by Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
States claim to be entitled to tell you what to do, and to force you to do
as you are told. This dual claim to authority and coercion is familiar in
the context of the criminal law. It claims to apply even, perhaps espe-
cially, to those who reject its claims. But it is also a familiar feature of the
tax code, and the law of private remedies. If I owe you (or the IRS) money,
the law says I must pay, where “must” here means something like “on
pain of having my assets attached, or wages garnished.” And that “must”
applies to me no matter what I happen to think about it.
The dominant tradition in political philosophy over the past century
and a half has contended, implicitly or explicitly, that the state’s claim to
authority takes priority over the claim to coerce. As a result, this tradi-
tion contends that the primary normative question of political philoso-
phy concerns the authority of society over the individual. Thus, the
principal task of political philosophy is to deFne the moral limits of the
state’s authority. Questions about coercion are regarded as secondary,
and as governed by additional considerations, about such matters as
efFcacy or fair opportunities to avoid sanction.
My aim in this article is to propose and defend a different view about
the relation between authority and coercion, according to which the
state’s claim to authority is inseparable from the rationale for coercion.
Instead of asking what people ought to do, or what the state ought to tell
them to do, and then asking which of those things they may be forced to
do, we ask when the use of force is legitimate. On the view I will defend
Authority and Coercion
I am grateful to Donald Ainslie, Lisa Austin, Michael Blake, Abraham Drassinower,
David Dyzenhaus, George ±letcher, Robert Gibbs, Louis-Philippe Hodgson, Sari Kisilevsky,
Dennis Klimchuk, Christopher Morris, Scott Shapiro, Horacio Spector, Sergio Tenenbaum,
Malcolm Thorburn, Ernest Weinrib, Karen Weisman, and the Editors of
for comments, and audiences in the UCLA Philosophy Department and Columbia
Law School for their questions.