A (somewhat) dated article I came upon at Libertarianism.org, by Matt Zwolinski, entitled “Six Reasons Libertarians Should reject the non-aggression principle,” gave a couple critiques which endeavored to show the problems inherent in the oft-praised libertarian non-aggression principle. I only wish to cover one of these points briefly because it paints a somewhat distorted picture of the non-aggression principle, and there are easy ways to rectify the non-aggression principle with his critiques. From the article:
No Prohibition of Fraud – Libertarians usually say that violence may legitimately be used to prevent either force or fraud. But according to NAP, the only legitimate use of force is to prevent or punish the initiatory use of physical violence by others. And fraud is not physical violence. If I tell you that the painting you want to buy is a genuine Renoir, and it’s not, I have not physically aggressed against you. But if you buy it, find out it’s a fake, and then send the police (or your protective agency) over to my house to get your money back, then you are aggressing against me. So not only does a prohibition on fraud not follow from the NAP, it is not even compatible with it, since the use of force to prohibit fraud itself constitutes the initiation of physical violence.
This post is superficially plausible, however it is unknowingly setting up a straw man with regard to the non-aggression principle. First, the author’s characterization of fraud as non-violent is actually untrue. Fraud can follow from the non-aggression principle. This is because fraud is a theft. It is theft because even though the individual handing over the money for the “Renoir” is doing so seemingly on his own volition, he is handing over more money than he otherwise would have had he known the painting was not a real Renoir. To get a sense of the theft, we must think about the transaction without any fraud. In the fraudulent transaction, A buys alleged Renoir from B for $3 million. If there had been no fraud, and A tried to get $3 million for his painting, the only way he could have got $3 million from B is by coercion. B may have only been willing to pay $100, or maybe he wouldn’t have even been willing to purchase it at all. The theft, then, is the discrepancy between the price he would have paid if he knew it wasn’t a Renoir versus the price he paid when he was defrauded.
Even though we may not see an act of physical force being used, rest assured there is a coercion occurring in the theft as surely as if the thief took the $3 million from his home in the middle of the night. A theft is necessarily an act of aggression because it is, as Murray Rothbard would characterize it, an “implicit theft.” The act of aggression is therefore not an explicit act of aggression but an implicit one.
With the same underlying principle in mind as the Renoir example, Rothbard states:
Fraudulent adulteration is equally implicit theft. If Smith pays $1000 and receives from Jones not a specified make of car but an older and poorer car, this too is implicit theft: once again, someone’s property has been appropriated in a contract, without the other person’s property being turned over to him as agreed.
So, when B pays $3 million for a Renoir and receive back a “Person A” painting instead, it is implicit theft, or appropriation of someone else’s property; there need not be explicit theft to constitute aggression.
Further, we may see the aggression to the extent that A’s possession of my $3 million dollars means that B is no longer able to use the $3 million to whatever purpose B may choose now that A has expropriated my property and is in possession of it. This clearly constitutes aggression as the $3 million is still rightfully B’s since A had to obtain it by fraud.
In this light, the non-aggression principle can still stand.
I can’t make this stuff up: A couple of ill-informed Bloomberg columnists published an article online that made the absurd claim that “Libertarians Are the New Communists.” How exactly did they manage to take libertarianism, the philosophy that asserts the non-aggression principle as its central tenet, and equate it with communism, the philosophy that denies individuals the right to property, from which all other rights come from? By not reading any actual libertarian literature, no doubt.
Anytime an article mentions Ted Cruz as a premier libertarian and mentions Koch, Ron Paul, Grover Norquist, and other highly public figures in similar veins, you can pretty much chalk the article up as being filled with nonsensical and imbecilic content. It is destined to be the same kind of fear-mongering that Chris Christie did that has no real criticism other than asserting that it’s dangerous, somehow. Nonetheless, I think it useful to point out a few things. The article asserts:
By radical libertarianism, we mean the ideology that holds that individual liberty trumps all other values…Radical libertarianism assumes that humans are wired only to be selfish, when in fact cooperation is the height of human evolution.
Well, right off the bat we can see the only thing the authors might have read that is at all libertarian is maybe the Ayn Rand novel, Atlas Shrugged. Even if they did manage to read it, it’s clear their reading comprehension skills are abominably lacking. One of the most basic libertarian assumptions regarding civilization is that self-interest is the driving force that ensures cooperation. As Adam Smith said almost 250 years ago, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” A libertarian recognizes that self-interest is the cornerstone of cooperation which, in turn, is the cornerstone of civilization. Any number of other libertarian thinkers would say the same thing, which the authors would know if they bothered to do any research. If they wanted to make the assertion that self-interest does not ensure cooperation, that would still be an argument doomed to fail, but at least it would be a legitimate attempt and not a straw man.
Next, the authors state “[Libertarianism] assumes that societies are efficient mechanisms requiring no rules or enforcers.” That’s funny, because for there to be society, it presumes the necessity of rules and enforcement. The authors make the mistake in assuming that less government or no government means no rules and no enforcement. On the contrary, libertarians advocate for less government because it eliminates the arbitrary laws and enforcement that consider non-violent actions to be punishable offences, which tend to cause a deterioration of civil society and peaceful cooperation. Likewise, they believe that government has a greater comparative advantage in denying rights to civilians than in protecting the rights of civilians, ie. in fostering chaos rather than in promoting order. (In societies with a government, rights may be more properly called privileges since the state tends to revoke these privileges whenever it drums up real or imagined crises that “require” such measures).
What libertarianism does argue is that societies are governed by certain rules and mechanisms that lead to more efficient outcomes than when a government intervenes and creates arbitrary mechanisms that distort the natural processes encouraging order.
“Communism failed because it kept citizens from taking responsibility for governing themselves…so does radical libertarianism.” Again, the authors make absurd generalizations that have no basis in the philosophy of libertarianism. If the authors believed that libertarianism was a philosophy based in individualism like they say, than they are essentially arguing that individualism involves not taking responsibility for self-government, a self-contradictory statement if there ever was one.
I guess libertarians should take it as a complement that so many individuals want to attack the philosophy, since it represents a threat to the status quo of the welfare-warfare state which so many individuals have an emotional and financial attachment to. But in all seriousness, the thought that individuals can write such thoughtless pieces and get published is beyond me.
I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets…We would not put boots on the ground…our capacity to execute this mission is not time-sensitive…I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress…I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization.
In essence, Obama is ready to strike Syrian targets at any time, promises that we won’t be committing troops to Syria, and will seek authorization from Congress for the use of force, but claims he doesn’t really need this authorization.His claims that he doesn’t need Congressional authorization is exceedingly ridiculous and what’s more, he bases this claim, in part, on his own precedent in Libya in 2011! Another thing that stands out from his press release is that he mentions that the mission would not be time-sensitive, ie. Obama admits Syria poses no imminent threat to us (which should be exceedingly obvious).
Let’s remember this statement when we commit thousands of troops to Syria because the situation “is more complicated than we expected,” specifically because of our needless foreign intervention in the first place. Let us remember this like we remember presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s statement from December 20th, 2007 when he said:
the President does not have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.
When a politician get’s caught in outright lies like Barack Obama has, they must be put to task for it.