NB: All previous chapters can be found here.
John 8: 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Apparently, this text was not found in the earliest manuscripts. But it seems reasonable to conclude that it depicts behavior consistent with the Jesus we know from the Gospels. Would we expect the sinless Jesus to cast the first stone, or for Him to advocate that the sinning and hypocritical Pharisees do so?
I have offered fourteen chapters for making the case for natural law and making the case that natural law is the necessary basis for liberty. Finally, the chapter on integrating the non-aggression principle. While the concept in this chapter is the easiest for me to grasp intellectually, it is proving for me the most difficult to put into words. The entirety of the chapter can be summarized via the passage cited above.
Without going into details of a natural law ethic, it is clear that many violations of natural law do not at the same time violate the non-aggression principle:
The non-aggression principle is an ethical stance which asserts that "aggression" is inherently illegitimate. "Aggression" is defined as the "initiation" of physical force against persons or property, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or their property. In contrast to pacifism, the non-aggression principle does not preclude violent self-defense.
I have often simplified this: don’t hit first; don’t take my stuff. This, therefor, leads to the conclusion that under the non-aggression principle crime requires a victim, and that physical punishment can only be dished out for a crime. Consistent libertarians would also apply this same ethic to actors in any government institution: agency for an action cannot be granted by one who does not hold a right to so act.
But to get an idea of where natural law and the non-aggression principle might not be on the same page, consider the chapter titles from Walter Block’s Defending the Undefendable:
The Prostitute, The Pimp, The Male Chauvinist Pig, The Drug Pusher, The Drug Addict, The Blackmailer, The Slanderer and Libeler, The Denier of Academic Freedom, The Advertiser, The Person Who Yells “Fire!” in a Crowded Theater, The Gypsy Cab Driver, The Ticket, The Dishonest Cop, The (Nongovernment) Counterfeiter, The Miser, The Inheritor, The Moneylender, The Noncontributor to Charity, The Curmudgeon, The Slumlord, The Ghetto Merchant, The Speculator, The Importer, The Middleman, The Profiteer, The Stripminer, The Litterer, The Wastemakers, The Fat Capitalist-Pig Employer, The Scab, The Rate Buster, The Employer of Child Labor.
Block does not defend these from an ethical stance; he does offer that these would not be punishable under libertarian law. I have no doubt that Block considered each in accord with the non-aggression principle and found these not worthy of physical punishment or an action permitting self-defense.
Yet many of these, without doubt, violate what would be considered Aristotelian-Thomistic Natural Law. We could certainly identify a community that accepted these behaviors as libertine; but could we also say that such a community would remain in liberty? I think not for long. Would we even describe such a society as one in liberty? Maybe to some, but something akin to hell for many.
Of course, there are libertarian-consistent ways around this dilemma, this disagreement between natural law and the non-aggression principle – voluntary ways: a voluntarily-organized community is free to place any rules or prohibitions on behavior as desired by its members or by the underlying covenant agreements.
Such a community is free to define rules and punishment fully in accord with natural law. But this is secondary to my point: for a community to remain in liberty, it must respect natural law. In other words, natural law is not optional if one is to consider liberty as the objective.
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn offered:
A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities.
Humans are designed with a purpose, an end. Is there a higher form of liberty possible for a human being beyond being free to achieve his purpose, his end? Is it possible for a human being – or any part of creation – to be free or remain free if it purposefully acts contrary to its ends, contrary to the ends from which natural law is derived?
Is a fish free when it escapes the confines of water? “Oh, yes” – you will retort – “we must accept our physical limitations, just as a fish must.” (I know that this statement opens an entirely different can of worms, I will only answer for now with Lewis’s Abolition of Man.) Is a man free when he escapes the confines of an atmosphere that offers oxygen? Of course not. We know we cannot violate such physical laws and remain free.