Freedom Circle logo
Freedom Circle

Where Can You Find Freedom Today?

The libertarian principle that no person should initiate force against another

The non-aggression principle (or NAP; also called the non-aggression axiom, the anti-coercion principle, zero aggression principle or non-initiation of force) is an ethical stance asserting that aggression is inherently wrong. In this context, "aggression" is defined as initiating or threatening any forcible interference with an individual or individual's property. In contrast to pacifism, it does not forbid forceful defense. The NAP is considered by some to be a defining principle of natural-rights libertarianism. It is also a prominent idea in anarcho-capitalism, (classical) liberalism, libertarianism and minarchism.

Articles

And now, a word from our founder, by Raymond C. Hoiles, The Orange County Register, 29 May 2006
Statement of editorial policies that "should be followed in order to make the newspapers controlled by Freedom Newspapers Inc. better serve the community, the state and the nation", written in the 1960s by the Freedom Communications, Inc. founder
Since no one can determine right from wrong or reason without some starting point from which to reason, it is necessary to set down a starting point. That starting point is that no individual, no group has a right to initiate force or use coercion against another individual or group to get part of his life energy. It seems to us that this principle is embodied in the commandments "Thou shalt not murder," "Thou shalt not steal" and "Thou shalt not covet anything that belongs to a fellow countryman," and that it is also included in the Golden Rule and the Declaration of Independence.
Related Topics: Government, Taxation
Conscience on the Battlefield, by Leonard Read, 1981
Pamphlet written in 1951, during the Korean War, revised edition in 1981; Read recalls the 1918 incident when the troopship he was on was sunk by a German submarine and wonders about his thoughts if he were dying (in 1951) on a Korean battlefield
Why do you say it is wrong to kill, and then imply that it is proper to kill, if necessary, to defend one's life?
The answer becomes clear if we think in terms of who initiates violence. It is evil for any person or set of persons to initiate violence against another. But, if another initiates violence against you, and if he dies in the process of your protecting your life, does he not, in reality, suffer death at his own hand, as in suicide? He initiates the action in the course of which he is killed. He, not you, is the author of the equation that destroys him.
How Star Wars Can Lead America Off the Dark Path, by Dan Sanchez, 4 May 2017
Examines the first two Star Wars trilogies, drawing parallels to 20th and 21st century U.S. and world history, and draws lessons from the films that could help the United States from "giving in to the dark side"
Yoda's references to 'aggression' and 'attack,' as opposed to 'defense' invite a libertarian interpretation of what the dark side of the Force is. Indeed a fundamental libertarian concept is the 'Non-Aggression Principle' (NAP). According to the NAP, violence is unjust (crosses over to the dark side) when it is aggression: that is, violence initiated against another. Violence, as Yoda would say, is only justified in defense against aggression (which, according to libertarians, includes violence to reclaim stolen property or restitution).
How To Get Action, by Leonard Read, Ideas on Liberty, May 1955
First published in the quarterly Ideas on Liberty; reprinted in the 1958 collection Essays on Liberty, Vol. III and in The Freeman Aug 1998; argues the best form of action is working on self-improvement
There are only two types of action: physical and intellectual. Do those who would save liberty advocate physical action? If so, how? To use physical force against others, except defensively, is to destroy the liberty of others which, by definition, is not liberty. To adopt this tactic—to employ physical force against others in any form or degree, except in self-defense—would be merely to substitute a new form of compulsion for the existing forms of compulsion, trading violence for violence—revolution! At best, it is the court of last resort and is not, really, what most persons have in mind when they insist they want action.
Individuals And Their Rights by Tibor R. Machan, by David M. Brown, The Freeman, Jun 1990
Review of Tibor Machan's 1989 book Individuals and Their Rights
... let us suppose that everybody agrees to follow what has been called the 'nonaggression axiom,' a principle which some libertarians insist would be sufficient, all by itself, to secure and sustain a politically just society. The nonaggression axiom says: Nobody has the right to initiate the use of force. Simple reference to this principle, it is said, enables us to recognize where the justice lies in any political conflict or in social conflicts involving violence or coercion. But this approach founders if we ask, for example, what in fact constitutes aggression? What is the realm which may not be aggressed against?
Related Topics: Tibor Machan, Philosophy, Rights
In Praise of "Thick" Libertarianism, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 4 Apr 2014
Examines "thin" and "thick" libertarianism, explaining how being noncomittal about racism undermines the principle of non-initiation of force, contrasting libertarian and progressive views on dealing with racism
I continue to have trouble believing that the libertarian philosophy is concerned only with the proper and improper uses of force. According to this view, the philosophy sets out a prohibition on the initiation of force and otherwise has nothing to say about anything else ... I can kick a rock, but not a person. What is it about persons that makes it improper for me to kick them (unless it's in self-defense)? Frankly, I don't see how to answer that question without reference to some fundamental ideas ... [Libertarians] properly have concerns about any preferences that tend to erode the principle that initiating force is wrong.
Related Topics: Libertarianism, Ayn Rand
The Justice and Prudence of War: Toward A Libertarian Analysis, by Roderick T. Long, Mises Daily, 20 Sep 2006
Examines the ethics of war from a libertarian perspective, considering both deontological and consequentialist claims
The libertarian "non-aggression principle" expresses the conviction that forcibly to subordinate the person or property of another to one's own aims is to assume an unjustifiable inequality in authority between oneself and the other. And it is because this equality in authority likewise holds between private citizens and public officials that governments are forbidden to exercise any powers not available to people generally; libertarianism requires not just equality before the law but equality with the law.
Libertarianism Rightly Conceived, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 2 May 2014
Responds to criticisms made by Walter Block and Lew Rockwell about Charles W. Johnson's "Libertarianism through Thick and Thin" (July 2008) and Richman's "What Social Animals Owe to Each Other" (April/July 2014)
The proposition ... is that ... the libertarian philosophy ... entails commitments not only to the Nonaggression Principle — or what I now call the Nonaggression Obligation — but also to other values ... Charles W. Johnson ... puts it:
There may be cases in which certain beliefs or commitments could be rejected without contradicting the nonaggression principle per se, but could not be rejected without logically undermining the deeper reasons that justify the nonaggression principle. Although you could consistently accept libertarianism without accepting these commitments or beliefs, you could not do so reasonably ...
One Moral Standard for All, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 15 Nov 2013
Postulates that most nonlibertarians agree that initiation of force is wrong, but they have to be shown that the same moral standard should hold for government personnel as for private individuals
Libertarians believe that the initiation of force is wrong. So do the overwhelming majority of nonlibertarians. They, too, think it is wrong to commit offenses against person and property. I don't believe they abstain merely because they fear the consequences (retaliation, prosecution, fines, jail, lack of economic growth). They abstain because they sense deep down that it is wrong, unjust, improper. In other words, even if they never articulate it, they believe that other individuals are ends in themselves and not merely means to other people's ends. They believe in the dignity of individuals.
"The Police Force Is Watching the People", by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 22 Aug 2014
Argues that the facts are crucial when identifying "the agressor and victim in particular cases" such as occurred in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and separately, that the role of police forces must be re-examined
[When] I asked ... if anyone had seen a report on the shooter Darren Wilson's height and weight ... one libertarian responded (with sarcasm, I presume), "I'm a bit fuzzy on what the height and weight loophole in the NAP [nonaggression principle] is." Of course there is no loophole. But that's irrelevant because, again, the NAP — or what I call the nonaggression obligation — cannot rule out a priori that the deceased may have begun the altercation with an act of aggression and that the shooting was an act of self-defense. We need facts to establish any reasonable conclusion, and without them, we are adrift.
Property and Force: A Reply to Matt Bruenig, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 22 Nov 2013
Responds to blogger Bruenig's criticism of the essay "One Moral Standard for All"; with quotes or examples from Roderick Long, Murray Rothbard, Gary Chartier, David Hume and Karl Hess
[A] property owner has no right to violently attack someone merely for aimlessly wandering on his land. The means of defending oneself and one's property must be morally proportionate to the rights violation. Aggression and its synonyms are terms of art that apply to a large range of actions, from the trivial to the lethal, and these terms do not imply that violence or deadly force may be used in response to any and all violations ... the sole permissible objective of defense is to terminate the invasion and obtain compensation for damages (if any occur), one may use only the minimum force required to accomplish those goals.
Rothbard's For a New Liberty, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 16 May 2014
Review of For a New Liberty (1973) with emphasis on Rothbard's discussion of the nonaggression axiom and natural rights
Rothbard believed that what he called the "nonaggression axiom" had to be derived. Although he used the word axiom, rather than principle or maxim or (as I prefer) obligation, he did not mean that the idea of nonaggression was self-evident, a priori, or self-justifying ... according to Roderick Long:
... it is sometimes suggested that "non-aggression principle" or "zero aggression principle" is a more accurate label than “non-aggression axiom." On the other hand, there is a broader sense of "axiom" in which a foundational presupposition of a given system of thought counts as an axiom within that system of thought ...
Rothbard's The Ethics of Liberty: Still Worthy after All These Years, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 9 May 2014
Review of The Ethics of Liberty (1982) with emphasis on part 1, covering his arguments for the validity of natural law
Readers who are eager to get on to Rothbard's discussion of the Nonaggression Principle — which I think is better expressed as the Nonaggression Obligation — may be tempted to skip part 1. To them I have three words of sage advice: Don't do it! You will deny yourself the full benefit of this marvelous book ... Respect for other people and their just possession is one such binding constraint; it does not require explicit or implicit consent. I wish he had developed this point further because it seems crucial to the libertarian case. Why do we owe other people nonaggression? What is the nature of that obligation?
War, Peace, and Murray Rothbard, by Sheldon Richman, 18 Jul 2014
Review and commentary on Murray Rothbard's 1963 essay "War, Peace, and the State"
"The fundamental axiom of libertarian theory," he wrote, "is that no one may threaten or commit violence ('aggress') against another man's person or property. Violence may be employed only against the man who commits such violence; that is, only defensively against the aggressive violence of another. In short, no violence may be employed against a non-aggressor." ... an individual who is threatened with aggression or who has already been the victim of aggression (which would include theft or destruction of justly held possessions) may use defensive force, if necessary, to repel the threat or to rectify the damage.
Related Topics: Murray Rothbard, The State, War
UpdWhat Should Libertarians Do?, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 25 Apr 2014
Examines what libertarianism requires of people, such as an understanding of economics, and suggests focusing on the (classical) liberal insight that "societies run themselves" spontaneously, with example quotes from Thomas Paine and John Quincy Adams
Libertarians simultaneously ask little of people and a lot. We ask little when we preach nonaggression, because most people already practice nonaggression in their own lives. They'd sooner flap their arms to fly to the moon than murder, assault, or rob another person ... What most people don't understand is that when government officials commit murder, assault, and robbery, these acts have the same moral status as private acts of aggression—or worse, since government officials claim to protect our freedom. We have to get people to see that there is only one code of just conduct applicable to everyone.
What Social Animals Owe Each Other, by Sheldon Richman, Future of Freedom, Jul 2014
Revised version of "The Goal Is Freedom" column dated 18 Apr 2014
The first thing to notice is that it is unchosen. I never agreed not to aggress against others. Others never agreed not to aggress against me. So if I struck you and you objected, you would not accept as my defense, "I never agreed not to strike you." Even an explicit agreement rests on an unchosen obligation ... some libertarians ... might answer the question this way: "Because one may use force against another only in defense or retaliation against someone who initiated the use of force." But that can't be sufficient because it amounts to a circular argument ... So we need a real justification for the NAP ...
What Social Animals Owe to Each Other, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 18 Apr 2014
Delves into the meaning and justification for the non-aggression principle, with insights from Roderick Long's "Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand"
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? ... The NAP is an implication of the obligation to treat persons respectfully, as ends and not merely as means ... The obligation ... is validated by the same set of facts that validate the nonaggression principle. Nonaggression is simply one application of respect. Thus a libertarian society in which people generally thought that nonaggression was all they owed others would be a society that should fear for its future viability qua libertarian society.
What you should know about the Non-Aggression Principle, by Jason Kuznicki, 24 Feb 2017
Discusses the non-aggression principle, stating that it "depends on a valid theory of property ownership" and concludes that such a theory is in conflict with what most people view as the proper role of government
But there is something about the NAP that is nonetheless politically important, because it serves as an indictment of much government action that is otherwise held to be morally acceptable. The NAP reminds us that theories of property in many of their most common and seemingly inoffensive formulations stand deeply at odds with the justifications for government action ... Thus, the NAP's importance is not that it founds a theory of property, but rather that it points out a conflict: considered as classes, theories of property and theories of government usually don't get along too well.

Videos


The Sunset of the State, by Stefan Molyneux, 4 Aug 2010
The central tenet of all systems of human morality is the nonaggression principle. We all learn it as children: don't hit, don't push, don't hurt, don't steal. We learn that violence and bullying and threats are wrong, immoral, and only make whatever problem you're trying to solve worse.
Related Topic: The State

Podcasts

The Non-Aggression Axiom, by Walter Block, The Lew Rockwell Show, 4 Aug 2008
Rockwell asks Block to explain the non-agression axiom and he goes on to talk about property rights, how Rothbard convinced him that even limited government violates the axiom, and why government cannot be viewed as a club that you join

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Non-aggression principle" as of 26 Oct 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.