Coercion involves compelling a party to act in an involuntary manner by the use of threats, including threats to use force against that party.[1][2][need quotation to verify][3] It involves a set of forceful actions which violate the free will of an individual in order to induce a desired response. These actions may include extortion, blackmail, or even torture and sexual assault.

Common-law systems codify the act of violating a law while under coercion as a duress crime.[citation needed]

Coercion used as leverage may force victims to act in a way contrary to their own interests. Coercion can involve not only the infliction of bodily harm, but also psychological abuse (the latter intended to enhance the perceived credibility of the threat). The threat of further harm may also lead to the acquiescence of the person being coerced.

The concepts of coercion and persuasion are similar, but various factors distinguish the two. These include the intent, the willingness to cause harm, the result of the interaction, and the options available to the coerced party.[4]: 126 

John Rawls, Thomas Nagel, Ronald Dworkin, and other political authors argue that the state is coercive.[5]: 28  In 1919, Max Weber (1864–1920), building on the view of Ihering (1818–1892),[6] defined a state as "a human community that (successfully) claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force".[7][8] Morris argues that the state can operate through incentives rather than coercion.[5]: 42  Healthcare systems may use informal coercion to make a patient adhere to a doctor's treatment plan. Under certain circumstances, medical staff may use physical coercion to treat a patient involuntarily.[9]


The purpose of coercion is to substitute one's aims for those of the victim. For this reason, many social philosophers have considered coercion as the polar opposite to freedom.[10]

Various forms of coercion are distinguished: first on the basis of the kind of injury threatened, second according to its aims and scope, and finally according to its effects, from which its legal, social, and ethical implications mostly depend.


Physical coercion is the most commonly considered form of coercion, where the content of the conditional threat is the use of force against a victim, their relatives or property. An often used example is "putting a gun to someone's head" (at gunpoint) or putting a "knife under the throat" (at knifepoint or cut-throat) to compel action under the threat that non-compliance may result in the attacker harming or even killing the victim. These are so common that they are also used as metaphors for other forms of coercion.

Armed forces in many countries use firing squads to maintain discipline and intimidate the masses, or opposition, into submission or silent compliance. However, there also are nonphysical forms of coercion, where the threatened injury does not immediately imply the use of force. Byman and Waxman (2000) define coercion as "the use of threatened force, including the limited use of actual force to back up the threat, to induce an adversary to behave differently than it otherwise would."[11] Coercion does not in many cases amount to destruction of property or life since compliance is the goal.

Pain compliance

Pain compliance is the use of painful stimulus to control or direct an organism.

The purpose of pain compliance is to direct the actions of the subject, and to this end, the pain is lessened or removed when compliance is achieved. This provides incentive to the subject to carry out the action required.[12]

The stimulus can be manual through brute force and placing pressure on pain-sensitive areas on the body. Painful hyperextension or hyperflexion on joints is also used.[13] Tools such as a whip, a baton, an electroshock weapon or use chemicals such as tear gas or pepper spray are commonly used as well.[14]


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In psychological coercion, the threatened injury regards the victim's relationships with other people. The most obvious example is blackmail, where the threat consists of the dissemination of damaging information. However, many other types are possible e.g. "emotional blackmail", which typically involves threats of rejection from or disapproval by a peer-group, or creating feelings of guilt/obligation via a display of anger or hurt by someone whom the victim loves or respects.

See also


  1. ^ "Definition of coercion". Merriam-Webster. December 2023. the act, process, or power of coercing
  2. ^ Schelling, Thomas C. (1966). Arms and Influence. Yale University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctt5vm52s. ISBN 978-0-300-00221-8. JSTOR j.ctt5vm52s.
  3. ^ Pape, Robert A. (1996). Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War (1 ed.). Cornell University Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-8014-3134-0. JSTOR 10.7591/j.ctt1287f6v. 'Coercion' means efforts to change the behavior of a state by manipulating costs and benefits.
  4. ^ Powers, Penny (12 June 2007). "Persuasion and Coercion: A Critical Review of Philosophical and Empirical Approaches". HEC Forum. 19 (2): 125–143. doi:10.1007/s10730-007-9035-4. ISSN 0956-2737. PMID 17694994. S2CID 32041658.
  5. ^ a b Morris, Christopher W. (January 2012). "State Coercion and Force". Social Philosophy and Policy. 29 (1): 28–49. doi:10.1017/S0265052511000094. ISSN 0265-0525. S2CID 143472087.
  6. ^ Turner, Stephen; Factor, Regis (4 April 2014) [1987]. "Decisionism and Politics: Weber as Constitutional Theorist". In Whimster, Sam; Lash, Scott (eds.). Max Weber, Rationality and Modernity (reprint ed.). Abingdon: Routledge. p. 337. ISBN 9781317833369. Retrieved 28 March 2023. The state, as Ihering defined it, is an association that is distinguished as a type of association by its claim of an exclusive right to exercise certain forms of coercion.
  7. ^ Quoted in: Stanger, Allison (27 October 2009). "State Power in a Privatized World". One Nation Under Contract: The Outsourcing of American Power and the Future of Foreign Policy. Yale University Press. p. 45. ISBN 9780300156324. Retrieved 28 March 2023. In Max Weber's classic definition, the state is 'a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a territory.'
  8. ^ Weber, Max (1919) [28 January 1919]. "Politics as a Vocation" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 March 2013. Retrieved 28 March 2023. In the past, the most varied institutions - beginning with the sib - have known the use of physical force as quite normal. Today, however, we have to say that a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.
  9. ^ Hotzy, Florian; Jaeger, Matthias (2016). "Clinical Relevance of Informal Coercion in Psychiatric Treatment—A Systematic Review". Frontiers in Psychiatry. 7: 197. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2016.00197. ISSN 1664-0640. PMC 5149520. PMID 28018248.
  10. ^ Bhatia, K. L. (2010). Textbook on Legal Language and Legal Writing. Universal Law Publishing. ISBN 978-81-7534-894-3.
  11. ^ Byman, Daniel L.; Waxman, Matthew C.: Kosovo and the Great Air Power Debate, International Security, Vol. 24, No. 4 (Spring, 2000), pp. 5–38.
  12. ^ Terrill, William; Paoline, Eugene A. (March 2013). "Examining Less Lethal Force Policy and the Force Continuum: Results From a National Use-of-Force Study". Police Quarterly. 16 (1): 38–65. doi:10.1177/1098611112451262. S2CID 154365926.
  13. ^ "USMC Martial Arts Gray Belt Instructor Manual". Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  14. ^ Simpson, Fiona (2 March 2020). "Fall in YOI staff linked to restraint increase". Children and Young People Now. 2020 (3): 14–15. doi:10.12968/cypn.2020.3.14. S2CID 253113380.