I’m sick of the free pass given the libertarian blather, “The state is the only source of coercive power.” I doubt that many non-libertarians buy that assetion, but they too often remain silent because most libertarians are rabid on that issue and arguing with them is like talking to a wall. But since that bogus assertion has been showing up increasingly in comments here as right-wing plants are becoming more common, I might as well do a quick shred, since it does not take much effort to show this claim is nonsense.
Let’s look at some simple empirical examples of why this pet argument just ain’t so. The first comes from Tom Ferguson:
American history is replete with examples of business groups and individual firms retaining vast armies of military and paramilitary forces for long periods of time. In the nineteenth century many railroads kept private armies. The Pennsylvania Coal and Iron Police ran their own Obrigkeitsstaat [authoritarian state] for decades. General Motors maintained the Black Legion; Ford sported a veritable Freikorps recruited by the notorious Henry Bennett; and any number of detective agencies, goon squads, “special consultants,” and wiretappers have also been active. . . . Force on such a scale potentially menaces competitors, buyers, and suppliers almost as much as it does workers.
Some modern versions of coercion don’t involve actual harm, but credible threats. For instance, I know three different lawyers who have been suing banks who have gotten ugly warnings (and some follow-up action, like break ins and messages specifying where children were on specific days; one is spending $20,000 a month on bodyguards).
And pressure can be financial rather than physical. Recall the HB Gary plans against Glenn Greenwald. They clearly planned to destroy his professional reputation (not that that would be as easy as they thought) so he would have to choose “career over cause”. But in the US, where jobs are hard to come by and safety nets are frayed to non-existant, someone over 35 and/or with kids who is not independently wealthy or is self employed with a very solid franchise is economically vulnerable.