Max Weber's theory
Max Weber wrote in Politics as a Vocation that a fundamental characteristic of statehood is the claim of such a monopoly, His expanded definition was that something is "a 'state' if and insofar as its administrative staff successfully upholds a claim on the 'monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force' (German: das Monopol legitimen physischen Zwanges) in the enforcement of its order." Weber's concept has been formalized to show that the exclusive policing power of the state benefits social welfare via private property, provided the state acts benevolently in the interest of its citizens.
According to Weber, the state is that "human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence within a given territory." The public police and military are its main instruments, but private security might also be considered to have "the 'right' to use violence" so long as the sole source of this perceived right is state sanction. Weber applied several caveats to his discussion of the state's monopoly of violence:
- He intended the statement as a contemporary observation, noting that the connection between the state and the use of physical force has not always been so close. He uses the examples of feudalism, where private warfare was permitted under certain conditions, and of religious courts, which had sole jurisdiction over some types of offenses, especially heresy and sex crimes (thus the nickname "bawdy courts"). Regardless, the state exists wherever a single authority can legitimately authorize violence.
- For the same reasons, the "monopoly" does not mean that only the government may use physical force, but that the state is that human community that successfully claims for itself to be the only source of legitimacy for all physical coercion or adjudication of coercion. For example, the law might permit individuals to use force in defense of one's self or property, but this right derives from the state's authority. This conflicts directly with enlightenment principles of individual sovereignty that delegates power to the state by consent, and concepts of natural law that hold that individual rights deriving from sapient self-ownership preexist the state and are only recognised and guaranteed by the state which may be restricted from limiting them by constitutional law.
Criticisms of Weber
Robert Hinrichs Bates argues that the state itself has no violent power; rather, the people hold all the power of coercion to ensure that order and other equilibriums hold up. The implication of this is that there is a frontier of well-being in stateless societies, that can only be surpassed if some level of coercion or violence is used to elevate the complexity of the state. In other words, without investing in troops, police, or some sort of enforcement mechanism, early states cannot enjoy the law and order (or prosperity) of more developed states.