is the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner (whether through action or inaction) by use of threat
Threat of force in public international law is a situation between states described by British lawyer Ian Brownlie as:The 1969 Vienna convention on the Law of Treaties notes in its preamble that both the threat and the use of force are prohibited...
s or intimidation
Intimidation is intentional behavior "which would cause a person of ordinary sensibilities" fear of injury or harm. It's not necessary to prove that the behavior was so violent as to cause terror or that the victim was actually frightened.Criminal threatening is the crime of intentionally or...
or some other form of pressure or force. In law, coercion is codified as the duress
In jurisprudence, duress or coercion refers to a situation whereby a person performs an act as a result of violence, threat or other pressure against the person. Black's Law Dictionary defines duress as "any unlawful threat or coercion used... to induce another to act [or not act] in a manner...
crime. Such actions are used as leverage, to force the victim to act in the desired way. Coercion may involve the actual infliction of physical pain/injury or psychological harm in order to enhance the credibility
Credibility refers to the objective and subjective components of the believability of a source or message.Traditionally, modern, credibility has two key components: trustworthiness and expertise, which both have objective and subjective components. Trustworthiness is based more on subjective...
of a threat. The threat of further harm may lead to the cooperation or obedience
The term obedience can refer to:* Obedience ** The educational film Obedience about the Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures* Vow of obedience as an evangelical counsel* Obedience training for dogs...
of the person being coerced. Torture
Torture is the act of inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or a confession, or simply as an act of cruelty. Throughout history, torture has often been used as a method of political re-education, interrogation, punishment, and coercion...
is one of the most extreme examples of coercion i.e. severe pain is inflicted until the victim provides the desired information.
The purpose of coercion is to substitute one’s aims to those of the victim. For this reason, many social philosophers have considered coercion as the polar opposite to freedom.
Various forms of coercion are distinguished: first on the basis of the kind of injury
threatened, second according to its aims
, and finally according to its effects
, from which its legal, social, and ethical implications mostly depend.
Physical coercion is the most commonly considered form of coercion, where the content of the conditional threat is the use of force against a victim, their dear ones or property. An often used example is "putting a gun to someone's head" (at gunpoint
) or putting a "knife under the throat" (at knifepoint
or cut-throat) to compel action. These are so common that they are also used as metaphors for other forms of coercion.
Armed forces in many countries use firing squads to maintain discipline
In its original sense, discipline is referred to systematic instruction given to disciples to train them as students in a craft or trade, or to follow a particular code of conduct or "order". Often, the phrase "to discipline" carries a negative connotation. This is because enforcement of order –...
and intimidate the masses, or opposition, into submission or silent compliance. However, there also are nonphysical forms of coercion, where the threatened injury does not immediately imply the use of force. Byman and Waxman (2000) define coercion as "the use of threatened force, including the limited use of actual force to back up the threat, to induce an adversary to behave differently than it otherwise would." However, coercion does not necessarily amount to destruction.
In psychological coercion, the threatened injury regards the victim’s relationships with other people. The most obvious example is blackmail
In common usage, blackmail is a crime involving threats to reveal substantially true or false information about a person to the public, a family member, or associates unless a demand is met. It may be defined as coercion involving threats of physical harm, threat of criminal prosecution, or threats...
, where the threat consists of the dissemination of damaging information. However, many other types are possible e.g. so-called "emotional blackmail
Emotional blackmail is a term used to cover a central form of psychological manipulation - 'the use of a system of threats and punishment on a person by someone close to them in an attempt to control their behavior'. "Emotional blackmail.....
", which typically involves threats of rejection from or disapproval by a peer-group, or creating feelings of guilt/obligation via a display of anger or hurt by someone whom the victim loves or respects. Another example is coercive persuasion. Government agencies may use highly intimidating methods during investigations e.g. the threat of harsh legal penalties; such coercion is typically legal. The usual incentive to cooperate is some form of plea bargain
A plea bargain is an agreement in a criminal case whereby the prosecutor offers the defendant the opportunity to plead guilty, usually to a lesser charge or to the original criminal charge with a recommendation of a lighter than the maximum sentence.A plea bargain allows criminal defendants to...
i.e. an offer to drop or reduce criminal charges against a suspect in return for full cooperation.
Psychological coercion – along with the other varieties - was extensively and systematically used by the government of the People’s Republic of China during the “Thought Reform” campaign of 1951-1952. The process – carried out partly at “revolutionary universities” and partly within prisons – was investigated and reported upon by Robert Jay Lifton
Robert Jay Lifton is an American psychiatrist and author, chiefly known for his studies of the psychological causes and effects of war and political violence and for his theory of thought reform...
, then Research Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University: see Lifton (1961). The techniques used by the Chinese authorities included a technique derived from standard group psychotherapy
Group psychotherapy or group therapy is a form of psychotherapy in which one or more therapists treat a small group of clients together as a group...
, which was aimed at forcing the victims (who were generally intellectuals) to produce detailed and sincere ideological “confessions”. For instance, a professor of formal logic
Classical or traditional system of determining the validity or invalidity of a conclusion deduced from two or more statements...
called Chin Yueh-lin – who was then regarded as China’s leading authority on his subject – was induced to write: “The new philosophy [of Marxism-Leninism
Marxism–Leninism is a communist ideology, officially based upon the theories of Marxism and Vladimir Lenin, that promotes the development and creation of a international communist society through the leadership of a vanguard party over a revolutionary socialist state that represents a dictatorship...
], being scientific, is the supreme truth”. [Lifton (1961) p. 545].
Some people speak of cultural coercion
when the fear of falling out with the group may force people into wearing a certain style of dress, publicly reciting a creed
A creed is a statement of belief—usually a statement of faith that describes the beliefs shared by a religious community—and is often recited as part of a religious service. When the statement of faith is longer and polemical, as well as didactic, it is not called a creed but a Confession of faith...
or a pledge of allegiance which they find ethically reprehensible or starting to smoke when they would have preferred not to etc. Within the definitional framework adopted here, all such things amount to (psychological) coercion if and only if the fear of falling out with the group is the result of purposeful
threats by someone. See Peer pressure
Peer pressure refers to the influence exerted by a peer group in encouraging a person to change his or her attitudes, values, or behavior in order to conform to group norms. Social groups affected include membership groups, when the individual is "formally" a member , or a social clique...
, Sociology of religion
The sociology of religion concerns the role of religion in society: practices, historical backgrounds, developments and universal themes. There is particular emphasis on the recurring role of religion in all societies and throughout recorded history...
, Pledge of Allegiance
The Pledge of Allegiance of the United States is an expression of loyalty to the federal flag and the republic of the United States of America, originally composed by Christian Socialist Francis Bellamy in 1892 and formally adopted by Congress as the pledge in 1942...
Some people include deception
Deception, beguilement, deceit, bluff, mystification, bad faith, and subterfuge are acts to propagate beliefs that are not true, or not the whole truth . Deception can involve dissimulation, propaganda, and sleight of hand. It can employ distraction, camouflage or concealment...
in their definition of (psychological) coercion. Yet deception does not generally involve any
threat at all, as it works by creating a mere false perception
by the victim of his or her given
transformation rules. Although its effects may sometimes be very similar to those of a conditional threat, it may hence be useful to treat deception as separate phenomenon.
The purely selfish kinds of coercion are a form of predatory behaviour by the coercing party, whose aim is to narrow down the scope of other people’s actions so as to make them instrumental to its own personal interests. According to many social philosophers, this sort of predatory behaviour will become the prevailing one. According to others it has been the prevailing one for millennia.
Pedagogic and thought
At the other extreme of the spectrum one finds attempts to use coercion altruistically, as a pedagogical device to improve – in some supposedly objective sense – the way other people think
, with particular regard to their basic attitudes and values. Pedagogic coercion may be applied within a strictly educational context, and it is then mostly directed towards children. In this article, however, attention will focus on thought coercion
, i.e. the attempt to use coercion to affect the basic values of grown-up people in general.
In all forms of thought coercion
the immediate objective is to force other people to act as if
their basic choice rules were identical to those of the coercing party. However, this mere conformity of “outward” behaviour is but a first step. The true and final aim of thought coercion is to induce a change in the victim’s objective function itself, i.e. the basic set of values and rules by which the victim determines his or her own choice among the alternatives of any
feasible set. Thought coercion is thus generally meant to be only temporary
. Once the desired change in values has been brought about, the victim is expected to conform spontaneously, without any need for further coercion.
Whether and under what conditions this final aim can in fact be stably achieved is a difficult question, and it will be considered in the section devoted to the effects of coercion. Here it is necessary to point out that, whatever its effectiveness, thought coercion has in fact been used very extensively throughout history.
is the use of thought coercion in the attempt to modify people’s social
Social philosophy is the philosophical study of questions about social behavior . Social philosophy addresses a wide range of subjects, from individual meanings to legitimacy of laws, from the social contract to criteria for revolution, from the functions of everyday actions to the effects of...
and political philosophy
Political philosophy is the study of such topics as liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of a legal code by authority: what they are, why they are needed, what, if anything, makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect and why, what form it...
. This is of course quite different from plain propaganda, or even the simple persecution of political opponents, because its objective is to force individual ideological conversions. Unlike religious coercion, it is a quite recent phenomenon, confined to some of the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century.
The most notable example of ideological coercion was the already mentioned Chinese “Thought Reform” campaign of 1951-52, which was unique due to both thoroughness and number of people involved. Yet, it must be noted that Chinese authorities found it necessary to follow that up with a new, albeit slightly milder, campaign as part of the Maoist “Cultural Revolution” of 1966-1968.
Starting from the political purges in the Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....
during the Thirties, similar “brainwashing” techniques were intermittently and less systematically used by most Stalinist regimes of the twentieth century. By contrast, the Fascist and Nazi
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...
regimes of Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...
tended to confine their coercive activities to purely political aims, without any serious attempt to force the ideological conversion of their opponents. The use of (physical) ideological coercion was however theorised by some Fascist philosophers, like Giovanni Gentile
Giovanni Gentile was an Italian neo-Hegelian Idealist philosopher, a peer of Benedetto Croce. He described himself as 'the philosopher of Fascism', and ghostwrote A Doctrine of Fascism for Benito Mussolini. He also devised his own system of philosophy, Actual Idealism.- Life and thought :Giovanni...
and Jared Harfield.
Somewhere in the middle between predatory and pedagogic coercion one finds the forms of coercion that are used as the main coordination tools of command systems. These are organisations that use coercion to enforce on their members patterns of division of labour aimed at reaching the organisation’s goals, which for a variety of reasons may not always be consistent with each member’s personal aims. The most typical example of a command system is a military organisation, which is typically called a government, but any large production team may easily fall into this category.
Through the punishment system of disciplinary coercion, each individual member is typically forced into altruistic behaviour in the interest of the whole group. This kind of coercion is predatory, is thought coercion, but may often be accepted in advance by the members of the group.
The scope of coercion has to do with who uses a conditional threat against whom. It is closely linked with some of the other aspects already surveyed above, and may be of paramount importance in determining coercion’s effects and implications.
Specific or personal
coercion is the most commonly considered kind. It takes place when the conditional threat is decided upon by one particular individual or small group, and/or directed against some other individual or small group. All forms of predatory and thought coercion fall into this category.
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
The rule of law, sometimes called supremacy of law, is a legal maxim that says that governmental decisions should be made by applying known principles or laws with minimal discretion in their application...
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
Iceland , described as the Republic of Iceland, is a Nordic and European island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland also refers to the main island of the country, which contains almost all the population and almost all the land area. The country has a population...
in the early Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...
. The identification between State and law is but a special normative
principle introduced by (public) Roman law, which according to some, like Maitland
Maitland is an English and Scottish surname. It arrived in Britain after the Norman conquest of 1066. There are two theories about its source. It is either a nickname reference to "bad temper/disposition" , or it may be a locational reference to Mautalant, a place in Pontorson, France...
, 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.
Ethical effects regarding freedom
To most people , the ethical implications of individual predatory coercion are straightforward. In recent times, some have attempted to extend a similar ethical judgment to non-predatory forms of coercion by individuals. Thus, for instance, the Taking Children Seriously
Taking Children Seriously is a parenting movement and educational philosophy whose central idea is that it is possible and desirable to raise and educate children without either doing anything to them against their will, or making them do anything against their will.It was founded in 1994 as an...
movement has criticised pedagogic coercion by adults, including parents, on children, holding that it is possible and desirable to act with a child in such a way that all activities are consensual.
The ethical standing of wider forms of supposedly “altruistic” specific coercion – like political and thought coercion – is however much more controversial, along lines relating to the assumed relationship between coercion and freedom
"To make my own decisions whether I am successful or not due to uncontrollable forces" -Troy MorrisonA pragmatic definition of free willFree will is the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints. The existence of free will and its exact nature and definition have long...
, which is often regarded as an ethical value in itself.
Negation of freedom
The Whig-liberal tradition has led to the well-known notion of (negative) freedom as lack of specific coercion. According to this view, any form of specific coercion is then unethical in itself as an injury to freedom, quite apart from its damaging effects on social progress. Indeed, the ethical value of (negative) freedom is grounded on the idea that conscience cannot be coerced, and is thus the ultimate standard of morality.
- Carter, Barry E. Economic Coercion, Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law