The "non-aggression axiom" , also known as non-coercion, is one of the most widely repeated bits of libertarian propaganda. It simply means "we want to coerce you to live by our rules whether you like it or not." "Steal my candy bar? Then you must die!" It is an incoherent piece of rhetoric. And just how is a libertarian compelled to adopt the NAP? Without such an explanation, claiming the NAP would be followed or is a feature of libertarianism is bullshit.
The "non-aggression axiom" specifically exempts use of force to punish or deter violators of rights claims, calling it "retaliatory". In other words, they say it's not coercive only because they are in favor of it. Sorry, aiming guns at people is coercive no matter what your justification.
The NAP is sometimes presented as: "Don’t hit people, don’t take their stuff. The basic rule of all civilized societies." That may work for Sesame Street, but falls apart as soon as you consider "retaliatory force" and begin to ask why it is their stuff. The whole basic principle of private property in "civilized societies" is "we have stolen this stuff from the commons and will hit you if you disagree."
- Initiation of Force (5 links)
- Another deceptive libertarian shibboleth. All property and indeed all real rights are based on violence, coercion, initiation of force. Libertarians claim there is an invisible right to property which magically exempts property from being intrinsically violent. In other words, they deceptively hide the violence they like as a mystical, made-up "right".
- A Critical Commentary on the Zwolinski 2013 “Libertarianism and Liberty” Essays [More...]
- The pompous Jan Lester (J C Lester) says "It is expositionally very useful that the degree of philosophical error and confusion evinced in these essays is extremely high but not of any unusual kind." He shreds Zwolinski based on his own erroneous idea of liberty, which is much better than Zwolinski's. He also defends the ludicrous NAP that Zwolinski shreds.
- A Libertarian Rehabilitation of Hobbes [More...]
- "[...] you, libertarian, are prepared to coerce your equal to do what you demand [...] you are prepared to subordinate your non-libertarian fellows to your will [...] Traditional libertarian, in at least one sense, Hobbes was less authoritarian than you."
- Against Libertarian Criticisms of Redistribution [More...]
- The non-aggression principle tells us nothing, at least directly, about the topic of redistribution because rightful ownership is complex. theories of property rights would need to justify the existing distribution of property and do so without appealing to the state. That doesn't work at all in the real world.
- Capabilities and Libertarianism, Part II: Capabilities for Bullet-Biting Libertarians [More...]
- "[H]ow some common justificatory bases for libertarianism fail, and do so in ways readily grokked from a capabilitarian vantage." The NAP, property, Ayn Rand and spontaneous order take a beating.
- Epicycles and Non-Aggression [More...]
- Brian Kogelmann points out "The non-aggression principle isn’t sufficient to help guide most of our political decisions, and so isn’t sufficient to be the core argument for libertarianism."
- How a reductio ad absurdum works [More...]
- Matt Bruenig points out "Libertarianism violates the NAP [non-aggression principle], as does every other theory that does not advocate the grab-what-you-can world."
- How to make a pretzel [More...]
- Just ask a libertarian what they really mean when they talk about the initiation of force. "According to libertarian hack David D'Amato, in some cases you can aggressively use force without using force at all (e.g. by engaging in fraud), while in other cases you can use force aggressively without "really" being the aggressor. Impressive, no?"
- Private Property as Violence: Why Proprietarian Systems are Incompatible with the Non-Aggression Principle [More...]
- "[...] private property is itself an act of violence... How? Through exclusion and deprivation as forms of deliberate aggression. With careful consideration we will see that this assertion is both obvious and readily evident in the real world – it’s just not readily accepted under the current status quo."
- Private Property, Coercion, and the Impossibility of Libertarianism [More...]
- Christopher Schimke's Masters thesis criticizing Jan Narveson's libertarianism. It concludes: "even Narvesonian libertarianism endorses pervasive initiations of force against individuals."
- Salvaging Non-Aggression for Egalitarianism [More...]
- "[...] we can say that we should only impose such institutions [property] if we do so in a way that essentially strikes a fair deal with those whose negative liberty we are destroying. This is, essentially, what Robert Nozick has in mind when he says that you can blow up people’s negative liberty so long as you do not worsen their welfare."
- Six Reasons Libertarians Should Reject the Non-Aggression Principle [More...] (1 link)
- Matt Zwolinski points out six major problems with the idea, all brought up by libertarians at one time or another. He suggests that libertarians need a paradigm shift to a more fundamental and less faulty idea.
- The Lesson of Grab What You Can [More...]
- "But the Grab World baseline allows us to see that all economic institutions are restrictions and infringements on liberty. Property is the most liberty-destroying and all-encompassing of the restrictive economic institutions, but contracts, patents, copyrights, securities, corporations, and so on do the same thing."
- The libertarian and the genie.
- A libertarian finds a magic lamp, and when he mixes his labor with it a genie appears. The genie tells him he can have three wishes...
- The Libertarian Nonaggression Principle [More...]
- Matt Zwolinski convincingly explains many problems with the NAP. Then he comically proposes considering it just a nice idea with a bunch of handwaving, committing many of the same mistakes the NAP does.
- The NAP is a Social Construct, and Nothing More [More...]
- "Any voluntariness is presupposed by the very scarcities which create it in the first place. Scarcities which are built on systems of coercion and power. Essentially, the systems of property and personhood which underpin the NAP are social constructions, brought about by a multitude of social relations and interactions. As a result, the NAP is nothing more than a social construction."
- The NAP Isn’t a Knock-Down Argument for Libertarianism. On the Contrary, It Begs the Question. [More...]
- "Many libertarians think they have powerful knock-down argument for anarchist libertarianism, but, on the contrary, that argument is completely impotent."
- The Non-Aggression Principle Can’t Be Salvaged -- and Isn’t Even a Principle [More...]
- Julian Sanchez points out "the non-aggression principle is ultimately circular, and shouldn’t be the basis for a libertarian theory of politics."
- The Nozickian case for Rawls’ difference principle [More...]
- "There is a very strong Nozickian case to be made for Rawls’ difference principle. Because the reality of scarcity causes the use of resources to necessarily infringe upon the liberty of others, it makes sense to say (as Nozick does) that you should only be able to undertake such use if it does not worsen the position of others."
- Violence Vouchers: A Descriptive Account of Property [More...]
- When a state upholds a system of property, all it is doing is issuing to owners a set of vouchers for violence against those who ignore property. Trade is similarly based on property and violence. Rents also are based on violence, ruling out just deserts and just processes arguments.
- Violently Destroying Liberty Is Important For Flourishing, Libertarian Argues [More...]
- "Thus we can't ever actually be debating about whether we are for or against aggression or coercion. That's ridiculous. Folks on all sides of the debate are for using force that is consistent with their theory of what belongs to whom (called "defense") and against using force that is inconsistent with their theory of what belongs to whom (called "aggression")."
- What a World Following the Non-Aggression Principle Looks Like [More...]
- Matt Bruenig points out that the "grab-what-you-can world" where people freely expropriate other people’s possessions is the only one where nobody initiates force directly against another person’s body.
I suspect most libertarians will respond that they can use coercion to protect their justly acquired property no matter what other reasonable people think. After all, libertarianism is true and statism is false. But that means that you, libertarian, are prepared to coerce your equal to do what you demand even though she has not agreed and will likely not agree were you to explain your reasoning to her. That is, you are prepared to subordinate your non-libertarian fellows to your will.
Kevin Vallier, "A Libertarian Rehabilitation of Hobbes"
Essential though it may be, re-framing property as the threat of sanction and violence, and not some metaphysical linkage, brings it into a new perspective. From this standpoint there is nothing especially ‘non coercive’ about, say, anarcho-capitalism, unless you take it as given that the claims it makes about who is entitled to what are ethically just.
DePonySum (pseudonym), "Against Libertarian Criticisms of Redistribution"
What is the government doing when it 'protects a property right'? Passively, it is abstaining from interference with the owner when he deals with the thing owned; actively, it is forcing the non-owner to desist from handling it, unless the owner consents... The non-owner is forbidden to handle the owner's property even where his handling of it involves no violence or force whatever. Any lawyer could [tell] that the right of property is much more extensive than the mere right to protection against forcible dispossession. In protecting property the government is doing something quite apart from merely keeping the peace. It is exerting coercion wherever that is necessary to protect each owner, not merely from violence, but also from peaceful infringement of his sole right to enjoy the thing owned.
Robert Hale (1923), "Coercion and Distribution in a Supposedly Non-Coercive State", Political Science Quarterly, V. 38, N. 3 (Sep): 470-494.
One cannot overstate the childishness of the ideas that feed and stir the masses. Real ideas must as a rule be simplified to the level of a child's understanding if they are to arouse the masses to historic actions. A childish illusion, fixed in the minds of all children born in a certain decade and hammered home for four years, can easily reappear as a deadly serious political ideology twenty years later.
Sebastian Haffner, "Defying Hitler: A Memoir", pg. 17.
We cannot simply say “Well, individuals have a right to do anything that does not harm another” because that answer simply dissolves into another value-laden debate about what counts as “a harm” in the first place.
James Boyle, "Foucault in cyberspace -- Chapter 2: Libertarianism, Property and Harm" pg. 16.
The non-aggression stuff is the most hilarious stuff I have ever dealt with in all of philosophy. Defined neutrally to mean initiating force against other people, it generates the conclusion that basically no theories of economic justice satisfy the NAP. Defined with reference to a theory of entitlement (i.e. to include not violating “property rights”), it generates the conclusion that all theories of economic justice satisfy the NAP, at least internally. It’s a comical absurd mess. I can’t believe libertarians still pretend it does anything.
Matt Bruenig, "How a reductio ad absurdum works"
The non-consensual constraints on conduct recognized by libertarians are quite extensive. Our duties to respect the lives and the physical integrity of others' persons, and their freedom of action and extensive property claims, our obligations to keep our contracts, avoid fraud, and make reparations for harms we cause, are not based in free choice, consent, or any kind of agreement (actual or hypothetical). These are natural rights and duties, libertarians claim, that people possess independent of social interaction. Despite their emphasis on consent, voluntariness, and contract, libertarians are averse to appeals to consent or social agreement to justify their preferred list of moral rights and duties.
Samuel Freeman, "Illiberal Libertarians: Why Libertarianism Is Not a Liberal View" pg. 125
The problem is that libertarian principles, which revolve [around] the abstract notion of self-interest, are really not principles at all; they have no content and allow anything to be attached to them. Abstract self-interest alone can provide no instructive rule of thought and can disqualify no particular course of action, because each person is free to concoct what is in their best interest, and because “aggression” can be and has been defined in a variety of spurious ways.
John Ganz, "Libertarians have more in common with the alt-right than they want you to think"
[W]e have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.
George Orwell, "Review of Power: A New Social Analysis by Bertrand Russell"
That property violates the non-aggression principle is so obviously true that it is amusing anyone ever contends otherwise. The institution of property is the most statist, violent, aggressive, anti-libertarian, big government program in history. Through laws of one sort or another, people are violently restricted from nearly every single piece of the world around them. They do not consent to these restrictions, which are imposed from without, unilaterally and at the barrel of a gun. In the process, every shred of negative liberty and self-ownership is destroyed.
Matt Bruenig, "Salvaging Non-Aggression for Egalitarianism"
[...] the idea that people have full liberal property rights in their pre-tax income is unwarranted. They participate in a co-operative venture with others in society subject to certain conditions, and those conditions include one that part of “their income” already belongs to the wider society, via the state. This point, hated by libertarians, defeats the widespread view that people are having “their money” taken off them: it wasn’t theirs to start with.
Chris Bertram, "Squeezing the rich is good: even when it raises no money"
You NAP idea is entirely vapid: EVERY political/moral system says "defensive force and properly-justified retaliatory force is not considered immoral": they just differ on what "defensive" and "properly justified" is. For libertarians, this bafflegab protects assertions that absolute property is the only morality.
Mike Huben, in comments for "Taxation Is Not Theft"
Non-initiation of force is a phrase which is used to hide the entire baggage of libertarian theory of entitlement. Since every culture has different theories of entitlement, using the same phrase just conceals the basic question of entitlements.
Mike Huben, in comments for "Taxation Is Not Theft"
To have a theory of liberty that inherently involves particular property rules and particular moral rights is not to have a clearer and stronger theory. Rather, it is to attempt to have an unfalsifiable or uncriticisable theory. And that, as Karl Popper explained, is not clearer and stronger: it is really to avoid saying anything substantive at all. It is certainly to have no proper theory of liberty. Instead, it is in effect to assume the legitimacy or morality of certain rules or rights and then stipulatively or persuasively -- and thereby vacuously -- define those rules or rights as ‘libertarian’ and their flouting as ‘unlibertarian’ (or even ‘aggression’, or -- still worse -- ‘coercion’). Texts that are critical of libertarianism often note this.
J. C. Lester, "The Heterodox ‘Fourth Paradigm’ of Libertarianism: an Abstract Eleutherology plus Critical Rationalism"
But the Grab World baseline allows us to see that all economic institutions are restrictions and infringements on liberty. Property is the most liberty-destroying and all-encompassing of the restrictive economic institutions, but contracts, patents, copyrights, securities, corporations, and so on do the same thing. With Grab World as the actual blank slate starting point baseline, it's clear that all we are debating about is what set of liberty-infringing restrictions are the best ones (unless you actually advocate the Grab World).
Matt Bruenig, "The Lesson of Grab What You Can"
The appeal of the NAP [Non-Aggression Principle] lies in its apparent simplicity and intuitive plausibility (tautologies tend to be intuitively plausible), but it’s typically deployed in a way that amounts to a kind of shell game: I argue that socialism must be rejected on the grounds that it violates this one simple moral principle, and hope my interlocutor doesn’t notice that I’ve essentially begged the question by baking a theory of strong property rights incompatible with socialism into my conception of “aggression,” when of course libertarian property rights are ultimately backed by the threat of (individual or state) violence as well.
Julian Sanchez, "The Non-Aggression Principle Can’t Be Salvaged -- and Isn’t Even a Principle"
The problem is that this homesteading action is outrageously un-libertarian. It involves a single actor unilaterally deciding to eliminate the previously existing access every other person had to some piece of the world, doing so without the consent of those dispossessed of their access, and through the use of violence (i.e. if you try to access the object they now claim to own, they physically push you off or worse).
Matt Bruenig, "The Nozickian case for Rawls’ difference principle"
My goal, in the immediate stage, is to force libertarians to stop pretending that things like non-aggression, coercion, and force initiation do anything in the debate. They don't. Since the words get their meaning from an underlying theory of entitlement, the debate is always and anywhere about theories of entitlement. It is not about aggression or coercion or force. All arguments that turn upon those concepts are vacuous and question-begging. All of them.
Matt Bruenig, "Violently Destroying Liberty Is Important For Flourishing, Libertarian Argues"