“The Libertarian creed rests upon one central axiom: that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else. This may be called the “nonaggression axiom.” “Aggression” is defined as the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else. Aggression is therefore synonymous with invasion.”
Prof. Murray N. Rothbard, For A New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto
Besides the self-ownership and free choice axioms, the Non-Aggression Principle is the lynchpin of the philosophy known as libertarianism. As an ethical system for freedom, justice and prosperity, the Non-Aggression Principle simply states that “no one shall initiate the use of force or the threat of force.” This means that violence should never be employed against peaceful individual(s), however, peaceful individual(s) have the option to use force in self-defense.
The Non-Aggression Principle, sometimes called the Zero Aggression Principle, is applied to all human behavior. As such, it prohibits murder, rape, battery, kidnapping, robbery, enslavement, torture, and fraud. Libertarians see all aggressors, including governments, as bullies. To the libertarian, if it is wrong for an individual to commit violent crimes against another, the same restriction must be applied to the conduct of governments. If the average man in the street is prohibited from murdering or stealing, why should government possess some special legal right to commit these crimes?
If someone takes your property without permission, it is theft, regardless of how the money is used or who committed the violent act. Nor does it matter how many people are involved in the violent act. Theft is theft no matter if it is perpetrated by one robber or one thousand thugs. The injured individual is still victimized no matter if it is inflicted by street gangs – the Bloods, the Crips, the Mafia – or by the Internal Revenue Service.
It is improper for governments in a free society to be the initiators of force and violence. The American founders explicitly set up a very limited government. They wanted to prevent government from imposing coercive dictates and controls over its citizens. They saw government as an impartial referee, to protect individual rights from bullies, criminals and cheaters, not to be the major player.
The Non-Aggression Principle is perhaps one of the most important ethical ideologies to arrive in the latter half of the 20th Century. Time will tell whether governments will stop acting like dogs marking coveted new territories, and start behaving in a peaceful, civilized manner.
L.K. Samuels wrote these short opinion articles as chair of LPMC in the 1990s and later as Northern Vice Chair of the Libertarian Party of California (2003-2007). They are freely available to anyone who wishes to post or publish them.