A term and concept you may often encounter in discussions with anarchists, libertarians, and other similar sorts is “the monopoly on force,” IE: “the state possesses a monopoly on force in a given geographic region.” However, I think the full depth of this concept is not always understood, or is taken for granted, and so I wanted to write a short piece on it and what that means for folks who oppose the state, as I see it.
In the United States, the legal system is divided in two parts, and I don’t mean this in the way SVU opens but rather its divided into criminal law and civil law. Under the latter, we’re dealing with one party who alleges wrongdoing by the other and pursues a legal action for redress of injury, either in the form of obligation to do something (usually pay out damages) or stop doing something that is damaging the plaintiff, or a combination of both. In these cases, you have it termed “The Case of Plaintiff vs. Accused” loosely speaking. Civil cases have a lower burden of proof, generally, and also lack the presumption of innocence, for various reasons.
However, this is not so in a criminal case, a fact many people don’t entirely understand. In a criminal case, the plaintiff is not the supposed victim of a crime. If someone stabs you, you could sue them for damages in a civil case. However, the criminal case, the plaintiff is not the alleged victim of a crime. Indeed, the case isn’t even really about them at all. Instead, it is nominally about ‘society,’ at least in trappings. The state is pursuing the charges that are violation of its criminal statues and laws, not restitution on behalf of an alleged victim.
This is why, in the United States, criminal cases are “The People of the State of X vs. Accused” or “People of the United States vs Accused,” generally speaking, often shortened to just “State vs. Accused,” or “United States vs. Accused.” Nominally speaking, the state is supposed to be acting as the representative and advocate of society itself. In Commonwealth countries, this takes the form instead of the “Crown vs. Accused,” where the Crown is seen as the advocate of the people. As stated, the alleged victim is actually not party to the case, except in terms of being potentially a witness called to testify. This is why the penalties levied on a guilty party involve the state, not the alleged victim; fines go to the state, not them, and the state may take custody of the person and lock them away and deny their freedom.
This is, supposedly, part of the concept that the state is acting as a representative of the people. However, this is a lie. In reality, the state does not (and indeed cannot) act as a representative of the whole of the people, for various reasons that go beyond this short bit. Suffice to say, the state is pursuing its own interests, which may nominally line up with what some may consider to be the interests of society, but that is not the primary driving goal. Instead, what the state is exercising is its monopoly on force, which really is what the criminal law boils down to. If Person A stabs Person B, the criminal trial is not actually about getting justice or restitution for Person B, it’s about enforcing the legal statue that the state has.
This is because the state claims the absolute authority over the use of force in its claimed jurisdiction. By exercising force inside that jurisdiction in a way not in compliance with the state, it thus is asserting a right to punish you. This extends also to self defense, in which the state passes judgment on if you were legitimate in your use of force, because it has to sanction all uses of force in a given area for them to be seen as valid.
What this means is, of course, that the state is asserting actual ownership and control of you, as a person, because they are the ones that can dictate the actual disposition of your body and if your use of it was legitimate. In this way, the existence of a state violates the rights of the individual in ways beyond the more commonly discussed fact of taxation being theft.