The non-aggression principle (NAP) is a philosophical axiom which states that it is inherently wrong to initiate or threaten force. An individual or group aggressing against another individual or group is committing an illegitimate act. While initiating violence is forbidden, self-defense resisting violence (when reasonable) is considered moral, and is encouraged to prevent further aggression.
Well, What Counts As “Force”?
Force, by NAP standards, is defined as any violent act committed against another person or his legitimately acquired property. This includes assault, murder, theft, rape, vandalism, etc. You own yourself and have free will. Fraud is not allowed since it is not truly a voluntary exchange. If you lie to someone in order to get them to do or buy something that they otherwise wouldn’t have, you have committed fraud and have violated that individual’s right to self-determination.
At this point you’re probably wondering why any of that matters, since you learned all of it in kindergarten: don’t hit, don’t steal, and don’t spit in Timmy’s sandwich. Well, it’s important because it universalizes these ethics that we all follow in our personal lives. It doesn’t matter what costume you’re wearing or what your job title is; initiating force is wrong.
Government, by its very nature, is force. Every law is a threat. If you break a law, what happens? Men with guns will come and throw you in a cage, even if your delinquency harmed no one. A despicable instance of this is the drug war. By using drugs, you are harming no one (except perhaps yourself), yet if you are caught, you will be thrown in a cage for years, in which you have a pretty good chance of getting raped by a 6ft, 350lb man named Bubba. When you finally get permission to leave this cage, you have little to no chance of ever finding a decent job due to your new title of “felon.” In this scenario, you harmed no one but had your life systematically destroyed by the State.
Another classic example is taxation. Taxation without consent is theft, and therefore is considered immoral and illegitimate under the non-aggression principle. It matters not what is written by politicians on pieces of paper; if you are forced to give money when you do not wish to, you are the victim of robbery. Again, the NAP does not discriminate between one person committing aggression and an entire society committing aggression. A universal principle is, well, universal. If you don’t think that taxation is really violence, let’s go through a thought experiment. What happens if you refuse to pay your taxes, which fund things that you believe to be evil? At first, you’ll get a polite letter informing you that you have failed to pay up on time and will be charged a fee, so you’d better hurry up and fork over your cash. You’ll get more letters which become increasingly threatening in tone. Eventually, men will come to your house to try to pressure you. If you still choose not to comply, they will return, but this time with other men who have badges and guns who will attempt to take you away. If you’re firm in your beliefs and don’t accept the legitimacy of their attempted kidnapping, you will be beaten and maybe even killed for “resisting arrest.” In the words of legal theorist, abolitionist, and radical individualist Lysander Spooner, “If taxation without consent is not robbery, then any band of robbers have only to declare themselves a government, and all their robberies are legalized.”
Under the NAP, all human interactions would be voluntary. There would be no government telling you what you can and cannot do with your own body. There would be no force used to seize legitimately-acquired property. Instead, you would manage your own life. No one could tell you what you can and can’t do, unless it’s harming another person. While the non-aggression principle is mostly cited by libertarians, any sort of commune or anarchist philosophy is fine and dandy, so long as no one is forcing that redistribution or common ownership. Hell, you could even set up a voluntary government system if you really felt the need to stifle your innovation, but it would have to be voluntary.
When we work together and cooperate, taking part in mutually beneficial exchanges rather than theft and violence, we can have freedom. There is no such thing as being half-free, which is what you are no matter how non-intrusive your government is. All who are philosophically-inclined strive to make this world a better place; a beautiful place where all are able to live their lives as best as possible. We all seek a world where we are free and prosperous and happy. We can most certainly achieve this by rejecting all forms of violence and coercion. If we as a People and as a species decide to go down this route, there is no telling how much we can achieve. The world would be a much more peaceful and lovely place to live in if only we accept the virtue of the non-aggression principle.