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Sentient Void

has my libertarian card been revoked. has it.

Rating: 2 votes, 5.00 average.
First, what is 'the NAP' (for those unlikely few of you)?

Quote Originally Posted by Wikipedia
The non-aggression principle (NAP)... is a moral stance which asserts that aggression is inherently illegitimate. NAP and property rights are closely linked, since what aggression is depends on what a person's rights are. Aggression, for the purposes of NAP, is defined as the initiation or threatening of violence against a person or legitimately owned property of another. Specifically, any unsolicited actions of others that physically affect an individualís property or person, no matter if the result of those actions is damaging, beneficial, or neutral to the owner, are considered violent or aggressive when they are against the owner's free will and interfere with his right to self-determination and the principle of self-ownership.

Supporters of the NAP often appeal to it in order to argue for the immorality of theft, vandalism, assault, and fraud. In contrast to nonviolence, the non-aggression principle does not preclude violence used in self-defense or defense of others. Many supporters argue that NAP opposes such policies as victimless crime laws, taxation, and military drafts. NAP is the foundation of most present-day libertarian philosophies.
Now, the NAP is the very beating heart of what libertarianism is and stands for, as a philosophy. It's not merely just for concepts of 'government' but really for general interaction with your fellow man. The whole idea is that the same moral principles good people apply to themselves and others are not exempted when it comes to government 'officials' of any sort - be it a police officer, soldier, representative, or the president himself. You can't give rights to others that you do not yourself have, even if you and a mob of 50 other people against 49 say otherwise.

But, before (fellow) libertarians decide to 'revoke my libertarian card' after reading my critique - know that I am a firm advocate of the NAP. Basically, I think the best justice system will be built around the NAP and that a society that follows the NAP most consistently will be the most 'just', as well as the most prosperous and happy.

That being said, far too many 'libertarians' et al say that the NAP is never to be violated, no matter what. They believe in a rigid adherence to the NAP - that it is some absolutist doctrine. I think this is a serious mistake and a failing of philosophy.

Another caveat. Understand that while I provide an example to illustrate my point, the example itself is irrelevant. The point, is the logic. If our philosophy relies on consistent theories and tests based purely on a priori reasoning, we must be willing and able to take it to its logically implied extremes for rigorous testing. Bad ideas, taken to their logical conclusions, produce extremely bad results. That's how you detect bad ideas. Good ideas are just the opposite, and are tested in the same way. Moderation is only good for stopping us from taking bad ideas too far. Also, we cannot remain intellectually honest and claim a priorism is the most important path to truth and knowledge, yet only cherry pick when we want to use it and when we don't.

So here we are. The NAP must be logically tested at its extremes just the same as we would (and should) concepts of corporatism, socialism, communism, and whatever other flavor of -ism you can come up with. We could really use any logical extreme, even ones we'd imagine are virtually or completely impossible to ever take place, and they would still be valid. For the sake of making the NAP zealots happy, we'll try to use a fairly realistic, albeit simple, thought-experiment.

Let's say it was 3:00 AM and you had to drive your daughter home (from wherever, for whatever reason). Suddenly, you realize that you (the imperfect human that you are) made a mistake and forgot her medicine (whatever it is), or that she ran out, or it was lost, or some other situation. She gets horribly sick and is potentially near death within five or ten minutes, unless you get medicine very quickly. You just drove by a closed pharmacy. What do you do?

Do you say to yourself and to your dying daughter, 'No, I won't break into that pharmacy and violate the NAP in order to save my daughters life', or do you say, '$#@! the consequences, I'm saving my daughter's life and violating the $#@! out of the NAP to get some medicine for her'?

Maybe you call the ambulance at the same time (just in case), but that's besides the point.

Of course, this and other such examples make 'the libertarian' uncomfortable. They think any debunking of rigid adherence to the NAP necessarily 'implies the state'. This used to be my position and I avoided and equivocated and danced like a dervish and engaged in all sorts of mental gymnastics to try to 'find a way out' of the logical corner I felt I was put in. So trust me when I say that I sympathize with you. However, this conclusion is a non sequitur. Just because some rare lifeboat scenario dictates a violation of the NAP, doesn't mean it implies the state - that we need to then have some permanent institution with a monopoly on violence.

So I say you 'should' violate the NAP, and that if you didn't, you'd be an insane, irrational human being who is a parent with your priorities way the $#@! out of whack. I'd go so far as to say that you probably shouldn't be a parent in the first place.

This is absolutely not to say that we should toss out the NAP. It just means that while the NAP is very good, it's not flawless. It has limitations. Virtually nothing is so perfectly flawless and sometimes life trumps so called 'principles' in extraordinary situations. Principles *should* have a 'price' (they should just be very high, such as in my example above), lest you be a wholly irrational and insane person. Of course, you weigh the consequences of your actions against the alternatives.

It means that if the price of saving your daughter's life is violating 'your principles' and some jailtime and/or restitution, or losing your hand (like Riyad, Saudi Arabia), or whatever - then that's a very, very small price to pay.

Perhaps it's better or more accurate to call it 'the Non-Aggression *Maxim*' or NAM? If I am correct, then calling it a 'maxim' is far more appropriate.

In any case, while the NAP would have been violated, you can still have justice (which is of utmost importance to libertarians) as long as restitution/retribution is rendered to the victim. This is a cost-consequence one must be willing to accept as an exchange for the life of their child, or whatever/whoever else in some other scenario. Ultimately, it all comes down to weighing the just consequences of the act in question with one's value of the person(s) that needs to be saved. Are the consequences worth it?

In this case, the victim of the theft (the pharmacy) would have the right of 'up to' (taking into account Rothbard's proportionality principle, which I think is fairly solid) the value of the property lost/destroyed/stolen in restitution. Because it is 'up to', this means they also have the right to not pursue restitution. This may actually be good PR and attract more customers and thus, profit, because of public support. So, even in this situation, the incentives surrounding the market work in the case of all agents involved.

So what are some extreme logical conclusions of 'rigid' application of the NAP? Such strict adherence implies that we could engage in any number of thought-experiments where the world could burn and humanity killed off because one refused to engage in some (even minor) kind of NAP violation. Principles are important, not hurting or killing people is important, but morality is indeed a social construct. There is no intellectually honest is-ought gap-crossing way of denying this. If morality is a social construct, then it is for the purpose of minimizing the pain and suffering of others in life, if not the existence of life itself. If one is willing to uphold principles at the expense of life, then you have destroyed life and thus any such value of morality itself.

If you're willing to kill off the entire human race just to uphold a principle, then what is the whole point of principles and any other social constructs? Stated differently, if the universe is devoid of human experience, what relevance does any claim of morality have without humanity to live or partake in it?

It seems to me, to have any real sense of morality, one must be willing to violate it, at some point. Any claim otherwise, seems completely irrational, illogical and self-destructive.

Libertarians seem to fear these types of hypos - they equivocate on them, they try to rationalize them, or they try (dishonestly) to outright dismiss them as 'unrealistic' and thus 'irrelevant'. Since when did a priorists abandon pure, hard logic and become empiricists? Since when did 'libertarians' who acknowledge that everyone is self-interested, suddenly become enamored with the idea of thrusting themselves upon the self-sacrificial sword and altar of 'principle' or 'to bring liberty to the masses for the greater good', at their own expense, or better yet, their death or the death of their loved ones?

Ultimately, your so-called principles are your values. Your values, have a value. This means - they have a price. It's time for those of us libertarians to come to terms with this if we are to be honest with ourselves and others about libertarianism and non-aggression. Otherwise, we will be stuck under the glass-ceiling of sophistry and freshman philosophy, on par with the cretinous socialists and ignorant communists, merely with a different flavor of dogma. The sooner more of us come to realize this, the sooner libertarianism and libertarians can be taken seriously as advocating a form of government that is fit for life and reality.

Updated 01-24-2014 at 08:20 PM by Sentient Void



  1. Occam's Banana's Avatar
    I responded to your post about this on the general forums here:

    So I'll just repeat here what I said there ...

    I didn't vote in the poll because I pretty much already agree with everything you said - though I would phrase & frame things somewhat differently. My main quibble is that I would NOT say that the NAP itself is flawed - rather, all too often, the way it is employed is flawed.

    The NAP may be primarily a prioristic in its (theoretical) derivation, but it should (and must) be primarily a posterioristic in its (practical) application.

    The "posterior" application of the NAP is of vastly overwhelming importance and significance, because there will always be two broad groups of people. First, there will be people who reject the NAP altogether & outright (for whatever reason - because they disagree with it philosophically, or because they are sociopaths, or etc.). Second, there will be people who accept the NAP but violate it anyway (again, for whatever reason - because they succumb to temptation, or because they find themselves in a "lifeboat" situation in which no outcome satisfies both our sympathies and the NAP, or etc.).

    The "anterior" use of the NAP as a "rule of thumb" (or as you call it, a "maxim") for guiding & informing our actions before we act - especially in our routine, day-to-day lives - is invaluable. But I contend that that is NOT the NAP's actual, correct or true purpose. The actual, correct and true purpose of the NAP is to tell us whether what we have done is jurisprudentially actionable after we have done it.

    As I said in a previous response to you on this subject in another thread:
    Quote Originally Posted by Occam's Banana View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Sentient Void View Post
    [lots of good sense snipped for space]
    I agree completely. In place of your pharmacy example, I've always used this scenario: imagine you're lost & freezing in a blizzard and you stumble across a cabin (or some other kind of shelter). The owner, who is present, is an elderly person who is unduly afraid of you & refuses to assist. What do you do? Do you say, "Oh, well! The NAP forbids me to forcibly tresspass, so I'll just wander off & die" ... ?

    NAP is an a posteriori (or "post-emptive") razor that absolutely determines whether some (previously committed) action is a suitable candidate for jurisprudential consideration.

    NAP is NOT an a priori (or "pre-emptive") razor that absolutely determines whether some (as yet uncommitted) action must *never* be committed. (Though it can often serve as a general guide or rule-of-thumb in this regard - especially under mundane circumstances or in situations that are not "edge cases.")

    Also important to remember is the fact that NAP doesn't tell us anything about *what* we ought (or ought not) to do in response to NAP violations. Other valid principles of justice (such as that of restitution) are required for that purpose.
    And my reply to a follow-up question in the same thread:
    Quote Originally Posted by Occam's Banana View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Voluntary Man View Post
    I'm wondering how your story ends. in my version, trespasser is shot by frightened, elderly property owner. how does your version end?
    My version doesn't have an ending ... it's a cliffhanger!

    Seriously, though, I leave the story unfinished in order to suggest numerous possible outcomes. There's the "I'll go way and die" outcome, or the "I kill the resident to save myself" outcome, or the "I tresspass by sneaking into the barn" outcome, or... (and so forth).

    The point is that, for one reason or another, *none* of the possible outcomes (given the situation) are entirely satisfactory. This indicates that the NAP, as critically important as it is, is not the "end-all-be-all" that many make it out to be. This isn't due to any flaw or inadequacy in the NAP - it's due to attempts to force the NAP to give us neat, tidy answers where no such answers are possible (under *any* principle of justice).
  2. PierzStyx's Avatar
    You haven't demonstrated that the violation of the NAP was [I]right[/I] only that the father would feel justified. Those two aren't the same thing.
  3. WM_in_MO's Avatar
    Excellent read. thanks for sharing.

    I'll study this and maybe it will prove useful in future arguments
  4. Sentient Void's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by PierzStyx
    You haven't demonstrated that the violation of the NAP was right only that the father would feel justified. Those two aren't the same thing.
    This misses the point. While I might argue that he would be 'right' based on his own morals and values, specifically the survival and protection of his family above all else, that is not what I set out to do.

    What I set out to do is simply show that the strong tendency for far too many libertarians to say that the NAP should never, ever be violated, no matter what, doesn't make much sense in reality, and that most likely, the vast majority of people claiming as such are also hypocrites. Given this actual situation, I think most libertarians (since I don't think they are actually insane or irrational, but rather some of the most sane and rational people out there) *would* violate the NAP.
  5. ProIndividual's Avatar

    I left you a longwinded (my usual) post in the forum thread you started to accompany this blog. I hope you'll read it, especially the parts about the SLOET and PLC, and tell me what you think, either publically or in a PM.
    Updated 02-10-2014 at 01:18 PM by ProIndividual