The NAP is incomplete. There I said it.
There are five reasons that I believe, as a student of Anarcho-Capitalism, that the Rothbardian interpretation of the Non-Aggression principle is not enough to form a free society around. The Non-Aggression principle is an underdeveloped view of moral philosophy. There are five reasons I believe the NAP is inadequate to be the ultimate principle of libertarian philosophy. They include:
1) The Non-Aggression principle does not take into account intent and is useless in mitigating aggressions committed accidentally or with good intentions.
2) Crimes of omission would not be crimes by simply using non-aggression as the only axiom to determine legality.
3) Aggression against peaceful people would still have to be used to by private dispute resolution organizations and/or their collaborative police forces in a free society.
4) Using Aggression to combat non-aggression can still be moral, even if its not legal.
5) The Non Aggression Principle makes no mention on the idea of proportionality.
Now before you start taking heavy hacks at my character and calling me a “statist” and “aggressionist”, let me explain why. The Non-Aggression Principle as defined by Dr. Murray Rothbard encapsulates,
“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 non-aggressor. Here is the fundamental rule from which can be deduced the entire corpus of libertarian theory.”
First off let me say that I tend to agree with that statement in many instances. I do not believe this was intended to be the one statute that reigns over all of the world. When interpreting statutes you look to the words. The words are very pigeon holed in what can and cannot be allowed in society. In my interpretation, the Rothbardian NAP is a cog in the wheel of the libertarian opus. This is a principle which has vast application in the real world.
However, I also tend to have an ontological difference of opinion regarding objective morality with Dr. Rothbard. As a libertarian and a believer in natural law, I believe there are certain positive moral obligations that ought to be enforced in society. Putting someone in a vulnerable situation and not seeing them out should be seen as a crime, and it does not necessarily have to be aggression. For example, I believe that leaving your 6-month old child in a house alone while you go on vacation is an immoral act and should be punished in a free society. I also believe that starving and beating puppies in your basement should be a crime, and in a free society I would push for judges and private law companies that recognized this.
To define the terms, aggression itself is defined as “hostile or violent behavior or attitudes toward another”. Deciphering the NAP as a statute, this means that all negligence is no longer a crime. This means liability is only placed on those who are proactively violent. As a law student, the first thing they teach you in American Criminal Law is that there are two types of crime 1) crimes of aggression; and 2) crimes of omission. Most legal systems in the developed world follow this doctrine.
This is why I propose an amendment to the NAP, known as the NOP(Non-Omission Principle*hereby trademarked*). This would mean that there are certain positive moral obligations that should be enforced in society, and to neglect to fulfill these duties would constitute a crime. For example, imagine this:
You’re walking into a restaurant. The restaurant owner hasn’t done an inspection on his ceiling in over 10 years and knows the tiles are a little wobbly. One of the tiles falls, striking your daughter in the head and killing her.
Is the restaurant owner not liable for what happened? Did he not owe a duty to his customers to provide a safe environment? Do you have to form a contract with every restaurant you go into providing that the environment will not kill you?
Or take a more extreme example. The doctrine of collateral damage. Interpreting the NAP as axiomatic, your mens rea(intent) no longer matters. All crimes become strict liability crimes (meaning the circumstances don’t matter, you’re liable no matter what).
You step into a convenience store. As you grab an Arizona Iced tea out of the fridge, a burglar holds up the clerk with a .45 magnum handgun. Being an avid marksman and a concealed carry holder you find it necessary to step in and attempt to stop the robber. As you draw your weapon, the burglar turns and fires a shot at you. You react in a blur by firing back. You miss the robber and hit the clerk between the eyes.
According to the Rothbardian interpretation of the NAP, you just committed murder. It does not matter that you meant to help the clerk. It does not matter that your intention was pure. All that matters is your action, namely a bullet delivered to the cranium of the victim. The examples of pure intent and accident like this could go on and on.
Moreover, I urge you to consider the following:
The government is abolished tomorrow. As a result, several dispute resolution organizations (private courts) spring up to help people resolve arguments. Legatus Legal Service represents Bob, and Bob has agreed to take all his disputes to Legatus and have them adjudicate for him. Justice Inc. represents Sal, and Sal has decided to let Justice Inc. solve all his disputes. Each company has their own police force to enforce their laws. As economics would dictate and because violence would be too costly and nobody would want to work for them, Legatus Legal Service and Justice Inc. come to an agreement that they will allow Justice Inc. to resolve any of the disputes between the clients of both parties. Sal brings an action against Bob, claiming that Bob stole his TV. Bob denies all wrongdoing and claims that he did not take anything from Sal. Bob claims Sal is just jealous because he’s a libertarian with the coolest Rothbard mug on the block. Justice Inc. serves Bob a subpoena that says he must show up for adjudication proceedings in order to resolve this dispute. Bob, who doesn’t believe he has done anything wrong declines to show up for such proceedings. Justice Inc. then shows up at his house after 6 months of Bob avoiding contact with Sal. Justice Inc.’s officers then tell Bob he must come with them. They have done extensive research on the case and have determined that Bob is the most likely suspect. When Bob answers the door he shouts “Fuck the Police!”. The officers, wielding a warrant from Justice Inc., grab Bob and place him in handcuffs. They place him in the back of the car and drive him to the courthouse. The court goes through the trial and determines that it was Sal’s neighbor, Andy, who actually stole his TV. Bob then brings an action against Justice, Inc. for battery.
The question is, were the cops acting illegally by forcibly bringing Bob in? The Justice Inc. cops violated the Non-Aggression Principle, but without force, how would they have ever adjudicated the matter? Getting rid of a monopoly of force, does not rid the world of force or using said force justifiably against peaceful people. Law in a privatized society wont necessarily be moral simply because a monopoly on the commodity is abolished. People will vote with their dollars to fund the services they most agree with. Each city, state, and community would most likely have its own rules and regulations and the corresponding services that enforce them. Advocating each community follow the same moral code is not only improbable but historically utopian.
Following this train of thought, another reason I disagree with the strict Rothbardian interpretation of the NAP is because of the ontological differences in views of morality that I have with many strict non aggressionists. Imagine this:
You’re standing on line for the movies. You’re with your 91-year-old grandmother. A drunk 27-year-old in front of you turns and tells your grandmother that she’s, “too old to see ‘Hangover 9’” and should “go home, you old bitch”.
Being from the Bronx, New York, my entire family, neighborhood, and community would see something wrong if I did not defend my grandmother and her honor by punching this dude in the face. Am I arguing that my action should be legal, obviously not. However, the objective version of morality held by most Rothbardians fits only those who are wholly detached from reality.
Moreover, I urge to take it a step further and imagine this:
Harley is newly ordained college graduate. Harley gets a job at Prime consulting. Prime consulting is known to hire ex-football players because they have bigger personalities and tend to make more sales. Harley never played sports because he was far too overweight. Harley had been diagnosed with depression and a hypo-thyroid disorder that caused him to gain weight dramatically. Every day at work his co-workers would make fun of him and call him all types of disgusting names. Harley responded by going home at night and crying himself to sleep and eating copious amounts of ice cream. One particular co- worker, Lucius, is extremely rough on Harley. He calls him all sorts of names and tells him that nobody loves him. Lucius tells Harley that “he’d probably be better off if he just offed himself”. Harley goes home that night and has a nervous breakdown. Weeks later after relentless bullying, Harley sticks a shotgun into his mouth and pulls the trigger.
Is Lucius not liable at all for the death of Harley? Was Lucius not a proximate cause of Harley’s death? Was the relentless bullying not immoral? Should the emotional distress inflicted on Harley be held without penalty in a free society? Emotional trauma can be much more damaging than physical aggression.
Lastly, we come to the doctrine of Proportionality. The NAP specifies that the only use of force that is justified is force in self-defense. However, it makes no mention of how much force can used. For example, imagine this:
You are going boating for Memorial Day weekend. You get into your boat with your five best friends and head deep into the Atlantic Ocean. As you get out to a good anchor spot, you realize there is a stow away on board. Someone who had tried to rob your boat the night before had got stuck in the bathroom because the lock was defective (if it had been you that got stuck in the bathroom in a Rothbardian society you have no recourse because the lock company did not aggress against you, but I digress). You order them off your property at once. The only problem is your 50 miles from shore. If they were to leave your property it would mean certain death. By enforcing your property rights, you are actually becoming the aggressor, however you claim it was simply defense of your property. If the intruder is ordered into the ocean, is this not murder?
The NAP makes no mention of how much force can be used when defending property or self. If someone smacks you, can you shoot them? If someone steals an apple off the tree in your yard, can you chop their arms off with a samurai sword? The Rothbardian Non-aggression statute makes no mention of the proportion of defense you can use. Once again, it is here we see the NAP as an underdeveloped view of morality and are reminded of the need to take this principle farther.
Now in conclusion
This article was not meant to attack Murray Rothbard. This article is not to attack Anarcho Capitalists. This article is not to belittle the utility or morality of peaceful voluntary interaction. Yes, teach the NAP to your children. Use the NAP in your everyday life. Be peaceful and defend yourself and your property. But when it comes to forming society around only one principle or law, you’ve completely lost me.
Many criminal acts do not violate the NAP. Many breaches of contracts do not violate the NAP. Many acts of negligence do not violate the NAP. The point of this article is to take the libertarian out of the ignorant slumber that one principle can mitigate all the ills of society. The purpose of this article is to show that the dogmatic NAP is not the end all, be all. The purpose of this article is to kick start the serious conversation that needs to be had in all libertarian/Libertarian circles. We are the intellectuals responsible for protecting natural rights and moving the world towards maximum freedom and personal autonomy. This will only be possible if we return to the pastimes of our forefathers and expound upon the work of Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, Friedman and the like. Expound upon principles and thoroughly think through the concepts we have come to blindly accept. The alternative is stagnation and something we should never accept.