Monday, November 29, 2010

The State vs. a "Band of Thugs"

Danger asks:

“please describe the difference between the State and the Mafia. Both force you to pay them for protection and other services you do not necessarily want or even need. Both threaten you with bodily or grave harm if you do not comply. Both profit greatly from such actions.”

Most political theorists and social scientists describe the difference like this.  The state, as opposed to a “band of thugs,” claims moral authority, that is, that they have a morally legitimate right to do what they do, that they are morally justified in their actions.  They may be wrong and they may be insincere, but that is the salient fact that distinguishes the two situations.  The mafia never makes such pretensions, it simply does what it does and says “what are ya gonna do about it?!”  The state, on the other hands, claims moral legitimacy.  Whether this is a significant fact (morally or practically) between the two is, of course, open to debate.

Update:  Also, many theorists note that some sort of legal system is an additional distinguishing feature between the State and a band of thugs.  The modern state governs through an institutional system made up of rules ('laws'), as opposed to informal decrees and random acts of violence. 

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