness constraint, according to which criminalizing morally permissible conduct is never justified; (c) liberalism, according to which it is always a good reason to criminalize conduct that the conduct is either harmful or seriously offensive to others, and criminalizing conduct that is neither harmful nor offensive is never justified; (d) the public wrong principle, according to which it is always a good reason to criminalize conduct that the conduct is a public wrong, and criminalizing conduct is never justified unless the conduct is a public wrong; (e) the sovereignty principle, according to which the only legitimate restrictions on conduct are those that secure independence. Which, if any, of these principles one should accept is the subject of an extensive and sophisticated academic debate.


Federalism and Policy Implementation  

Kenneth Wiltshire

Implementing public policies in federations involves clashes of concept and practice. In its design, federalism is not particularly conducive to the formulation and implementation of public policy because the acclaimed strengths of a federal form of government, including diversity, fragmentation of power and sovereignty, and responsiveness to regional and cultural interests, all serve to make the introduction of national policies complex and challenging. This is especially the case regarding the implementation phase of policies which tends to be a most difficult task given the layers and negotiating steps through which policies must pass before being delivered to clients. Success in implementing public policies in federations requires a mixture of strategies that can range from coercion to collaboration and cooperation. Achieving performance with accountability throughout this process has proven difficult in most federations. Moreover most of the literature has avoided the client perspective, in particular whether citizens really care about the vagaries of federal arrangements as they simply want to see the programs that affect their daily lives delivered efficiently, effectively, and accountably.


Congo-Kinshasa: The Military in the State-Building Process  

Emizet F. Kisangani

The fundamental challenge facing social engineers is to project authority. State building is a process that establishes political order over time. As a top-down strategy, it emerges as an antidote to state collapse. The success of a state is in its capacity not only to provide national security while controlling the means of violence, but also to supply other public goods funded through direct taxes on citizens, who are supposed to make their rulers accountable. The absence of such state capacity perhaps explains the unending political crisis that plagues many post-colonial states, because they tend to control populations rather than territories. Although some efforts have been made toward state building, the state remains fragile in many post-colonial states. Territorial control is limited, and private taxation continues. Local tensions based on ethnic affinities rather than national allegiance remains intense. The analysis of Congo-Kinshasa illustrates these assertions by contrasting three successive periods: the Congo Free State (1885–1908), the Belgian Congo (1908–1959), and the post-colonial period (1960–2019). Of these three periods, only the second entity was able to professionalize the military for state-building purposes. The emphasis on this top down approach in state building overlooks other configurations that postcolonial state builders should contemplate. Societies have historically compensated for the failure or absence of statehood through a number of mechanisms that include, among others, councils of elders and secret societies that may not be difficult to reconcile with the demands of the modern state. The search for this bottom-up approach to state building perhaps explains so many internal conflicts in most post-colonial states as marginalized groups intend to insert themselves into the political system that has excluded them from power.


The Strategic Use of State Repression and Political Violence  

Jacqueline H. R. deMeritt

Repression is the act of subduing someone by institutional or physical force. Political violence is a particular form of repression involving the use of physical force to achieve political goals. Acts of repression and/or political violence often violate fundamental human rights, and are sometimes referred to as human rights abuse. Most systematic research into these forms of human rights abuse, particularly as perpetrated by governments, is built on assumptions of rationality: repression and political violence are strategic policies that governments employ in pursuit important political and/or military objectives. Since the defining concept of the state is its monopoly on the legitimate use of coercion, those objectives are generally related to quiescence and the quelling of popular dissent. Empirical research has investigated the causes of repression and political violence, focusing generally on the conditions and incentives that make these strategies most likely. To a lesser extent, scholars have also investigated the consequences of human rights abuse. This work is intimately tied to extant work on causes, and highlights an important feedback loop between repressive governments and those who oppose them. Finally, researchers have investigated methods of limiting and/or preventing state repression and political violence. Some of these methods are primarily domestic in nature (e.g., regime type and institutional design) while others have a decidedly international bent (e.g., advocacy campaigns).