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First Force

by William A. Edmundson

The state’s very existence seems morally problematic: there may be a justification, but there had better be. A vivid way of putting this is to say that gunmen, and the state as “gunman writ large,” threaten first force, while individuals who make conspicuous their readiness to defend what is theirs threaten not first but second force. But the “No First Force” maxim–originally Kant’s–must be relaxed if any institution of private property is to get off the ground. Property begins not in nature but in acts of appropriation, which in turn involve the use and threatened use of force against persons who might carry off the thing that has become property. Is it possible to relax the stricture against first force in a way that allows appropriation and transfer while maintaining a moral presumption against compulsory redistributive measures like those characteristic of modern welfare states? I argue that it is not.

ISSN 1559-3061
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