Have you ever heard of the NAP? No, it’s not a pleasant snooze on the weekend after a busy day of work. I’m talking about the Non Aggression Principle.
The Non Aggression Principle is a central principle of pro-liberty minded people. And the pro-liberty minded people are growing in numbers.
The Non Aggression Principle is the idea that “aggression” is immoral. Some people, the pure voluntarist or “anarchist” or “Anarcho-capitalist,” hold consistently to this view and say that aggression is never justified.
Some people hold a less strict view and argue that the NAP has some exceptions or combines with other central principles to help form a philosophy of right action. The NAP and other principles combine to guide a person on issues like liberty, the State, the government, and related topics. The “small government libertarian” uses the NAP and other guiding principles without making the NAP a rigid rule that applies one hundred percent of the time without exceptions.
Defining aggression becomes central: Aggression is the initiation of force by someone against another. Aggression is not just force. Rather, it is the force of the first person—the instigator—the person who takes a peaceful, voluntary situation into a forceful struggle.
When someone aggresses against another—such as to steal the person’s wallet—the wallet-owner is not an “aggressor” when he responds with force. Responsive force is a justified response to aggression. Aggression itself is not justified. If someone does not harm you, you have no moral basis for harming another. One only has the moral right to harm another as a way to protect against and recover from force exerted on them.
John Locke in his famous Second Treatise of Government never talks about the Non Aggression Principle in those
precise terms, but much of what he writes is consistent with the principle. For instance, John Locke sets forth a theory of government that starts with humans outside of any government (what he calls the “State of Nature”), and coming together and unanimously agreeing that they need a “civil government” so they can all live in peace and order among each other.
John Locke and the Western political philosophers that built off of his writings and other similar thinkers of his era gave rise to the current theories of democracies and republics which are said to be forms of government ultimately arising from the consent of the governed. The consent of the governed is seen as a necessary precursor to government because as discussed in the post about government versus private action, the government uses force to do what it does. The initiation of force against others is unjustified. It is aggression. The only way to turn government force into something other than improper aggression is to try to justify it by trying to build a strong foundation of “consent” as the basis of government.