The Non-Aggression Principle

The Non-Aggression Principle (or NAP for short), also known as the Non-aggression axiom, is the absolute moral center of Libertarianism. It is the prime reason for the majority of “libertarian” stances on politics. All the way from ending our overseas wars to the ever growing welfare state, if you could boil all the other reasons for the libertarians political dissent away you would find the NAP. The NAP is a simple and easy to understand philosophical ideal that simply meas: It is morally wrong to initiate aggression or commit harm against someone who has not done anyone harm. It is an ancient principle found in many religions, and is one of the most basic lessons of morality that we teach our young ones. I would bet 99 out 100 people would tell you they agree with this idea, and the other one you back away from slowly…

Now, the NAP is the basis by which almost all actions are judged. If someone has stolen from you, he is in the wrong, for he has initiated aggression against your property. If some group assaults you and  your family they have committed a moral crime (And legal depending on who is doing the assaulting). If you shoot and kill an attacker who is attempting to kill you, you have NOT committed a moral crime. It is the pacifist who calls all aggression immoral, let them do so for they will not get far in our gritty reality, but defensive aggression is not unjust. The use of violence to protect person and property is moral, although at times when we are forced to defend ourselves with our lives to we feel like knights in shining armor. No one wants to experience violence, just sometimes our cards aren’t handed to us like we please.

Here is the part that gets interesting: government. Of course, the proverbial fly in the lotion, the cyst on my kidney. The government is giant organization that, no matter what the size and scope of, makes a living violating the NAP. Every aspect of government is coated in violence, and I am not talking about the holocaust or other blatantly obvious violent jubilee’s that have scarred our specie’s past deeper. I mean everyday government. If you haven’t some to this conclusion by yourself I’m sure you are wondering where I am coming from, so let’s break it down. At its most basic, government must be funded. Nothing can work without funds and government is not exempt from that (It could work if all the politicians did all the work themselves….punchline delivered), so government must of course get funds somehow. They do this with taxes. (I will ignore money printing for the sake of this article)  Taxes is money that is taken from a state’s citizens to “pay” for government. At no time in our lives were we given the option to pay taxes, they are taken from us without our consent. Argue the reason why all you want, “We need money to keep society running,” “How will we pay the firefighter and police? Who would help us?”. The bottom line is that this is a blatant violation of the NAP, and a fact that you would cannot disprove.

This basic fact flies in the face of many people from all over the political spectrum, some more than others. Regardless, if one is to support government one must support at least some level of violence against his/her fellow man. In my opinion this is a sad predicament. That the best we have come up with to “maintain” societal structure is based on plunder and threats of retribution. This mafia like system is an insult to someone like me who believes that under no circumstance, should innocent people be subject to theft and abuse in the name of (Insert Political Rally Cry Here). When man is left to be most free, and use his property as he pleases free from aggression and harm is productivity and peace at it’s greatest. I was not government coercion that brought about all the modern marvels that allow us to live greater and longer than kings did 200 years ago. Voluntary trade and interaction free from duress have created the greatest period productivity and economic growth in the history of our species.

Government violation of the NAP is at the root of our civil problems, and with the majority of people unwilling to give up this corrupt system for fear of what might replace it is not reason enough not to try. History has repeated itself and will continue to do so, and those repetitions all stem from one group of people using aggression against another, growing, and eventually self destructing. Thought I don’t see much of a light over the horizon, I still hold on to hope that the mass of people can stop tricking themselves into supporting something that is ever ready to use you as a stepping stool to power.

Remember people, it is an open hand and not a closed fist that is going to stop us from destroying ourselves. Keep the peace.

About Shawn Kelly

Shawn is a student and father who first took to the ideas of liberty during Ron Paul's first presidential campaign. He now is pursuing a career in economics, the understanding of which he believes is paramount for those who seek a free society.
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12 Responses to The Non-Aggression Principle

  1. Vernon Etzel says:

    To define NAP as the absolute moral center of Anarchism would be more correct. While anarchism has been a strong influence within the LP for decades, it isn’t fair to say that NAP is at the absolute moral center of Libertarianism.

    Common sense arguments are easy enough to send NAP into a spiral. The NIF pledge (non-initiation of force) that the LP requires all members to sign has similar “WTF” implications. I won’t go into it here out of courtesy.

    If there is a moral center to Libertarianism, it would be in the belief that people have individual rights to life and liberty, and that governments should protect us without violating those rights.

    • Timothy Havener says:

      Vernon, rights are a result of our ability to think rationally. To initiate any action out of force is to abandon reason and the basic premise by which we attain self governance and rights. The coercion principle or non-aggression principle is the very root of freedom and liberty. Without it, the foundation of all our liberty erodes away into a pragmatic incoherence. The winds of any political power or public will would crush our rights beneath the collective strength of the masses or the dictatorial whims of a despot.

      I am far from an anarchist…I believe in the need for limited government, but only one that operates through this principle.

  2. Shawn Kelly says:

    Vernon, libertarianism can defined as “the advocacy of individual liberty, especially freedom of thought and action.” Libertarianism in its purest form is anarchism. So my statement I do not see as misplaced. I used the word “Libertarianism” in it’s moral sense, not its political one.

    Tim, unfortunately, all government is funded via theft and is, by design, an affront to the NAP. A government cannot operate through this principle, not truly.

    • Timothy Havener says:

      Not if the taxes are collected through tariffs or consumption taxation. Any taxation on the fruits of one’s labor is coercion but there are methods of taxation that do no require exercising coercion.

      • Shawn Kelly says:

        And if the tariff is not payed? Will the government not pursue what they deem as theirs?

        Any unpaid tax backed by government force is coercion. If not, the tax/tariff would be voluntary, thus rendering government not government. To exist government MUST violate the NAP.

        Now I’m not saying that a consumption tax would not be bad place to start…

      • Timothy Havener says:

        Proper government is a contract between individuals to protect their rights and property. Concessions are made to form government by those individuals but only in so much as they serve to protect the liberty of the individual. It is not an act of force to levy a modest consumption or sales tax on free people represented by a responsible and limited government.

        Anarchism is a tyranny unto itself…this is why government is evil but a necessary evil and why we make the compromise of government.

  3. Shawn Kelly says:

    Can the people opt out of the tariff? If not, then it is coercion, there is no way around this. Also, if proper government was contracted that would mean there would be a contract for each individual, that we should be able to possess physically. Would children be contracted at birth? And a voluntary contract can be made with a defense agency, is our contract with government voluntary?

    Government is a great oxymoron that exists to protect freedom, yet makes a living consuming it.

  4. Timothy Havener says:

    Yet without government you would be a slave to those who were able to amass the most power through coercion. Anarchism is akin to a “Thunderdome” mentality…it does not preserve freedom either. This is why the “compromise” of government is necessary.

    Anarchism is as great a threat to liberty as abject tyranny, for it will foster an environment where tyrants can easily usurp the rights of the individual and you are afforded no protection.

  5. Vernon Etzel says:

    Shawn, when you say all taxation is theft, you’ve defined yourself as an anarchist. A limited government claims authority over territory. Whether or not it is funded voluntary is moot. My property and affairs become subject to your jurisdiction.

    I simply don’t see government as “a necessary evil”. If you take the position that government should secure rights, then a strong government is preferable to a feable one.

    And when the rights of Property, to land and natural resources, are claimed as somehow unalienable, then government becomes a tool to secure the privileges of those holding property above all else.

    So the issue of anarchism has to be addressed. Do you have an inherent birth right to land or natural resources? How do you claim Title to such things? Quite simply, you claim these things by threat of force.

    Secondly, if in my judgement you have wronged me, then the NAP is overcome and I am free to do whatever. If there is no higher sense of justice, no appeal to juries or courts, then NAP simply becomes the Casus Belli against any other person.

    Consider the “Pledge” of LP members– I will not initiate the use of force to achieve social or political goals. Sounds like we’re advocating peace change and won’t resort to violence, but a re-read shows this isn’t the case at all. Government initiates force all the time. Does this free us to wage violent war against our government and the people who support it? I hope not. The pledge is foolish.

    I was an objectivist a long time ago, so I know where you’re coming from. Rand was not a libertarian. The LP was founded by a handful of objectivists and it became a mouthpiece for objectivist thinking, but libertarianism is a much broader term and has been used for centuries.

    I can agree with your definition of libertarianism, but I don’t see the conclusion that it is the highest expression of anarchism. The anarchists do not hold a stronger moral view than I. On the contrary, they are followers, zealots, comforted by a label, and often failing to think for themselves about our common concerns. They certainly don’t hold my moral center, and I am not an immoral man.

  6. Timothy Havener says:

    Vernon, I don’t agree with Rand on everything but I do think her philosophy holds a lot of weight in Libertarian belief. There is imbalance in any philosophy taken to the extreme. It is not the nature of force that is the problem here but what is viewed as an initiation of force that is creating a road block for some people. I see you agree with Thomas Paine on his idea of Agrarian Justice but reject his idea of the evil nature of government. I think he was correct on both counts.

    • Vernon Etzel says:

      A government is a tool. Like a handgun, it has no implicit morality. Individual actions, choices, are good and evil, acting as they do as either individuals or as authorities. You have said this yourself Tim: “Anarchism is as great a threat to liberty as abject tyranny.” I agree wholeheartedly with that statement.

      Again, if the purpose of good government is to preserve our rights, is it not desirable that government have the means to do so effectively? Is it not the responsibility of folks like you and I to work out a reasonable arrangement in opposition to our current state?

      I continue to work toward that end. Force isn’t the concern here, not so much as the term “initiation”, which begs the question: Justice, or Hypocrisy? I don’t need an excuse to make bad policy. Rights are a sound principle for trying to make a good one.

  7. Bill Tsafa says:

    “Government is not reason; it is not eloquence. It is force. And force, like fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

    – attributed to George Washington

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