The NAP Should Not Be Confusing

I think one of the best things about this philosophy of freedom is how simple it is. We can talk about praxeology, marginal utility and business cycles along with complex and deep ethical arguments. But the core of this philosophy is so simple that even children can understand it (indeed it is one of the first moral principles we teach them). It has this rabbit hole effect. How far into these ideas are you willing to explore? Anarcho-Capitalists have taken this rabbit hole all the way to the other side. Some get stuck in the tunnel or fear the implications of going further. But the Non-Aggression Principle does not logically cater to these people. It very passionately states how it is unjust, unethical and immoral to initiate violence against other people and their property. Some people, who are afraid to explore the philosophy fully, remain stuck half way on the journey. Half way just isn’t good enough. It leaves you with so many contradictions and problems. Sure, you understand that some really cool concepts, but if you were like me, there is that nagging contradiction in your mind constantly tempting you to abandon minarchism and go all the way voluntaryism. That said, I had a great little thought exercise with the guys at Liberty Hangouts today about the NAP and trying to discover its weaknesses.

I find it interesting in these thought experiments, especially when they are with other libertarians, as to what the goals of these are. Is it to justify a particular candidate or political action? I think that it is rather dangerous to take the utilitarian route to freedom. Freedom lovers have been trying to do that for 200+ years here in the United States and things have only become worse. Anyways, I think this idea highlights the link between the NAP and property rights.

I think the property rights so far are pretty cut and dry. The lawn mower is mine. I used the fruits of my labor to acquire it therefore I get to make the rules regarding its use, not you, so if I ask for the mower back and you refuse, it is theft now. But then they tried to mix it up with the following changes to the situation.

This seems like it is hard to understand, but I also think that the NAP has different outcomes for different scenarios. In the case of two neighbors where one lends the other their lawnmower for 10 days but asks for it after 5, the owner is going back on his word. But it’s just a lawnmower, is the neighbor who must return the lawn mower going to use violence to enforce the verbal agreement? Is that worth it? I sometimes feel like these scenarios view individuals as completely irrational (some people are) but on a whole, this stuff is resolved non-violently all the time. I do think that if I adamantly demanded my mower back, the neighbor would be obligated to return it. After going back on my word though, I’m now viewed as “untrustworthy”. In the future, my neighbor will probably not ask me if he can borrow anything else and since he cannot trust my word, he may not lend to me if I ask something of him in the future.

Let’s take this idea beyond a mower and more into the business world. Perhaps I am a contractor and I have been contracted out to build an addition to your house. I quote you 2 months for the project at $90,000 dollars. At the 2 month mark, when I promised and contractually obligated myself to complete the project, I still have 2 weeks of work left and it is completely my ineptitude that has delayed the project. I’ve now failed to deliver on my end of the bargain. Like the owner of the mower, I can still demand the $90,000 dollars. You can fight it, and maybe you will. Maybe you will take it arbitration and force me to give you a discount of some kind. Or maybe, instead of dealing with the hassle, you’ll pay the $90,000 and just tell everyone how horrible of a contractor I am. This hurts my business and affects who is going to want to make a contract with me in the future. So I am incentive to give you discount of say, $5,000, in order to keep you happy and avoid bad press and arbitration. In the future, I better get my act together or I’m out of business. This leads to the second idea I talked about with them.

It isn’t worth my time to hunt you down for the $20 I paid you to mow my lawn, but I will tell everyone how horrible you are at providing lawn care. If you continue to provide this kind of service to other people, no one is going to exchange money for your services at all and you will be forced out of the market because you have done a terrible job at being an entrepreneur.

If someone stumbles upon the private property of someone else and they are not invited, they are of course in violation of the NAP. If the property owner did just kill them straight away, the friends and family of the trespasser could probably bring the case to arbitration and find the property owner guilty of illogical and excessive force. The property owner would then be forced to compensate those left behind. Remember that a polycentric system is concerned with violent aggression against people and their property, but instead of punishment it is compensation that is required. So if the property owner sees the trespasser and confronts them by telling them to turn back and get off his property, he is morally within his right to use escalating levels of defensive force against the trespasser  if the trespasser refuses to comply with the rules of the legitimate property owner. Like my original response, I feel like pointing to the 1% of the NAP that seems confusing (even though I don’t think it is that confusing as I have already explained) is unfounded since it ignores the 99% that is as clear as day.

I know it is cool to be a young and edgy libertarian and abandoning the NAP (and I’m not saying that Liberty Hangouts is like that). Austin Peterson, Matt Zwolinski and many others have been treading down this path for a while now (racking up tons of logical contradictions along the way). But it was the consistency within this philosophy that attracted me to it. It was the pragmatism and utilitarianism (and ethical contradictions inherent with that) of all the other ideologies that drove me away from them. So ditch our principles in order to be different, appease some stupid emotive argument, or to achieve principled liberty though unprincipled means, I want nothing to do with it.

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