Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Limits of Coercive Power

Your jurisprude was recently rereading the classic study of coercive power under law, William K. Muir's Police: Streetcorner Politicians (Chicago 1977). After noting that policing is essentially about coercive power, Muir says this about the limits of coercive power.

"The truly dispossesed --- those who have nothing to lose, the life prisoner in solitary, the deadbeat, the bankrupt, and the visionary whose life is worth less than his martyrdom --- are not vulnerable to extortionate power. ... Let us call this curious freedom from coercive threats the paradox of dispossession. The less one has, the less one has to lose." (Muir 1977, 38-9)

Does anyone think it would be worth sending a copy to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert? It seems obvious to this observer (one with great compassion personally for both sides) that one could easily add Hamas and much of Gaza to Muir's litany of the dispossessed without any stretch. But this puts Israel at the heart of Muir's paradox. If they want a purely military victory they can attain that by driving the population off the land altogether or killing them, but if they want a police victory, if they want to be able to govern rather than eliminate Palestinian society (or even allow anyone else to do so) they are already operating at the limits of their ability to coerce.


Post a Comment

<< Home