Sheldon Richman is out with a new post today, entitled “TGIF: What Social Animals Owe to Each Other.” In it, he seems to be responding – albeit indirectly – to criticisms of his post from a couple of weeks ago, “TGIF: In Praise of “Thick” Libertarianism.” I was one of those critics.
As I wrote in the previous post: “I am not a philosopher; I am not a trained libertarian theorist. On such matters, I am the first to admit that I am not very sophisticated.”
But I do want to work through Richman’s comments.
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.
So far, so good. Although, I would suggest it isn’t the “distinguishing feature”; it is the feature – no qualifier necessary.
What is the nature of this obligation?
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.”
If I were to ask, “Why do we owe it to others not to aggress against them,” what would you say? I presume some answer rooted in facts would be offered because the alternative would be to say this principle has no basis whatsoever, that it’s just a free-floating principle, like an iceberg. That would amount to saying the principle has no binding force. It’s just a whim, which might not be shared by others.
Now if we have an unchosen obligation not to aggress against others and that obligation is rooted in certain facts, this raises a new question: Might the facts that impose the unchosen obligation not to aggress also impose other obligations? If one unchosen obligation can be shown to exist, why couldn’t the same foundation in which that one is rooted produce others?
It seems a worthwhile question to explore. At least we don’t have to consider the point of view of a rock this time.
To the question “Why do we owe it to others not to aggress against them,” I would respond along these lines: because we individually should treat other persons respectfully, that is, as ends in themselves and not merely as means to our own ends. But some libertarians would reject that as too broad because it seems to obligate us to more than just nonaggression.
I would be one of those rejecting libertarians. Richman pre-emptively offers my reasoning:
They 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 this can’t be sufficient because it amounts to a circular argument: To say that one may use force only in response to aggression is in effect merely to restate the nonaggression principle. One shouldn’t aggress because one shouldn’t aggress. But the NAP can hardly justify itself.
At least he wrote “they might.” Of course, I might not.
I have mentioned that I am not a philosopher or a trained libertarian theorist. But even I wouldn’t offer such a reason. Who would? Who has? Can it be so simple, so easy to put up an argument that is so easily rejected? Has Rothbard written in such terms? Hoppe? Rockwell? The entire foundation for the NAP is this fragile; an argument that might be offered by “anonymous” on one of any number of comments sections in various libertarian forums?
There is a term for the use of logical fallacies of this specific type. What is it (he types, while scratching his little mosquito head)?