The Concept of Legal Coercion and Power-Conferring Legal Regimes

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The basic question of the paper: are power-conferring legal rules coercive and in what sense can we say that power-conferring legal rules coerce? In his recent book, Frederick Schauer answers the first question in the affirmative and proposes an interesting account of how it works. I believe that this claim is unsustainable due to the inconsistencies in the psychological account of coercion applied by Schauer, and his theory’s unrestricted reliance on counterfactuals. In what follows, I try to reconstruct the thesis on the coerciveness of the power-conferring legal rules. The basic insight is that the powerconferring legal rules coerciveness claim is inextricably connected to the unmoralized account of coercion, as any moralized theory shifts the problem from coercion to the issue of distributive justice. However, the unmoralized concept of coercion can hardly be coherent in law because it makes coercion a matter of context, dependent on the willpower of each individual, which threatens to eliminate the force of law as such. Even applied on its own terms, the unmoralized concept of coercion is unworkable within the context of power-conferring through law because power-conferring legal regimes do not eliminate non-legal alternatives, making it dependent on the will of the legal subjects themselves. Schauer’s everlasting contribution lies in his ingenious attempt to substantiate the coercion (of power-conferring rules) claim relying on counterfactuals.
A (coerced) choice has been limited relative to some situation which never occurred but would or should have occurred. In order to limit a set of counterfactuals, making them realistic (preferences and needs are limited only by imagination), one should impose severe limits on them, which makes it impossible to characterize the particular situations described by Schauer as coercive in that sense.

About the Author

Sergey Tretyakov
National Research University Higher School of Economics
Russian Federation

Senior Researcher, Institute of Legal Studies

3 Bol’shoy Trekhsvyatitel’skiy pereulok, Moscow, 109028, Russia


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Supplementary files

For citation: Tretyakov S. The Concept of Legal Coercion and Power-Conferring Legal Regimes. Russian Law Journal. 2017;5(1):33-56.

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