You remember the non-aggression principle (NAP), right?
It’s the belief that any aggression against another person or their property is immoral. Think along the lines of the phrase “live and let live.” You live your life, and I’ll live mine as long as you don’t violate my person or property.
It’s a simple principle with which to live by.
And it already fits into the moral standard that many Americans adhere to. Murder, rape, assault and theft are wrong. Oppressing others is wrong, and should be punished.
But the NAP takes it a little further by throwing the government in the equation.
Most Americans would agree that theft is wrong, but few of them would connect government policies to theft.
The American government is one run by personal agendas. People who push their own agendas rarely see themselves as thieves. The idea that they might be oppressing someone with their “agenda” never comes to mind. Their agenda is the best option, why would it be oppressive?
That’s just how it is…
But I’m not here to talk to you about the interworking of the NAP. I’m here to discuss a smaller issue that I don’t think enough NAP supporters address.
The issue of criticism.
How Does Criticism Fit into the NAP?
Criticism takes on several forms; a few of the main ones are analyzing, critiquing, and recommending.
Criticism (in its general form) comes into play whenever you look at another individual’s views and dissect them to decide whether you agree or not.
It’s what happens when a Christian says they disagree with atheists. It’s what happens when you judge a neighbor’s idea on how the healthcare system works and tell them it’s a disaster waiting to happen. It’s what happens when you talk to other conservatives about crafting the right message and recommend what works for you.
Criticism is allowed in the NAP. Heck, most NAP supporters would encourage criticism. Without it, ideas aren’t challenged and society stagnates.
The Dichotomy that Doesn’t Exist
You might be asking “what happened to the whole ‘live and let live’ idea? Doesn’t criticism violate that to a degree?”
The answer is no.
The whole idea of the Non-Aggression Principle is that you should be able to do whatever you want, as long as you aren’t violating someone’s person or property. Criticism doesn’t violate either of those.
Politically Correct Speech isn’t given leeway here.
As long as you’re not backing up your opinions with force, you’re fine.
The dichotomy of “either you support the NAP and don’t critique other people’s views, or you believe certain things won’t work and don’t follow the NAP” is a false dichotomy.
Yes, live and let live, but you’re going to view certain things as right and wrong. Other worldviews will be immoral to you. The NAP isn’t a subjectivist worldview. You can be an atheist, Christian, or Buddhist and still hold to the NAP.
There’s a Difference Between Using Force & Saying “You’re Wrong”
Another dichotomy that needs to be dismantled is the idea that saying “You’re wrong” equates to using force.
Saying “you’re wrong” to someone isn’t the use of force. What makes it force is the action you take after it. If you think all atheism is wrong, and therefore should be banned by the Federal government, you’ve violated the Non-Aggression Principle.
On the other hand, if you say you don’t support the homosexual lifestyle (and think it’s immoral), but believe banning it via the Federal government is wrong, then you haven’t violated the NAP.
Using personal force is also a no-no.
The NAP doesn’t deal with opinions and views. It deals with actions.
An Outline of the NAP
Sometimes outlines are easier to follow. No worries, I’ve got you covered. Here’s what I’ve been talking about, but in a different setup.
What is the Non-Aggression Principle? As long as you aren’t violating a person’s life or property you are free to live as you like. Live and let live.
- Something can only qualify as life and property as long as it doesn’t violate another person’s freedoms. For example; healthcare isn’t a right. You can’t force another person to pay for your healthcare costs. The same goes for shelter, food, water, and any other good or service the UN tries to make a “right.”
- The NAP deals with actions; from both governments and individuals alike.
- Voicing disagreement, moral standards, opinions, and criticism isn’t prohibited in the NAP. There’s a clear distinction between saying someone’s wrong, and punishing them via the state or private means because of their “wrongness.”
- Saying someone or something is wrong doesn’t necessarily mean you want the state to punish or prohibit it.
- You can voice recommendations and not necessarily support forcing the directed party to change their behavior. For instance; saying “I think people should stop saying ‘they don’t celebrate Christmas’” isn’t a call to use force on people who don’t celebrate Christmas. It’s a recommendation. Nothing’s wrong with it, unless you believe such people should be forced to celebrate Christmas. Then you have a problem.
- You can believe that a person’s way of life is immoral. You can hold to the view that they could be living their life a heck of a lot better than they are now. But as long as you don’t start forcing them to change their lifestyle you aren’t violating the NAP.
- The NAP doesn’t outlaw self-defense or dealing with individuals who violate other people’s freedoms.
So there you are. The Non-Aggression Principle explained and fleshed out…just a little.
The NAP has a lot more to it than what I’ve talked about, but the gist of it is simple to understand.
Think of it like the golden rule.
I encourage you to look into it more. FEE (Foundation for Economic Education) has lots of information on the subject. Check this article out for starters…
If you’re in for a longer read, you can check out Richard A. Epstein’s “Defenses and Subsequent Pleas in a System of Strict Liability.” He deals with different scenarios dealing with the non-aggression principle in the essay.
Finally, you can think over it yourself, research it, and decide whether you agree with the principle or not.
I’m always a fan of self-discovery and learning.