The NAP (Book Preview)

Well I have been working on a book on the side for a while now. Here is just a very rough sampling from chapter two. I still have a lot of work to do but my plan for this is to be an easy read that will function as a great primer for introducing people to anarcho-capitalism. Enjoy this little sampling.

The Non-Aggression Principle (which we will call the NAP for short) is an ethical principle held by many libertarians, individualists and anarchists. It says that “it shall be legal for anyone to do anything he wants, provided only that he not initiate (or threaten) violence against the person or legitimately owned property of another.”[1] This is an ethical proposition that is understood across many different cultures, people and religions. It is known as the “golden rule” by some or the “royal law” within Christian theology. Because of its universality, many people live out this principle and do not even know it. The only difference is the level of application they may take it to (as some amoral people may only apply it to certain people at certain times, like our bandits).

This means that it is easy to misunderstand. Many statists will try to use the flagpole or hiker example as a way to discredit the NAP as a legitimate stance.[2] The first example is that a person lives on the top-level of an apartment building. To their misfortune, they fall from their balcony fifteen stories but manage to grab a flag pole protruding out of another apartment. Unfortunately, the woman who lives there is a hardcore libertarian and comes out to the person hanging for dear life on her flag pole to tell them they are trespassing on her property (since she owns the flagpole) and she demands that the person let go and fall to their death. Under the NAP, the statist claims, isn’t this woman justified in doing this to the poor person dangling from the flagpole? The other example of a hiker is also used by statists. They give an analogy of a person enjoying a hike in nature, becoming lost and cold and stumbling upon a cabin owned by another person. The cold and lost hiker breaks into the cabin in order to save themselves from the elements. Is the cabin owner justified in shooting and killing them? The statist says that the NAP allows such murderous behavior to occur.

There are a few problems with these critiques of the NAP though. The first problem is that the statist, in bringing these examples up, is trying to use the fuzziness of certain areas of the NAP to try to completely discredit it. There is a double standard at play here since the statutory system of law and governance itself also has its fuzzy grey areas. In 1982 the Johnson and Johnson company found that 7 people were killed by cyanide that had somehow found its way into their Tylenol products. The FDA gave no direct “law” or guidance for Johnson and Johnson to follow meaning that they could have been completely justified in just ignoring the problem. Ultimately, Johnson and Johnson decided to recall 31 million bottles.[3] Would the anarchist be “justified” in pointing to this scenario where there was an apparent ethical grey area for Johnson and Johnson to follow in regards to the FDA  as proof that we should throw out the entire statist system? Would the statist accept such an argument? Even this author, who is an anarchist, finds such a train of thought to be fallacious in nature and would not use it in debate. This is, however, the same kind of logic used by the statist in their “refutation” of the NAP.

Another example is that of rounding up all of the people in the United States of Japanese ancestry during World War II and placing them in internment camps. It was done to protect everyone else and the war effort but was also morally reprehensible and uncomfortable. Should such action be used, in the mind of the statist, to completely discredit the statist paradigm? What about Nazi Germany’s death camps? The statist shouldn’t use such trivial “grey areas” unless they are willing to have their grey areas used against them (and often time’s their grey areas are not hypotheticals but historical facts).

As one can see, pointing to the fuzzy grey area of the NAP as proof that it should completely be thrown out means that you have to completely ignore the 99.9999% of the principle that works rather well in understanding what kinds of actions are ethically justified or not. Not only that, but it ignores common sense. In later chapters we will talk about law (polycentric law) and how enforcement of these laws would work without a centralized coercive monopoly on violence like government.

There is one more issue with pointing to these grey areas of the NAP. All of these examples hinge upon an emergency situation. Perhaps the statist is saying that in everyday life the NAP works just fine, but in times of emergency it should be put to the side so that people can be saved. The problem is that we are talking about principles and principles should extend beyond arbitrary borders drawn on maps by sociopath. There is always an emergency situation going on where the initiation of violence against other peaceful people could be justified in saving someone less fortunate. Often times, the people who engage in these refutations of the NAP are themselves pretty well off individuals. They drive nice cars, live in nice houses, eat tasty food, and send their children to expensive private schools. If the NAP is allowed to be violated in the case of an emergency, shouldn’t they be ok with having their nice cars and houses taken from them so that a new well in Africa can be built to save the lives of everyone in a village? Some people really do take the opposite of the NAP to extremes like this but it’s easy to see how such an extreme position can lead to the despotic and tyrannical rule of human life where no individual can be certain that they will remain secure in their person or property. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the NAP is a perfectly fine and quite useful metric for understanding the types of interpersonal actions that can be legitimized and justified. Again, if one were to go on the streets and interview everyday people by asking them the question “are you justified in using violence against other people to get what you want?”, their answers would be a resounding “no”. This is because every rational person understands and universalize the concept of doing to others what they want done to them. It is important to note that the NAP does not say that you will never have violence done against you. It is not a “protection” against violence but a useful tool in deciding what kinds of actions are justified or not. There is a common strawman among statists that says that the NAP is a utopian idea that violence will disappear. The anarcho-capitalist is not saying this. What they are saying is that violence will be minimized under it, but not eradicated.

Some statists may point to moral relativism as a way to “refute” the NAP. They will try to argue that the concept of “good” and “bad” are just cultural constructs and to hold everyone to the same ethical principle is just inaccurate and wrong (the irony of using the word “wrong” is lost on them). Moral relativism is fine so long as you live that way yourself if you profess it. The problem is that even those that believe that morality and ethics are completely relative live out the NAP as though it were objective and transcendent. They become angry if you attack them or their property and will invoke the NAP when they experience unwarranted aggression.

The statist arguing for moral relativism may point to cultures very different from our own and say that this is proof that morals are relative from culture to culture. This is false since cultures (which are just collections of individuals) can err just as individuals can. The Celts may have thought that human sacrifice was necessary and moral while the Romans found the behavior immoral and frightening. To say that they disagree therefore both are right is just moronic. The statist is disagreeing with the anarchist on the authority of the state based off of objective definitions of “good” and “bad” so arguing that those definitions are mere opinions removes the legs upon which their argument against anarchism and the NAP stand.

The moral relativist may also argue, in a similar vein to what we have outlined, that it is a fact that we learn ethics and morality from society and teachers. Society does not, however, teach us values but value opinions. Truth is truth. Not only that, but the fact that we learn value opinions from teachers and other individuals in society does not mean that those opinions are arbitrary. We learn objective truth from teachers like 1+1=2. The moral relativist, in making this argument that we learn opinions from society and teachers, has yet to prove that ethics are not in the same category as 1+1=2. So it is circular self refuting logic to say that morality is relative and then invoke objective definitions of “good” and “bad” in regards to anarchism and statism. It is safe to assume that the NAP is a principle presiding over all people at all times in all cultures. This is why it is such a great metric for understanding what kinds of human behaviors are justified and unjustified.

 

  1. Block, W. (2003, February 17). The Non-Aggression Axiom of Libertarianism. from http://archive.lewrockwell.com/block/block26.html
  2. Ibid.
  3. Rehak, J. (2002, March 23). Tylenol made a hero of Johnson & Johnson : The recall that started them all. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/23/your-money/23iht-mjj_ed3_.html

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