NB: All previous chapters can be found here.
Theory is easy, application is hard. The concept of Natural Law and the principle of non-aggression – grasping the ideas is one thing, putting these into practice is quite another. While developing a detailed examination of Natural Law is beyond the scope of this book and my capability (although I do intend to examine some of the characteristics of Jesus as the Form of the Good for human ends and purposes), we will, in this chapter, examine application of the non-aggression principle.
So…I kind of told a fib already. Application of the principle of non-aggression is only difficult for those who believe that libertarian theorists must define to the nth degree the application for every event, transaction, transgression, and possibility. I am not one of these. Application is easy if one accepts that the underlying culture, customs, and traditions will answer the questions offered by the continuum – and that this underlying culture is generally accepted by the subject population as one conducive for maintaining peace.
What do I mean by the continuum? Consider the term “aggression.” At one extreme, the idea of random, pre-meditated murder we all understand; at the other, a loud voice. It is easy to describe the first as a violation of the non-aggression principle and the second as not. But what of everything in-between?
Putting hands on my body? Is it in self-defense? What is self-defense? When is it justified? In what proportion is it acceptable? Punishment? In what amount? Restitution? Pollution? What of smoke from your grill moving over the neighbor’s yard? Is it a violation or an invitation or a mere nuisance to be ignored?
What of property? Many libertarians agree with Locke and the mixing of labor with land. How much mixing is sufficient mixing? Did the tribes mix enough labor on the lands of the Great Plains? Reparations? For whom, in what amount? On what evidence? What of those who will now be displaced?
There are countless essays attempting to answer these questions in ever finer detail. Why? As Silva offered to James Bond in Skyfall after a long chase and big shoot-‘em-up and where Silva believes he has Bond cornered:
“You see what comes of all this running around, Mr. Bond? All this jumping and fighting. It’s exhausting. Relax. You need to relax.”
No one will pay any attention to your opinion of their cultural norms. I am not speaking of the extremes, where violations (or not) of the non-aggression principle are easy to identify. I am speaking of the continuum – the vast middle between the easy extremes, the space in which there are many right answers.
There are two ways for this continuum to be regulated – as this must be regulated if anyone is to survive. One is regulation by a generally accepted, common cultural tradition – evolving naturally, as all traditions do. The second is by force – government dictating detailed rules and regulations, all enforced at the end of a gun and incarceration.
This is why maintaining and defending a common cultural tradition is mandatory if one wants to maintain a libertarian society, and this is why government works to ensure that common cultural traditions are destroyed. When culture doesn’t regulate and provide governance, the state will happily do so.
“Oh, but you are saying I have to conform to traditions that I might not fully agree with if I want to live in liberty! It doesn’t sound like liberty to me.”
We all have to conform if we want to function in society, the question is via what method: reasonably voluntary culture and tradition, or force backed up by a gun and prison. There is no third option – not if interaction with other humans is desired.
Just a couple of thoughts: first, the necessity of conforming to local custom and tradition is one reason that decentralization is the proper political option for those advocating for liberty. It is easier to conform comfortably the more choices one has; the more society is decentralized, the more choices one has.
Second, there are many who work for or advocate for the destruction of the cultural traditions of the West – including many well-known libertarians and libertarian institutes. Will this joint desire result in more liberty, as the libertarians claim, or in more control, as is clearly desired by others? The answer to this is easy.