L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 193, October 7, 2002
Freedom and the Non-Initiation of Force
Exclusive to TLE
Lately I've been seeing a disturbing trend. The trend is for libertarians to bash the non-initiation of force principle, also known as the non-aggression principle. This is seen in TLE #192 with John "Birdman" Bryant's essay and recently at anti-state.com with George Justin Mallone's essay. The problem these two have is that not initiating force is impractical. Bryant claims that it gets in the way of stopping someone who you know will attack you. While Mallone claims that liberty will be difficult to advance if libertarians can't initiate force. Here I will show that the non-initiation of force principle not only allows individuals to prevent an attack from occurring but is also necessary to advancing the cause of liberty.
First, what if I know someone will attack or harm me in some way? Obviously, I will want to stop this from happening, and this may take force. But will this force be considered an initiation? Since no one is in the process of attacking me, am I bound to pacifism until someone does? Hell no! It is safe to say that almost all libertarians will agree that someone who is pointing a gun at me is initiating force. Even if the person doesn't make any demands of me and remains quiet, the act of pointing a gun at me is an obvious threat that can be met with retaliation if I choose. If I retaliate and kill the person with the gun, I am not initiating force. Through his actions the person with the gun made a credible threat to my life. In fact, Bryant recognizes my right to do this and makes almost the same point I just made. The only difference is that, apparently, Bryant thinks I am initiating force. What Bryant doesn't seem to understand is that the non-initiation of force principle covers the threat of force. The way I see it is it is absolutely wrong to initiate force, threaten to initiate force, or delegate the initiation of force to another.
But just because it is okay to stop a credible threat from evolving into action, it doesn't give you a blank check to do anything you want to someone who gives you a nasty look or makes a threat that obviously won't be carried out. If you are going to attack someone before he attacks you, you must be able to show why he deserves to be attacked and show that it was going to be either him or you. Maybe this pesky innocent until proven guilty thing is what Bryant doesn't like about the non-aggression principle.
Speaking of not liking the non-initiation of force principle, George Justin Mallone writing for anti-state.com has this to say: "Therefore, if one is in a position to preserve liberty through generally disagreeable means, even if the means' existence is wrong, even if innocents will be harmed, their usage in the preservation of greater freedom is not immoral. In fact, if one truly prioritizes freedom as a value, then not using such means is acting against your explicit values, and thus immoral."
You read that correctly, he is actually saying that if I value freedom and I don't kill innocent people in acquiring freedom, I am acting immorally! So, if obtaining freedom somehow necessitated killing Mr. Mallone, then I guess he would have no problem with it and his relatives would have no way to morally collect any form of restitution from me. The same goes for all people who reject the non-initiation of force principle. These people are signing their own death warrant. They are saying that as long as the end is noble, it doesn't matter how much property you loot or how many people you kill. Only a society that seeks to punish all people who initiate force will ever be free. Therefore, the only way to obtain a free society is to punish the people who are allowed to initiate force unpunished.
The only thing standing in the way of freedom right now is a large group of people who claim to have the right to initiate force and are backed by the masses. Without people using this force unpunished, no one could stop you from being free. So how can a group of people claiming it is right to initiate force be eliminated by a group of people who claim it is right to initiate force? The only difference between the two groups is what they want to accomplish. The government wants to use its "right" to initiate force to further its influence and power, while the libertarians who don't agree with the non- initiation of force principle want to use their "right" to initiate force to remove the government from power. But once the government is removed from power, what stops the overthrowers from taking power themselves? After all, if it is okay to initiate force to further the end of overthrowing a thieving, murderous government, then how can it be wrong to collect a few small taxes in order to provide for the common defense? And once that's established as normal and right, how can it be wrong to collect a few more small taxes to guarantee schooling for poor kids? And this will go on and on until we are right back to where we started.
This is why for freedom to emerge, it must ride in on a wave of non- violence, moral violence, or a combination of both. Non-violence and civil disobedience are great strategies if you have the numbers, which libertarians don't. But its best use, perhaps, is to obtain individual freedom. If you take the right precautions, (living behind a fog of numerous, legitimate identities, not giving the government any true information about yourself, and generally living a private life) it is possible to live almost completely free of government tyranny. If the government doesn't know anything about you, and doesn't know where you live, and if every time you encounter the government you have a different, yet legitimate ID, how can they get you for tax evasion? How can they get you for not paying tickets? However, not many take this route because it is just too dangerous and they have too much to lose. So, if we are ever going to be free, moral violence, that is violence against people who violate the rights of others, especially under the color of law, must be used. The people who are most responsible for the current government, the people in power, must be punished severely, systematically, and constantly until it is just too costly to even attempt to gain any significant position of power.