Libertarians, libertarianism and the principle of non-aggression

There has recently been discussion within the Libertarian Party about what it means to be a libertarian. The main point of debate is whether or not the non-aggression principle is a core tenet of libertarianism. The non-aggression principle, also called the NAP or principle of non-aggression, has been defined in numerous ways over the years, however a generally accepted definition of the principle is something along the lings of: “All people have equal right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness as long as there is no unjust harm done to the person or legitimately owned property of another.”

Among supporters of the non-aggression principle there is discussion about what constitutes an act of aggression, or unjust harm, however the wider debate is about whether or not a libertarian must subscribe to the non-aggression principle. To put it another way: Is the principle of non-aggression fundamental to libertarianism? And can someone who rejects the principle of non-aggression be a libertarian, or a Libertarian? (note: a “libertarian” with a lowercase l is someone who supports libertarian ideals; while a “Libertarian” with an uppercase L is someone who is a member of the Libertarian Party.)

In The Machinery of Freedom, David Friedman wrote, “The central idea of libertarianism is that people should be permitted to run their own lives as they wish.” And David Boaz, in Libertarianism: A Primer, wrote, “In the libertarian view, all human relationships should be voluntary; the only actions that should be forbidden by law are those that involve the initiation of force against those who have not themselves used force [or fraud].” Both of these definitions of libertarianism are based on the principle of non-aggression, i.e. don’t cause unjust harm. Therefore, it should be obvious that the principle of non-aggression is fundamental to libertarianism.

Since the principle of non-aggression is fundamental to libertarianism, and libertarians subscribe to the ideology of libertarianism, then it should be obvious that libertarians should also support the principle of non-aggression.

What then of Libertarians, i.e. members of the Libertarian Party, and the principle of non-aggression? To answer this question, one need only look at the Preamble and Statement of Principles of the Libertarian Party Platform. The first statement of the Libertarian Party Platform Preamble states, “Libertarians [seek] a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others.” The next sentence reads, “We believe that respect for individual rights is the essential precondition for a free and prosperous world, that force and fraud must be banished from human relationships.” These two statements are reiterated in the second sentence of the Statement of Principles which states, “We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.”

It is clear that the principle of non-aggression is a core tenet of libertarianism, in general, and more specifically the Libertarian Party; anyone who says otherwise does not really understand libertarianism or the fundamental beliefs of the Libertarian Party.