In this post, I will try to explain Max Weber’s idea of “Monopoly of/on Violence”. I will try to explain how this idea ties into different ways of conceptualizing power and states. Finally, I will tie everything together, and talk about what de-monopolizing violence would look like, and the role public security (police) and private security play into this.
It’s useful to think of the State in terms of Weber’s idea of Monopoly on Violence. The idea is that the key to legitimize a state is if they are the only power that can enforce violence. For example, the US has the military and the police. No one else can enforce the rule of a military or police on American soil, except for the U.S. When the U.S. military or police use violence, it is seen as legitimate by the government, and it’s expected for U.S. citizens to see the violence as legitimate.
Traditionally, thinking in terms of Monopoly of Violence is an anarchist tendency, rather than a Marxist one. This is because, Marxist thought sees the world in historical phases of wealth distribution. Since most Marxist’s goal is overthrowing a capitalist regime, and reestablishing a socialist worker state, they are still establishing a state, albeit a worker state, transitioning to communism. In other words, the Marxist doesn’t have an immediate goal of de-Monopolizing violence, because their revolutionary priority is abolishing oppressive class relations, and using state mechanisms to do so, at least at first.
Anarchist theory, however, isn’t rooted in historical analysis, and is more concerned with state-related oppression than Marxism is, which is more concerned with class-based oppression. (If anyone feels I’m misrepresenting anarchists, I’m sorry, but I’m trying to give a good faith analysis, from my experience, not criticize)
From here, we can use the concept of the monopoly of violence to better understand the difference between anarcho-communists and anarcho-capitalists.
Whether or not they would use this language themselves, anyone who identifies as an anarchist’s goal is to abolish the monopoly on violence that the state has. The anarcho-communist position is that there should be no monopoly on violence. The reasoning is that “all belongs to all”. There’s no exclusionary, bourgeois policy restricting people’s access, and there’s no state organ establishing these policies and enforcing them. When all is for all, the state doesn’t exist, because it has no artifically scarce resources (i.e. no need for Social Security or Worker’s Comp type programs). The state, by its nature, works on behalf of a dominant class, to maintain the interest of the dominant class. When all is for all, there’s no longer economic classes, and therefore no class looking to install a governing body, abolishing any organ that could claim a monopoly of violence.
The “anarcho-capitalist” (no matter how logically incoherent that is) perspective on monopoly of violence, is they don’t want to abolish the monopoly on violence, but rather atomize and disseminate it. The anarcho-capitalist, by proposing no state but a capitalist property system, is advocating a world divided into countless micro-states.
The anarcho-capitalist position is that property rights are the primary rights. If I have a large compound, I have every right to do whatever I want with it. Naturally, with all this land I have declared mine, I will hire laborers to make money for me. And since I’m hiring laborers, and they presumably don’t own property themselves, I build housing on my compound. Soon enough, the laborers riot due to abhorrent working conditions, so I hire private security to keep them in line. At this point, from the perspective of monopoly on violence, I am now the ruler of a state. As Marx said, “the corporation is civil society’s attempt to become a state”. As Peter Thiel said, “a startup is basically structured as a monarchy ”.
The impact of this is if a state’s governing body is basically the same as private corporate bodies, the only thing unique to the state is it has an unchecked claim on its rights to a military and police. We can’t imagine Google becoming the governing body of a state (the U.S.), but we can imagine it if Google wrote laws and had a security force that punished people for breaking Google’s laws.
To wrap this up, if a determinant factor of a state is their monopoly on violence, then the police and military is the body that uses violence to enforce state policy. However, there are three differences between public security (police) and private security:
Private security enforces “rules” and police enforce “laws”. (I could elaborate these differences, but its almost tautological: laws are, in their most basic sense, the rules of a state).
Private security’s authority is only valid on the private property they’re securing. Private security’s authority is granted, and can be overwritten, by the state. What we can derive from this, is if we imagined a hypothetical world where the bourg state organ disintegrated, and property rights still existed (although this is incoherent because a state gives civil society property rights), then private security would fill the power void of the missing government’s police.
(An older version of this post was posted to my Medium in March 2018)