my guiding principle.

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.

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26 thoughts on “my guiding principle.

  1. jimbob86 says:

    “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. ”

    Gold. That and those collectivists that refuse to grow up constantly bleating “I’m tellin’ MOM!”, with mom being the .gov………

  2. Tam says:

    The thin slices of libertarians, Libertarians, minarchists, anarcho-capitalists, Objectivists, & etc. are getting as funny to watch as Church of God In Christ’s Word Revealed (Non-speaking in tongues) or neo-Trotskyist syndicalism…

    Myself? I’m a Tamarist. I’m the head of the party, and none of y’all others are ideologically pure enough to get in, so piss off. ;)

  3. SemperGumby says:

    Your essay, “Why the gun…” is why I began reading your blog. It just plain makes sense, spoke to me if you will. That essays message explains exactly how I feel and why I carry a gun. You gave me the ability to explain exactly why to anyone who asks and do it well.

    You write exceptionally well and I hope you don’t mind that I quote you when someone inquires as to why I feel the need to go about armed. Thank you for validating me.

    Mike

  4. Mark says:

    The biggest problem with total NAP when relating to projects for the common good is that by and large people are selfish. They know a fire department is good for them but refuse to sacrifice some money for the common good.

    Thus NAP encourages forming elitist organizations such as “we who pay the fire dept so only we get help in the event of a fire” and “we who pay slave wages because there are no rules forcing us to pay enough for a person to live on”

    I think you are right, NAP is a pipe dream but not because people cannot bear the thought of not being able to tell others what to do but because nothing would get done, no roads would be built, no schools would exist, no fire depts, no nothing, because without being forced to do so, people would simply not do anything that they did not need “at that moment” and then complain when necessary services were not ready for them when they have a need.

    A balance between common-good and personal value needs to be struck, sometimes things (and people) swing too far one way or the other but that doesn’t make the concept invalid.

  5. munchkinwrangler says:

    So you’re saying that I have a right to force you to pay for what I think you need?

  6. Sailor45 says:

    …and to force you to pay more for labor than it’s really worth?

  7. perlhaqr says:

    Yep. Sounds like market anarchism to me.

  8. the pawnbroker says:

    rusty p. bucket, did you get that? do you now understand that specific circumstances and whether you believe some forced behavior is for the greater good has no bearing on the principle of freedom (libertarianism)? hello?…are you there?…any response?…

    mark, i think what you mean when you say “elite organizations” re fire department user fees and free market labor is “you get what you pay for”…that doesn’t sound so bad, does it? jtc

  9. MarkHB says:

    Another bolus of common sense right there.

    Again, not a cat’s chance in hell that people in the broad sense will go with it.

    Maybe on Mars, or in Habitats orbiting the earth, where you can start a society from scratch on a volunteer basis without having to dislocate anyone else. On Old Home Terra? Not without some major population die-off.

    *sigh*

  10. Eric Hammer says:

    I love how people decry “OMG! We will totally be forced to work for less money than we can live on!”
    How would that even work? Are humans really so stupid that they would just contentedly starve to death rather than quit their job to forage for a living? And who would businesses sell their products and services too if everyone was too poor to live, or even just cresting subsistance? When has that ever happened?

    Christ, even dogs will run away or forage for themselves if they stop being fed. I like to think humans are smart enough that if they couldn’t receive enough from an employer to live on they would either find a new one or start hunting for a living.

  11. Eric Hammer says:

    And by the way, the issue is less “The biggest problem with total NAP when relating to projects for the common good is that by and large people are selfish. ” it is that most people are too lazy or stupid to figure out just what is in fact in their best interests. This is a more recent occurance, but many people today just want to be taken care of. Combined with the mentality that “so long as our gang is the one doing the stealing, it must be right!” that lets people think they can simply snatch their way to prosperity, and you get a lot of idiots begging to be stolen from so they can be taken care of.

    grumble grumble

  12. BRB says:

    And John Gault will show up with his perpetual motion machine and save the world. I was fascinated by Objectivism when I was eighteen, but gave it up the next year when I had read a litle more.

  13. MFH0 says:

    No, seems to be a perfectly valid response.
    To whoever said that people are generally selfish and would never invest in something for their communities (like a volunteer fire department) …what is it that motivates YOU to donate or participate in charities or anything similar? Precluding force from these activities certainly hasn’t limited them.

    Last I checked, most charities get by quite fine from private donations in small amounts. If I believe that something is worth my money, I put my money there. I find it amusing that every single person who argues against this simple concept always comes off by saying “other” people are selfish. Seems to me to always be the speaker…

    As for this…
    “And John Gault will show up with his perpetual motion machine and save the world. I was fascinated by Objectivism when I was eighteen, but gave it up the next year when I had read a litle more.”

    …I think someone missed the point. In fact, very, very badly missed the point, particularly since in that particular story, “saving the world” was exactly what Galt set out NOT to do. Oh, and no Objectivist is going to sit around waiting for someone else to do anything. We kind of go out and DO IT OURSELVES.

  14. BRB says:

    Yes, I stand corrected. In that story, Galt and all his friends sat in the bushes, er, Rockies, and waited for the U.S. to implode. Then and only then did they emerge to make things right. A noble effort, no doubt. And they still depended on Galt’s limitless source of energy, the magic electric motor.

  15. John Hardin says:

    I bet lots of people would volunteer to worship at your feet, Tam…

  16. Rusty P. Bucket says:

    Munchkin, objectivism collides with libertarianism in many areas. Our favourite topic of debate, drugs, for example – objectivism advocates that acting in your own self interest is admirable. Doing drugs or screwing prostitutes is not in your long term self interest.

    Or, take your fire truck for example – precautions and insurance against fire is smart and in your self interest according to objectivist principles.

    I agree with the NAP except where it endangers the family, the community or the nation. Until libertarians can codify their responsibilities along with their freedoms, they cannot be taken seriously. Otherwise they are just anarchists.

  17. munchkinwrangler says:

    Here’s the thing, Rusty:

    First, Objectivism is about rational self-interest…that’s a word you missed, and it’s an important distinction.

    Second, I determine what’s in my rational self-interest, not you or anyone else.

    Third, my actions are none of your concern nor anyone else’s, as long as I don’t initiate force or fraud against you.

    Fourth, libertarians have codified their responsibilities quite succinctly, concisely, and comprehensively in the NAP: “Mind your own business, and keep your hands to yourself.”

    Fifth, your “except where it endangers the family, community, or nation” exception to the NAP is a universal adapter for outlawing anything the majority doesn’t like. Your gun ownership is someone else’s “doing drugs”–a threat to the community. Think about that for a while.

  18. Tam says:

    BRB,

    And John Gault will show up with his perpetual motion machine and save the world. I was fascinated by Objectivism when I was eighteen, but gave it up the next year when I had read a litle more.

    Wow, if only I were as smart and worldly at 40 as you were at 19…

  19. Rusty P. Bucket says:

    I am not trying to harass you Munchkin – I think I am missing your point. Why do you insert the term ‘rational’ in there? What are you trying to get at? What happens when we disagree about the effects of our rational self interest?

  20. Roberta X says:

    Why then, Rusty, you pursue your self-interest and he pursues his. Kind of just like the way it happens now, only without the SWAT raids on his gun collection or your herb garden.

    “Rational self-interest” does not preclude you speanding 16 hours a day wanking or enthralled by The Tube; it merely suggests you are likely to be working the other eight if you intend to keep doing so for very long.

    And BRB? The goofy inventions of John Galt are what we call literary devices; they simplify the book. There is not a one of them that cannot be written around at the cost of making a very long book longer still. As for hiding out while Western Civilization self-destructs, you would maybe rather they all went nobly down with the ship? The problem with that sort of self-sacrfice is that when the dust settles, nobody’s left. There’s a point where a system’s unfixable; the States hit it around 1913. I dunno about the rest of North America. I suppose those places are all Big Rock Candy Mountain but I don’t live there.

  21. Rusty P. Bucket says:

    I have never had to worry about cops, Roberta. Being a solid citizen in good standing with the community and a responsible adult leaves law enforcement with little interest in me.

    Nor do I like the Munchkins moral equalency between guns and drugs. Like individuals, societies and communities have the right to defend themselves. It can do that with legal gun ownership. The same cannot be said of legal drugs.

    I don’t ask much from libertarians. Be good people. Be good to your neighbours and communities and families. Their response is often utter hostility and snark like yours Roberta. I agree that we should mind our own business as much as possible but if your behaviour is creating a hazard for me or my community, or even posing the threat of a hazard- common sense dictates that we deal with it.

  22. munchkinwrangler says:

    I agree that we should mind our own business as much as possible but if your behaviour is creating a hazard for me or my community, or even posing the threat of a hazard- common sense dictates that we deal with it.

    Funny…that’s exactly what folks like Hillary or Obama say when they try and tell you which guns you ca and cannot own.

    Don’t you see that “posing the threat of a hazard” is so ambiguous a standard that you can classify any behavior as such? Your gun ownership is definitely the “threat of a hazard” to a lot of people, and using your argument, they have every right in the world to kick in your door and arrest you for having guns.

    Forget about drugs. It’s not about drugs. That’s your hot-button issue, the point past which you cannot see because you feel strongly about the issue. Think “principle” instead, and if you can toss out the principle of “Don’t initiate force” over drugs, then others can toss it out over guns, or books, or religion, or double whoppers, or whatever a majority decides to be “posing the threat of a hazard.”

  23. Rusty P. Bucket says:

    Do you believe that there is a time and a place to act on potential hazards, Munchkin? If you do, then there is a time and place where the NAP breaks down.

    Your principal is good. I agree with it. I also think that in certain situations it cannot be properly applied, that we are going to be stuck somewhere on that slippery slope of declining morality despite our best intentions…and that it behooves us to be as far up that slope as we can get. I believe that drug habits and prostitution is a long way down that slippery slope and will oppose anyone that wants to take us in that direction.

  24. Tam says:

    Better start rounding up drinkers, then. They’re potential hazards.

    Outlaw smoking, too. Takes people from their families when they’re still young. Drives up insurance costs. No practical benefits. Definitely a potential hazard.

    Also, white guys. That’s right, “white guys”. You’re a potential hazard. I have to watch my drink when you’re in the bar to make sure you don’t put rufies in it. I have to worry about what you’re going to do anytime I run across one or more of you when I’m alone after dark. Sorry, but the leading cause of people like me getting sexually assaulted or abused in a relationship is white guys who have too much testosterone. So, you know, about that potential hazard?

  25. munchkinwrangler says:

    Don’t forget that 100% of gun crime in this country is committed by gun owners.

  26. Rusty P. Bucket says:

    I personally see a big difference between the fella having a beer on Friday night and the zombie injecting god-knows-what into is veins with dirty needles Tam. I have conceded there may be a case for pot and its milder derivatives, but not the harsher chemicals. Likewise, I see big difference between me legally buying a bird gun or deer rifle and a gangster or drug addict buying stolen guns off the street.

    We can play out scenarios all day long with drugs, guns and fire trucks but in the real world, at some point the responsible citizen will have to make a value judgement and realize that he has a duty of care to his community and society. The NAP is a starting point on the road to being a good citizen not the end, IMO. At best, it merely defines the lowest moral common denominator. In the real world, it can be much more in the hands of people like you or Tam. However, it can also tie our hands and bind us when those that would hurt us would hide behind our laws.

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