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161



[Get Opera!]

THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 161, February 18, 2002
Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Some Limitations of the Non-Aggression Doctrine

by Patrick K Martin
warhawke@mediaone.net

Part I: As Concerns Individuals

No one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, or to advocate or delegate its initiation.

This is the foundational principle of Libertarianism. We call it the non-aggression doctrine or non-aggression principle. Every libertarian is expected to adhere to this standard at all times. However, is this really possible? When taken in the context of libertarian philosophy, can you or me or anyone live by this code at all times and in all situations? Unfortunately, I do not believe so, and I will now attempt to demonstrate why using a few hypothetical situations.

Scenarios:

1) You have just changed the antifreeze in your car, and a large pan of this wonderful green fluid remains on the ground. Your two-year-old baby toddles up, and seeing this stuff, that looks like the green stuff mommy puts in his bottle, he grabs a conveniently handy cup and dips up a helping. You look up, just in time to see the child about to take a big swig.

Question:

As you race screaming to snatch this cup of liquid death away from the most important person in your life, and proceed to manually stimulate his little nervous system by the repeated application of your hand to his gluteus maximus, you ask yourself, "Am I initiating force against this person?"

Answer:

Yes. Under the doctrine, you have no right to interfere with the child's right to drink the antifreeze, and removing it from the child's possession without the child's consent (to say nothing of spanking the child) is an act of force. The mere fact that death will result from his actions, or the fact that the child is not capable of understanding the peril inherent in his actions, in no way justifies you taking action.

2) A twenty five year old man has convinced your eight year old child to consent to activities of a sexual nature. You enter the room, just as the deed is about to be accomplished.

Question:

In that split second, when you are conducting a mental debate as to whether you should snatch out your Roscoe and blast this sick piece of human debris into next week, or engage in the far more emotionally satisfying enterprise of stomping him into a shapeless quivering mass of lifeless leaking protoplasm, you consider, "Will my interference constitute an act of force?".

Answer:

Yes. Under Libertarian doctrine, the concept of "age of consent" is done away with. Each individual, including your young child, is expected to determine his or her readiness to assume the responsibility for his or her actions. The child has consented. Thus, you have no right to interfere, and if you do, you will be in violation.

3) While walking down an alley in (insert a city or town name here), you turn a corner to discover three men forcibly disrobing a young lady. The words and gestures you observe indicate that these men are initiating an act of non-consensual sexual intercourse on this person. You are armed and unobserved.

Question:

If you slap leather and start throwing hot lead biscuits at these varmints, would that be an initiation of force on your part?

Answer:

Yes. One could make the argument that a family member, or even a friend, could be considered to be indispensable to your well being, as well as representing a long-term investment of your time, money, and energy, and thus any attack on them could be considered as an attack on you. However, a stranger represents no investment on your part, they have no connection to you, beyond the fact of her humanity, a connection which her attackers share. Thus, unless you are threatened with force, you may not resort to it on another individual's behalf. In fact, if you were to simply draw attention to yourself, with the hope of drawing an attack, which you could then respond to, you would still be in violation, because your intent is to force a response which would not otherwise have occurred.

Now, I know this all seems a little extreme, but if we wish to establish and maintain a moral principle, we must completely understand its implications. Moral principles are absolutes, they are black or white, there is no gray. If we stand by them, we must accept responsibility for breaking them, as well as understanding when our actions do indeed break them. Once we understand and accept that these actions, or actions similar in nature, constitute a violation, we have two alternatives. One is to write a new doctrine, this one was not handed to us out of a burning bush after all, it is therefore conceivable that we could come up with something that fits in the real world a little better. I haven't managed it, but I'm not a god, I just play one on the net. On the other hand, we could simply accept that there are times when we must violate the non-aggression doctrine, and apply the doctrine of competing harms.

"Competing harms" is a legalistic way of saying that we are choosing the lesser of two evils. In the case of the woman being raped, the rapists are showing their disdain for the non-aggression principle by their actions, and thus demonstrate their refusal to acknowledge the rights and property of others. These actions make them dangerous to all of society, including you. Thus, your violation is acceptable as compared to theirs. Likewise, saving the life of your child vastly outweighs any harm your violation might present, as would be your use of corporal punishment or negative reinforcement. The job of a parent is to provide a child with the understanding and intellectual means to thrive later in life. To paraphrase Robert Heinlein, "pain is a wonderful evolutionary mechanism, designed to tell you that what you are doing is a threat to your continued survival, and it is a shame not to use it". Yes, spanking is force, and I recommend that it be used sparingly and with an understanding of its limitations and drawbacks, but when a child is too young to understand rational discourse it is very effective, and in my view, the lesser evil.

When we get to the case of the consenting eight-year-old, things get a bit stickier. First, let me state clearly that any adult who finds young children sexually attractive is, in my opinion, in need of a deep and immediate dose of corrective therapy from Dr. Browning of the 1911 school. Such creatures are of no value to either our society or the human race in general, except insofar as they demonstrate the need of an occasional dose of Clorox in the gene pool. The problem is, when we decide that children have the right to determine for themselves when they are ready to accept responsibility for their actions, we make this kind of situation inevitable. While a child might be educated on certain subjects, like sex or drugs or any other so called ADULT activity, they often lack the kind of life experience which is required to make a truly informed decision.

On this point I must disagree with most libertarians, I do not believe that children have rights. Instead, I believe that adults have responsibilities toward children. Until a child reaches a certain level of mental and emotional development, it is simply impossible for him or her to make informed decisions concerning their lives. Instead, parents and other adults must have both the authority as well as the responsibility to make those decisions for the child. The concept of "age of consent" is an attempt to provide that, as well as providing the child with a set point at which the interference of the adult will cease. The current problem with age of consent is that the law does not provide one set point, it provides several, all for different activities, and they vary from one local to another.

You can have sex at thirteen, own a rifle at sixteen, join the army or get a credit-card at eighteen, and drink at twenty-one, provided some busybody doesn't decide to rain on your parade for some other, and possibly completely unrelated reason. Age of consent should mean just that, one age at which you are legally entitled to do anything you wish, and go to jail for it if you get caught. If this age were placed at a reasonable level, say sixteen, and a mechanism for parental consent were established, I believe the kind of dilemma envisioned by my little scenario could be avoided, at least in the main.


Next: Some limitations of the Non-Aggression Doctrine
Part II: As concerns the community at large.



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