Coercion (/kˈɜːrʒən, -ʃən/) is compelling a party to act in an involuntary manner by use of threats, including force.[1][2][3] It involves a set of various types of forceful actions that violate the free will of an individual to induce a desired response, for example: a bully demanding lunch money from a student or the student gets beaten. These actions may include extortion, blackmail, torture, threats to induce favors, or even sexual assault. In law, coercion is codified as a duress crime. Such actions are used as leverage, to force the victim to act in a way contrary to their own interests. Coercion may involve the actual infliction of physical pain/injury or psychological harm in order to enhance the credibility of a threat. The threat of further harm may lead to the cooperation or obedience of the person being coerced.

There is not a clear distinction between coercion and persuasion but various factors are used to distinguish the two such as intent, the willingness to cause harm, the result of the interaction and the choices available for the person being coerced or persuaded.[4]: 126 

John Rawls, Thomas Nagel and Ronald Dworkin argue that the state is coercive.[5]: 28  Max Weber defined the state as a community that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Morris argues that the state make operate through incentives rather than coercion.[5]: 42  In health care, informal coercion may be used to make a patient adhere to a doctor's treatment plan, such as taking psychoactive medication. Under certain circumstances physical coercion is used to treat a patient involuntarily.[6]


The purpose of coercion is to substitute one's aims to those of the victim. For this reason, many social philosophers have considered coercion as the polar opposite to freedom.[7]

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."[8] Coercion does not in many cases amount to destruction of property or life since compliance is the goal.


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 alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Definition of coercion". Merriam-Webster.
  2. ^ Schelling, Thomas C. (1966). Arms and Influence. Yale University Press. 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.
  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. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Bhatia, Prof Dr K. L. (2010). Textbook on Legal Language and Legal Writing. Universal Law Publishing. ISBN 978-81-7534-894-3.
  8. ^ Byman, Daniel L.; Waxman, Matthew C.: Kosovo and the Great Air Power Debate, International Security, Vol. 24, No. 4 (Spring, 2000), pp. 5–38.


  • Anderson, Scott A. (n.d.). "Towards a Better Theory of Coercion, and a Use for It" (PDF). The University of Chicago. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 March 2005. Retrieved 12 October 2018.
  • Lifton, Robert J. (1961) Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, Penguin Books.[ISBN missing]

External linksEdit

  •   Media related to Coercion at Wikimedia Commons
  • Anderson, Scott. "Coercion". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy..
  • Carter, Barry E. Economic Coercion, Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law (subscription required)