Available Now! (click cover)

America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Friday, April 18, 2014

TGIF: What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

If I were compelled to summarize the libertarian philosophy’s distinguishing feature while standing on one foot, I’d say the following: Every person owes it to all other persons not to aggress them. This is known as the nonaggression principle, or NAP.
What is the nature of this obligation?
Read more.


dennis said...

Great piece as usual.

Sheldon Richman said...

Thanks, Dennis!

Younes Megrini said...

Great article, indeed.
Except there are, as you pointed out, many reasons to accept the NAP. If so, the implications of one particular underpinning principle of libertarianism cannot be binding for libertarians who came to the philosophy from another route (like, for example, a belief in human equality or in a certain religion or in a certain conception of self-interest). In other words, the principle of Respect, as defined in the article, is a sufficient condition to be a libertarian but not a necessary one and, as such, its implications are not part of Libertarianism, but constitute a broader moral theory of which the latter is only a component. Wouldn't you agree?

Sheldon Richman said...

Note that I said some justifications are more robust than others. I already discussed self-interest theories. An advocate of human equality (which I am) would still have to explain why I should treat you as an equal. Where's does that obligation come from? Same with a religious theory. Why should I obey God's dictate not to aggress? Because he'll punish me? That sounds like instrumental egoism, which I disposed of in my article.

natebradley said...

Yes, great article. I fear, however, that most people who begin reading it won't make it to the end. I love deep philosophy as much as anyone, but I've found that most people won't listen to it. I've been accused of getting "overly philosophical" in some of my arguments for libertarianism, and even in some of my arguments for my position on specific issues like the minimum wage.

But my aim is not to criticize. I've always thought that the NAP makes sense from a property rights point of view. We all own ourselves. Aggression against me is a violation of my self-ownership. If you injure me, you are at least guilty of vandalism, but even if you don't, you are denying me the right to use my property (myself) as I see fit. You are using me as a means to an end, and by doing so, committing an act of theft, as I must now surrender a portion of my property (again, myself) to you, against my will. These acts (vandalism and theft) are clearly crimes, and nearly everyone agrees with this assertion on an intuitive level, not to mention they're actually CRIMES, as recognized by most governments.

As a math geek, I've always liked arriving at the same result (in this case the validity of the NAP) in different ways. I'm sure my analysis could use some shoring up, but this is the way I've always justified it -- as if NON-aggression really needs to be justified -- in my mind.

I think libertarians need to stop fighting from their backs. It's AGGRESSION that needs to be justified, and I've started challenging people on that very point. On any given political issue, at least one "side" necessitates aggression of some sort. OK, fine. All they have to do is justify the aggression. I actually refuse to engage in political discussions with liberals or conservatives unless they agree to preface their argument with, "I think we need to point a gun at people's heads and make them do . . . " It's amazingly effective.

Sheldon Richman said...

The piece was written primarily for libertarians, who I hope will have more patience than nonlibertarians.

I think you are entirely right to demand that statists justify their aspirations to coerce innocent people to accomplish their statist ends.