When someone asks about my political leanings, I usually answer that I am a libertarian. I self-identify in that fashion because a.) few people have any clue what you’re talking about when you tell them you’re an Objectivist, and b.) libertarianism is the only political philosophy that meshes with that guiding philosophy. The compatibility of Objectivism and Libertarianism stems from the fact that they share a basic moral rule: the Non-Aggression Principle.
If you want to know what I think of a certain law, or government action, or social interaction between people, my answer is very easy to predict. All you have to do is ask yourself whether that law or action or interaction is consistent with the NAP. Does it involve the initiation, or threat of force or fraud against someone’s person or property? Then it’s immoral. Does it involve consensual interaction between individuals, and no coercion is involved? Then it’s moral.
A while ago, I wrote a well-received essay called “Why the Gun is Civilization.” In it, I advanced that the personal firearm was a necessary ingredient for a civilized society, because it gives people a means to respond to the initiation of force by others. That view is squarely based on the Non-Aggression Principle. The banishment of force from social interactions is a necessary, essential ingredient to a just society, and the gun is merely a way to enforce that philosophy. It’s just one half of the equation, however–the other is an absolute and inflexible application of the Non-Aggression Principle. (Note that the NAP does not preclude self-defense in the least.)
Whenever I oppose a political philosophy, or a new law, or a new tax, it’s not because I oppose the intent behind it, or because I don’t recognize the benefits it would have on society, but because it violates the NAP, plain and simple. I don’t oppose compulsory taxation because I don’t see the necessity for some government functions (I do), but because a compulsory tax involves collecting it at gunpoint from people.
There are a lot of things currently paid for by taxation that are very useful. I like the idea of a fire department, for example. However, I do recognize that if I want to have one in my town, I only have the right to walk from door to door and collect voluntary donations. If too few people agree with my great idea, then I’m going to have to abandon it, or paint my minivan red and be my own fire department, on my own dime. I do not have the right to hold a gun to people’s heads and force the money for a fire truck out of them, no matter how beneficial such a truck would be for the community. I do not have the right to do so because such an action would violate the Non-Aggression Principle, and as such become immoral. I also recognize that this prohibition is absolute, and not dependent on majority will–if I don’t have the right to extort money from my neighbor at gunpoint, regardless of the goodness of my motives, then I don’t magically gain that right by grouping together with a bunch of folks and voting that one of our number should call himself “tax assessor”, or a few of us form a “city council”, and have them do the extortion on our behalf.
If others may only interact with me through reason, if force is to be barred from legitimate social interaction, then I must apply this concept in a consistent manner when it comes to dealing with others. I may persuade others to do as I want, but I may not force them, under any circumstances, and I don’t gain that right by gathering a mob or delegating the task to someone else. If some initiation of force is moral because of special circumstances, then all initiation of force is moral, because then you only have to have a large enough mob to agree what those “special circumstances” are, and you’ve ceded the bedrock principle and moved to the shifting sands of expediency and majority assent.
Unrealistic? Pie-in-the-sky idealism? Perhaps. Maybe a society based on a consistent application of the NAP is a pipe dream, unachievable because too many people cannot bear the thought of not being able to tell others what to do. However, I have to live by some code, I have to believe in something, and the NAP is the most logically consistent way to maximize freedom. Therefore, I live by the concept, whether anyone else does or not, and (like the hackneyed bumper sticker slogan says) I am the change I want to see in the world.