This essay will be a critique of contemporary libertarian philosophy, along with a solution to it. It requires a decent understanding of libertarian (Rothbardian) thought. This essay does not make a case for the NAP, but rather, critiques it in its present form. This essay is more directed towards people who are already libertarians, Hoppeans, or on the fence.
I have spent a great deal of time attempting to create a better, more complete, and more realistic libertarianism and libertarian movement. Many people believe my efforts will prove futile, and this is justifiably so. The great libertarian thinkers since Rothbard have failed to sufficiently deal with the issues and technicalities of libertarianism. In this essay (and many more) I will begin to lay out a possible solution to the issue of practicality and how to create a libertarian order which is not only justified in the context of the NAP (Non-Aggression Principle), but the only logical conclusion. This begins by analyzing the act of self defence, and defining the concept of a “thret”.
Self defence is a concept accepted by most people, philosophies, and legal systems. It’s commonly defined as reactionary force against someone committing an act of aggression against an individual or their property. This essay will be an analyzation of the act of self defence. I will be revealing the inconsistencies unnoticed or ignored by contemporary libertarian philosophers and thinkers. By pointing out these inconsistencies we are left with only two options; either to reject the legitimacy of self defence in it’s accepted form, or to reformulate the NAP and the ethical system created by some of the greatest philosophers of our time, including Rothbard, Nozick, and Hoppe.
To introduce my contention with the NAP in its present form, I will present a hypothetical scenario. Imagine a women walking down the street at night. She is carrying her purse on her shoulder. There is a man walking behind her suspiciously. She has noticed this man and is keeping an eye on him. He unexpectedly runs at her with his arms out to grab her purse, but she anticipates this and pepper sprays him. The man falls to the ground in pain before he could even touch the woman. Most people would believe the woman’s actions were completely justified. I would agree, but before continuing on I believe it’s important to breakdown and analyze what really is going on here. In this situation the man never actually touched the woman, but that wouldn’t matter in a court of law because he was a reasonable threat and she used reasonable force to stop him. But I’m not interested in legalistic justifications. I want to construct a logical and consistent justification for self defence, centred around Murray Rothbard’s Non-Aggression Principle.
The man in the prior scenario could have had a change of heart at the last second. He could have been joking. He could have not truly intended to use force against the woman. In any case, we still believe she was justified, even though he never actually committed an act of violence. She was justified because he was a “reasonable threat”. While this may be adequate in modern courts, any ethicist could point out the obviously slippery slope that is innate to this justification. What is a “reasonable threat”? Without a clear and universally applicable criteria it cannot be consistent, and therefore, cannot even be considered legitimate. A “reasonable threat” is entirely subjective, and modern attempts to formulate it into a precise, clear, and practical concept have not taken into account the NAP, which is what I wish to do.
A few libertarians in the past have stated that “aggression” includes the “threat” of violence, but have failed to formulate the concept of a “threat” beyond mere subjectivity, and have also failed to create a conformity with the NAP. The NAP is justified due to the self ownership axiom. Therefore, an individual may only use reactionary force when violence has been committed against him. But as demonstrated in my hypothetical event, that is not truly the case. In some cases preemptive force is justified. One may use force before force has officially been used against them. They may use force when there is a legitimate and “reasonable” threat of force being used being against them.
So it seems the task ahead is to construct a criteria for self defence. The only other legitimate conclusion is that no force is justified up until the moment an individual is physically touched, which is completely nonsensical, unrealistic, and unenforceable. Discarding the latter, the only way to merge preemptive force with the NAP is for it to be internally consistent and applicable to every event of physical human conflict (as is the NAP). We must adopt the principle that an individual is entitled to unrestrained action up until his actions present a legitimate threat. For purposes of clarification and originality, I have designated a unique term for this individual; “thret”. An individual who meets my criteria will be considered a “thret”. I will now present my criteria which makes up 3 separate criterion’s.
1. The Willingness*
2. The Means*
3. The Orientation*
*to commit aggression
I will begin by expanding on the first criterion, the willingness to commit aggression.
Number 1. For an individual to be considered a legitimate thret they must be willing to commit aggression. This is obvious, as no one is an actual threat (even using the mainstream definition) unless they are willing to commit aggression. An example of willingness would be a man yelling at another man that he is going to kill him. Another form of willingness is non verbal cues. Such as reaching for a weapon during an argument, or walking towards you in a threatening manner. For non verbal situations criteria one and three are essentially the same, but have certain distinctions which require each one to be its own separate criterion.
Number 2. An individual must have the means to commit aggression. An example of someone not having the means to commit aggression would be a person threatening to shoot you who doesn’t have a gun. Or a man with no arms threatening to punch you.
Number 3. The individuals actions must be oriented towards committing aggression. Now while this may sound vague, perhaps even subjective, it is a measurable form of human action. Someone who has threatened to shoot you, has a gun, but is just sitting in his house eating dinner is not a legitimate thret. The moment he finishes dinner, grabs his gun, and starts walking towards your house he has become a thret. Pointing your gun at him to stand down, or simply shooting him, is completely justified as he meets all three criteria. Criteria one and criteria three are similar, as when someones actions become oriented towards committing aggression they have also demonstrated their willingness to commit aggression. Other examples of actions that meet this criterion would be a warlord gathering an army to attack your community. In this context he has met all three criteria, and is a legitimate thret. Acknowledging this thret and declaring war upon it is justified. I will go into the technicalities of war and surrender in the second part of this series.
These three criterions make up an internally consistent and universally applicable justification for self defence, something, I believe, is fundamental in our search for a complete libertarian philosophy.
In conclusion I believe I have articulated my criticisms and solutions fairly well. I hope and encourage comments and criticisms against what I have written. I plan on expanding on these points far more in future essays, as dismantling the entire philosophical libertarian tradition is a large task due to its rich and extensive history.
A note on practicality:
I believe many people will find issues with the practicality of this system, specifically the ability for individuals to find proof that all three criteria was met in a court of law. Well first off, the practicality of a this system is completely irrelevant when arguing its legitimacy. What matters is its internal consistency. While the practical issues are obviously important when discussing its application in the real world, when debating philosophical abstractions and principles the real world practicality should not have to be taken into consideration. The point of my system is to determine whether an action is just or unjust. If an individual attacks someone who is not willing to commit aggression, under my system, this would be considered unjust. Even if there is a lack of evidence or something goes wrong in court and the aggressor is determined to be in the right, it has no effect on whether or not the action was objectively just or unjust, the subjective opinions of humans have no influence on the truth. Now as for the practical issues, yes there will be issues, just as there is in modern courts. There is sometimes a lack of evidence, seemingly contradictory evidence, and other barriers blocking the truth. But the truth reigns independent of human perception. While justice may not always be carried out, it does not mean my system is inherently flawed. And for the most part determining whether someone meets these three criteria is fairly cut and dry, as all three are measurable. It’s also important to note that in a true libertarian order governance and systems of law beyond the NAP will inevitably evolve.