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L. Neil Smith's
Number 609, March 6, 2011


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The Constitution and the Zero Aggression Principle
by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

The Zero Aggression Principle holds that nobody has a right (that is, no such right exists) to initiate physical force against anybody else for any reason whatever. Neither is it ethically acceptable to advocate or to delegate the initiation of force. Observe the central importance of the word "initiate". What libertarians call the "ZAP" is not a call for pacifism. It does not prohibit the legitimate act of self-defense.

Although I've always understood perfectly that it won't solve all human problems, I've been known, from time to time, to defend the ZAP—which is the very heart and soul of libertarianism—by pointing out that, if an individual absolutely refuses to take or live by the non-aggression pledge, I have no other choice than to believe that he's reserving some right he mistakenly believes he has to initiate force against me whenever he finds it convenient, or the mood strikes him.

Let me repeat that, so there can be no misunderstanding whatever. Anyone who rejects the Zero Aggression Principle has to be regarded as reserving some right that he mistakenly believes he has to initiate force against me whenever he finds it convenient, or the mood strikes him.

Precautions will be taken accordingly.

Believe me, after 49 years in the freedom movement, I'm quite adamant about this. If you aren't willing, formally, to forego the initiation of force, then you're not a libertarian no matter what you claim.

Recently, it occurred to me that a similar relationship exists between the Constitution—especially the Bill of Rights—and politicians. Every office holder is required to take a formal oath, one hand on a Holy Book (make mine Atlas Shrugged), the other hand in the air, to uphold and defend the Constitution against "all enemies foreign and domestic". Sometimes these oaths even add "without mental reservation".

And yet, every office holder violates that oath within the first half hour of his term—giving or accepting paper money, for example—and keeps violating it until he dies, quits, or the voters turn him out.

Some politicians have the decency, at least, to pretend to be apologetic about this. We can probably forgive Ron Paul, for example. He's done his absolute damnedest to get our battered country back on a Constitutional basis, including shutting down the Fed and making real money legal once again. Others are considerably less so. One, asked about the constitutionality of her behavior, infamously snapped back, "Are you kidding?" Another, known widely as a buckethead, snarled that the Constitution is "just a piece of paper", which, in point of fact, is inaccurate. It's vellum, the prepared skin of some unspecified mammal.

Some politicians claim the Constitution is a "living document"—that it somehow mysteriously morphs all by itself to fit the political correctness of the times. It's extremely common to hear members of the parasitic class blather that, because the document in question is so old, it's clearly obsolete and therefore, somehow, no longer the highest law of the land. One particularly bean-brained chair-warmer asserted recently that because it's more than 100 years old—it's 222 years old at the moment—nobody can possibly understand what it means.

Somebody should point out to this clown that Shakespeare's works are twice as old as the Constitution, and plenty of people still seem to enjoy them. Beowulf is probably a thousand years old and remains perfectly understandable to those who expend the minimal effort required to learn the almost-English it's written in. And would this guy claim that nobody understands the five thousand year old Ten Commandments?

If a politician denies the historical validity and the ultimate legal authority of the Constitution—particularly the first ten amendments—it isn't any different than with the Zero Aggression Principle. He's reserving some right he mistakenly believes he has to violate the law whenever he finds it convenient, or the mood strikes him.

Let me repeat that, too, so there can be no misunderstanding. Any politician who denies the Constitution has to be regarded as reserving some right that he mistakenly believes he has to violate the highest law of the land whenever he finds it convenient, or the mood strikes him.

As with the ZAP, precautions should be taken accordingly.

Understand clearly that nobody is ever forced to take the Zero Aggression Pledge. As the great Roger Price observed many years ago, that would be like all of us who believe the Earth is round, gathering up all those who believe the Earth is flat—and shoving them off the edge. As it is, and like it or not, the pledge/no pledge dichotomy has established two tiers within the libertarian movement, those who can be trusted to be left in a room with your baby daughter, and those who cannot.

But I digress.

All public officeholders, on the other hand, are required by law to take an oath with regard to the Constitution. If they do so with the immediate intention of disregarding it, then they have committed perjury, a felony. If they violate it at any time while in office, that is a crime, as well, for which they must be made to pay the price.

The price that I have long suggested is that they be transported to a little town in Pennsylvania called Nuremberg where, with money donated voluntarily, a great hall will be erected, in order that these criminals be indicted and tried—as conspicuously as possible in our age of technology—for their many and heinous crimes against the Constitution.

We will call these the "Nuremberg II Tribunals".

Upon conviction, they will be transported to a brand new 100-story prison, black and windowless, built atop the ruins of the old federal prison on the island of Alcatraz, exclusively designed for government miscreants. Prisoners will be allowed out once a day on its unrailed rooftop. Tourists on excursion boats will pay happily for meat past its expiration date to chum the shark-infested waters of San Francisco Bay.

Life in solitary confinement might be appropriate for those who have abused Bradley Manning and wish to abuse Julian Assange the same way.

It's a small dream, but my own.

Feel free to dream it with me.

It's no coincidence at all that "Constitutionalists" are just one of dozens of perfectly respectable American groups against whom Sisty Step-ugler Janet Napolitano has repeatedly tried to arouse local law enforcement. Such folks must be dealt with; they understand that she's a criminal. Happily, Napolitano couldn't arouse anything but another warthog.

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of more than 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Where We Stand: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis with his daughter, Rylla.

See stunning full-color graphic-novelizations of The Probability Broach and Roswell, Texas which feature the art of Scott Bieser at Dead-tree versions may be had through the publisher, or at where you will also find Phoenix Pick editions of some of Neil's earlier novels. Links to Neil's books at are on his website


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