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Monopoly of Force

I came across the following quote in an article about the promotion of war in Iraq and Iran by American “neoconservatives.” For context, you should know that Martin Indyk was in the Clinton administration, first as a National Security Council advisor, and later as ambassador to Israel. We can associate him with President Clinton’s views on global democracy, which were both more successful and less extreme than those of President Bush. On the other hand, before entering government, he was with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a lobbying group that many blame for America’s extreme pro-Israel slant. Anyway, here is the quote.

    Martin Indyk, the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution…says Bush’s decision [to allow the 2006 Palestinian elections to go forward, despite a likely Hamas victory] reflects a mistaken belief that “elections are the most important way to promote democracy.” Indyk explains, “It would have been better to build up the rule of law, establish independent judiciaries, promote freedom of religion and the press, and insist on the principle of a monopoly of force in the hands of the elected government. Ignoring that last principle in favor of elections was Bush’s biggest mistake. As a result, in Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon, parties with militias have moved into the government. Hamas, Muqtada al-Sadr, and Hezbollah have taken advantage of elections to promote their policies, which are antithetical to democracy.”

By “monopoly of force” Indyk means that the state should control the terrain through effective policing and be able to enforce its laws—which is clearly not the case in Palestine or Iraq today, but is the case in stable democracies or successful dictatorships. “Monopoly of force” means there are no groups taking the law into their own hands or circumventing the decision-making process—elections and parliamentary debate, in the case of democracies. This makes sense on a practical, and probably even an ethical level. People can be confident that there is one set of laws for everyone, and a fixed process for changing them if they no longer fit society’s needs. However, that phrase “monopoly of force” sticks in my throat, because it reminds me that even in the freest society, the state is held together by the principle of force. Democracy is just tyranny on a leash! Thoughtful readers, I address the following questions to you.

  1. Is the importance of elections in promoting democracy a “mistaken belief”? Can we imagine a democracy without elections?
  2. Are Hamas, Muqtada al-Sadr, and Hezbollah really “antithetical to democracy” and why?
  3. Do you agree that democracy must be based on a “monopoly of force”? If so, how to keep it from becoming a Mafia state with a friendly face? If not, what do you propose that is better?


Comment from Bill Day
Time: March 7, 2007, 21:30

“Monopoly of force” seems like odd rhetoric from people who presumably believe that the Second Amendment to the American Constitution guarantees an individual right to bear arms in order to counteract tyranny. An alternative paradigm to “monopoly of force” might be “consent of the governed,” which evinces a decidedly more respectful attitude toward the citizenry.

Comment from eatbees
Time: March 7, 2007, 23:41

You know, I thought of that myself, how the U.S. Constitution was set up to guarantee sufficient force to the citizens to overthrow the government if it should ever become a tyranny—at least, that’s what I learned in 9th grade! Of course, this could be one more instance of the U.S. standing almost alone among developed nations (our love of the death penalty and our extreme individualism are others)—but the principle is sound, that power has no legitimacy without the people’s consent. When Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr and Hamas lay down their arms, we will know we are seeing “consent of the governed” in the Middle East, not just the (inachievable in any case) “monopoly of force.”

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