Should anyone have coercive authority over others?

Statism is the idea that some person or group must have coercive control over society. But the Milgram and Stanford experiments refute this belief. These two famous studies show that…

  • No one is qualified to give orders
  • No one is qualified to follow orders

The Stanford Experiment was conducted in 1971 by Professor Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University. He randomly divided students into prison guards and prisoners. What happened next was both disturbing and enlightening…
Many “guards” became abusive and the “prisoners” submissive. Even worse, the “prisoners” collaborated in both their own subjugation and the oppression of others. Things got so bad that the experiment had to be stopped early and has never been repeated. The verdict — giving some people coercive power over others is inherently corrupting, both to those who have the power and to those who are subject to it.
The Milgram Experiment was conducted in 1961 by Stanley Milgram at Yale University. Variations of this experiment have delivered consistent results — people tend to obey an authority figure, even if doing so causes physical harm to others.

  • The Milgram findings tie into the results found in the Stanford Experiment, where prisoners willingly submitted to abuse and collaborated in the abuse of others.
  • It also relates to Stockholm Syndrome, where kidnap victims come to identify and even cooperate with their captors.

These studies show something powerful about human psychology, and about statism…

  • We are corrupted by coercive power
  • We are corrupted when others have coercive power over us
  • Coercive power short-circuits empathy

Not only is there no need for some person or group to have coercive control over society, it’s positively dangerous to do so.

Jim Babka

About the Author

Jim Babka

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Jim Babka is co-founder of the Zero Aggression Project and President of DownsizeDC.org, Inc. He’s an author and former talk show host.
Previously, he was the President of RealCampaignReform.org, Inc., defending free press rights all the way to the Supreme Court. He and Susie are the proud, home-schooling parents of three teenagers. He enjoys theology, UFC, target practice, and Tai Chi.

Perry Willis

About the Author

Perry Willis

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Perry Willis is the co-founder of the Zero Aggression Project and Downsize DC. He was the National Director of the Libertarian National Committee on two occasions, and ran two Libertarian Party presidential campaigns. He has an extensive background in marketing and fundraising, and has ghost written direct mail appeals for numerous luminaries, including Karl Hess, Ron Paul, Charlton Heston and Harry Browne.

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  1. This is a very important mental lever. Thank you for addressing it so effectively. Whenever discussing the topic of the dangers of coercive power, many people argue that most “authorities” (e.g. police officers, judges, bureaucrats, etc.) are well-intentioned, there are only a few bad actors, and therefore we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater, or similar argument. This erroneous faith misses the point entirely. Someone wiser than me summed it up, “the problem is not the abuse of power. The problem is the power to abuse.” Keep up the good work.

    1. Thank you Guy, for your excellent comment. The abuse of power line was created by Michael Cloud and popularized by Harry Browne. We agree!
      Speaking of babies with bathwater, Harry Browne would reply, “But what if it was Rosemary’s Baby?” LOL. Of course, Harry Browne was telling that joke in 1999, and most people presently under 50 yrs old no longer know that reference.

  2. Another excellent Mental Lever. Thank you Perry and Jim. Repeatedly, aggression has proved itself a loser, a disaster. Stanford, Zimbardo, Yale, Milgram, Stockholm Syndrome, commie/socialist countries, Fascism and National Socialism and of course the US version of commie/socialism/Democracy are all evidence of the wickedness of aggression and the punishments/penalties people pay for asking for and submitting to such aggressive political systems.
    Oh if only Trump, Cruz, Rubio and Carson are listening. No hope for Kasich and the Democrat/commie/socialists and their cadre of fawning, sycophantic, obsequious, clapping seal bootlickers as they are too far gone on Statism, while the Repubs evidence some faint possibilities of retreating from the precipice overlooking the bottom of the abyss. Ignorance is bliss but it leads to the abyss(heard it somewhere with I was younger, maybe grandparents or great-grandparents)

  3. “Oh if only Trump, Cruz, Rubio and Carson are listening. No hope for Kasich and the Democrat/commie/socialists and their cadre of fawning, sycophantic, obsequious, clapping seal bootlickers as they are too far gone on Statism”
    If you think Trump et al are just about midway between Obama and Libertarianism you are dead wrong. The only difference between the republicans and the Democrats is that the Republicans are more openly criminal than the Democrats, They sell themselves (and everyone else) to the oil and arms producers, and they spend our tax money on war instead of social services. Other than that they are all the same. They are as far away from zero agression libertarianism as you can get.

  4. This makes sense… BUT… even a zero aggression society needs laws; laws need enforcement. I see nothing preventing any person/group given enforcement/policing authority over a population from succumbing to the corruption of coercive power. This corruptive influence would exist whether or not the policing authority was contracted by the people. I don’t see how laws could be enforced without some kind of policing authority. It would therefore seem that even a zero aggression society would have to incorporate coercive power. I would define coercive power as any means used to impose one’s will over another for whatever reason. Anybody got any ideas about how this would work?

    1. Perry Willis Post
      Author

      Hi Jack. Thanks for the question. We differentiate between initiated force (aggression) and defensive force. When someone initiates force you have a right to use defensive force to protect yourself and others. To us, police, courts, and prisons fall into this category of defensive force. They do not involve initiated force (aggression) so long as care is taken to insure that there is evidence sufficient to take action against an aggressor. In this sense, the system that we propose is similar to the current system except for two crucial things…
      1). The current system allows police and courts to enforce statues against actions where there has been no aggression.
      2). The current system uses violence-based funding (taxation). This itself is criminal in our view because it requires initiated force. It is also impractical in our view, because it separates police and courts from the need to perform well. We think that police, for instance, should be funded through voluntary subscriptions, with premium amounts being paid by people who call for police service without a subscription. We think this one change would reform the police instantly.
      Thanks for the questions. I hope this answered helped. Please feel free to ask more questions. You might also want to explore the site a bit, especially our Mental Levers section, as you will find many questions and answers there.

  5. I am always inspired reading these mental levers and think how much they (should) apply to all life – not just human. The animals are very much, perhaps more so, the students that ‘played’ the prisoners.
    I wonder, is the number of vegans larger within the Libertarian party and/or the subscribers of ZAP?
    I am a vegan and find it equally difficult, and for the same reasons, to have people willing to listen to the concept of either stance – animal liberation/societal liberation. Do any of you apply ZAP to your eating habits?
    If a Libertarian were elected is this a priority for all life? Based on the premise presented it seems it would be but I have no data to back up that belief.
    This is a topic not often breached in the political arena. Aside from the inherent cruelty, intense factory farming harms far more than the animals and is a major player in the destruction of the planet and climate.

    1. Nadine, Interesting questions. Getting libertarians elected is not the greatest priority, particularly at this stage. There simply aren’t enough people who understand these values, let alone embrace them. Getting the good news out there and assembling enough of us is a much higher priority, right now. As for vegetarianism or veganism, I don’t know what the data would show. I do know people, personally, including one the advisers to this project, that holds your position. Do the rest of us apply ZAP to our eating habits? I can only speak for myself and say, yes, a little bit. I hesitate to say more, because this is not really a forum for debating the virtues of the current food supply system or health. But I can say that I fervently look forward to a time when the lion will lay down with the lamb — that protein and fat sources, even the flavors provided by meat, could be generated by more humane means.

      1. Thank you Jim for taking the time to answer. I promote the principles offered here often. I hope more people wake up soon.

  6. Fascinatingly, the only escape from this type of danger is to have a strong moral compass, with a particular emphasis on the Golden Rule. There were many in Nazi Germany who resisted the both the pressure to ingratiate themselves with the Nazi regime and the pressure to rule over others. Oskar Schindler, Corrie Ten Boom and others all kept their moral compass, in spite of the costs. They did it through peaceful civil disobedience, and a firm confidence in either: two principles, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and Love your neighbor as yourself.(Corrie Ten Boom and her whole family-
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corrie_ten_Boom.) or in the humanitarian view of others, as Oskar Schindler did. Schindler was originally motivated to protect the Jews in his factory by profit.(he could not only pay them less under the Third Reich dictates, but they were good workers). He came to see them as more than just workers, and spent the profit , and then some, ensuring the safety of his Jewish workers.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oskar_Schindler

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