Volume 15, 1990
Rationally Justifying Political Coercion
The central problem of political philosophy is how to justify coercion by government. For political theories that are based in a rational accounting of the interests of the polity, citizens must have consented at least indirectly to coercion. Such indirect consent to coercion is plausible for ordinary contexts such as, for example, submitting to legally enforceable contracts. Unfortunately, however, Hobbesian mutual advantage, contemporary contractarian, and Lockean natural rights theories, all of which ground the state in rational interests at least in large part, can justify government coercion only in principle. They cannot justify coercion by actual states. In practice, these theories are morally indeterminate.