The fundamental concern of libertarianism is the question of what constitutes the acceptable use of force. The primary objective of reactionaries is to correct bad decisions and undo the damage done by them in order to establish, secure, and advance a healthy and stable social order. Adherents of these political ideologies thus share an interest in determining the optimal level of force needed to maintain civilization. Finding the correct balance is the overarching question of proper statecraft as applied to domestic policy. Let us attempt to do this by defining scales of force usage, considering the role of a sovereign with regard to use of force, and examining their interrelationships.

Scales of Force

Let us construct scales to measure the amount of force used in a society. Like a Spinal Tap amplifier, these will go from zero to eleven, but unlike Nigel Tufnel’s explanation, the reasons for this unconventional range will make sense. There are three categories of force to consider: force used by government agents (official force), force used by private actors in accordance with the law (officially sanctioned force), and force used by private actors in violation of the law (criminalized force). In all real societies, the boundaries between these three categories are somewhat fluid. Laws and customs are changed over time, which alters the use of official force and the categorization of legal versus illegal uses of force by non-governmental actors. Even so, they rarely change quickly, and those exceptions will be handled in our definitions of the zeroes and elevens. Corruption of the governance structure also blurs the lines when official and/or sanctioned force does under color of law that which should be criminalized. Finally, it must be understood that the scales are qualitative and particular, not quantitative or universalizable. There is no constant value by which force must be added or multiplied to reach one number higher on the scale. The range of forces that a society can withstand depend on culture, genetics, and even the weather. Force that would be a five in North Korea may be an eleven in the United States; force that would be a six in winter may be a seven in summer.

The first scale is that of official violence, the force used by the governance structure of a society to punish criminal behavior and enforce social norms. If too little force is used, then acts of aggression against people and property will not be sufficiently deterred and criminals will run amok. If too much force is used, then officially sanctioned acts of aggression will tear the social fabric. A zero on this scale means that there is no officially sanctioned use of force. Because a governance structure must have some control over the use of force, sanctioning some uses and forbidding others, zero means that no such structure is present. This value is thus outside the realm of human civilization, describing instead a Hobbesian war of all against all in a primitive state of nature or a post-apocalyptic ruin. (A utopian civilization of angels in which no one uses aggressive force to get what one wants would also be at zero on this scale and the others, but let us deal with the world as it is.) An eleven on this scale describes a dystopian totalitarian state in which minor crimes are met with wildly disproportionate and brutal punishments, so much so that the civilian population decides to violently revolt because they reasonably believe that the state will murder them anyway. Stable civilizations occupy the one to ten range, with one being the minimal amount of force needed to maintain order and ten being the maximum amount of force that does not cause a collapse.

The second scale is that of officially sanctioned violence, the force used by private citizens to further the cause of civilization. If too little force is used, then both criminality and statism will grow. If too much force is used, then excess violence will destabilize the social order. A zero on this scale typically means that the governance structure has taken over all responsibility for the use of force by banning any private defense, which inevitably results in totalitarianism. It could also mean, as before, that there is no governance structure to allow or forbid anything. An eleven on this scale means that the governance structure has failed and that private citizens may use force as they see fit because no one sits in judgment. To permit anything is to yield sovereignty to whomever would take it, and thus eleven comes full circle back to zero in the latter sense. One represents a minimal legal right to self-defense, while ten represents the limit of private violence that a civilization can withstand. It is important to remember that legally sanctioned forms of mutual combat also belong on this scale.

The third scale is that of criminalized violence, the aggressive force used to harm people, steal wealth, and destroy property. An important aspect of statecraft is to keep this value small by both suppressing crime and defining it correctly. A zero on this scale typically means that crime has been improperly defined, as true zero is beyond the possibility of human nature. It could also mean, as before, that there is no governance structure to allow or forbid anything. An eleven on this scale means that the governance structure has failed and the criminal element is destroying civilization. One represents the realistic minimum of crime in a healthy society, while ten represents the maximum amount of crime that will not break the social order.

Note: A fourth 0–11 scale could be used to measure the force used outside of a society in terms of defending against external enemies and engaging in foreign interventionism, but the scope of this article is internal use of force only.

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  1. Krauthammer, Charles (1992, Apr. 24). “Without the Noose, Without the Gag”. Washington Post.