For about 2 years now I’ve labeled myself politically as an anarcho-capitalist.
Most folks have never heard that label. Prior to that I called myself a more familiar label: libertarian. Looking back now I get the impression that I didn’t really know what a libertarian was back then. I just thought a libertarian was someone who valued liberty, and valued it more than the average run of the mill conservative. It wasn’t until I learned about the non-aggression principle and its broad applications that I fully understood what a “libertarian” is.
So, what is the Non-Aggression Principle or NAP? How should it be applied to society? Why am I an anarcho-capitalist and not just a libertarian?
Murray Rothbard defined the NAP this way in his essay War, Peace, and the State:
“No one may threaten or commit violence (‘aggress’) against another man’s person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another. In short, no violence may be employed against a nonaggressor. Here is the fundamental rule from which can be deduced the entire corpus of libertarian theory.”
In short the Non-Aggression Principle holds that no initiation of force is morally legitimate unless it is in response to another’s initiation of aggression or force. Any act of violence which is not self-defensive is an act of aggression, and aggression is morally wrong. Any act of coercion is also morally wrong. No one may coerce another with violence or threats of violence and maintain good moral character.
This is not controversial to most people or at least it should not be. Many Christians ask “Where do you find the NAP in the Bible?” To them I answer: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
To me the NAP is essentially a restatement of these laws as “Do not initiate force against others who have not initiated force against you.” And “Love your neighbor as you love yourself by not committing violence against them.”
Even that seems reasonable to most decent people, so what’s the big deal?
The controversy of the Non-Aggression Principle becomes evident when it is taken to its logical conclusion and applied outside the sphere of individual interaction.
According to the NAP, all coercion is immoral. All non-defensive force is immoral. If those two statements are held to be true and they are taken to their logical conclusion, how can we tolerate an individual or an entity holding a monopoly on aggression? If the The State is nothing more than a coercive monopoly of aggression, how can we not rationally call for the abolition of the State? How can we support an entity whose entire purpose is to coerce society into following it?
Many answer these questions by assigning privileges and rights to the State that individuals do not have.
Is there some right or privilege inherent in the collective that the individual does not have? Do entities composed of individuals possess moral authority that the individuals do not? If the government derives its authority and power from the individuals under it can it have authority that the individuals themselves do not? More particularly, does it have the authority to aggress in violation of the NAP? Can government break moral axioms just because it is the State?
Leftists and Neoconservatives alike would have to say “yes” to those questions. If they disagree they would have to oppose the pre-emptive wars we are currently waging in the Middle East. They would have to oppose the violence inflicted on citizens through the theft known as taxation. They would have to oppose stringent regulations on the free market that aggress against the rights of producers and consumers. In order to support the State as it is, one has to assume the State has some higher moral authority than the individuals who give it its authority.
Old Right Conservatives and Libertarians would say “no” to the questions above. Old Right Conservatives more in foreign policy than elsewhere. Broad application of the NAP is what makes libertarianism different from other political ideologies. Within libertarianism, however, there is a great deal of infighting about just how far the NAP goes.
What makes a libertarian? In short, a libertarian is an individual who believes the Non-Aggression Principal to be axiomatic and strives to mold the political structure of society into a voluntaryist structure and not a coercive one.
Some who claim the libertarian mantle are nothing more than statists in practice. They want “freedom” but only at the point of a gun. These people are basically war-lords, concerned with protecting their own liberty and property, everyone else be damned. They have no problem with a monopolized entity of coercion as long as that entity is them.
Some neo-cons are notorious for calling themselves “libertarian” but neo-cons cannot hold to the NAP consistently. They may rightly oppose the aggression of the State against committers of victimless “crimes.” But when they also support the aggression of the State against foreign nations, not in self-defense, but as preemptive “security”, they violate the NAP and forfeit their privilege to use the label. Aggression is aggression, and it is all immoral under the Non-Aggression Principle. Fully realized, the NAP allows for no exceptions. Aggression of any sort is out. If we have to use the State to “enforce” freedom we are violating the NAP and are no longer worthy of the libertarian label.
There are also “libertarians” who are perfectly happy with the government extorting money to provide for the greater good. As long as government sticks to building roads and schooling children but stays out of the bedroom or the private lives of individuals, these people are perfectly content letting the State coercively take money from individuals to distribute it as it sees fit.
True libertarians fall into two camps, or somewhere between them. On one side you have the minarchists, those who believe in a small, limited government, given to the task of justice and defense. On the other you have anarchists, those who believe that no central authority is necessary for such things. What generally ties the two together is free-market capitalism. What distinguishes them has much to do with how they view the free markets ability to provide EVERYTHING as opposed to NEARLY everything.
I won’t insult minarchists and call them statists, but most of them have not taken the NAP to its rational conclusion. They still cling to the idea that one small entity needs to hold a monopoly on coercion in order to provide justice and defense. They still support the most coercive part of all societies.
While most minarchists I have met would like to uphold the NAP in all areas, most have never seen a private justice system or an effective private defense firm and for practical reasons believe some centralized entity must exist to provide them. They are pragmatists, which I can’t necessarily fault them for.
I however, am no pragmatist. I’ll cling to my principles even if no practical example of said principles exists. In order to maintain consistency, I will take the NAP to its logical conclusions, therefore, I am an anarchist. I believe the free market is capable of creatively providing all services and products known to man. It may be difficult to work out the logistics of some of these services (mostly because we are so used to them being monopolized) but it is certainly worth the effort if we are to be consistently moral people.
If all non-defensive force is immoral aggression, what should we do when an individual or an entity holds the monopoly on aggression? To me the answer is clear: we abolish that monopoly and replace it with a fully voluntary economic system. We become anarchists. This is the only consistent application of the NAP.