Darryl W. Perry: Libertarians, Libertarianism and the Principle of Non-Aggression

12191338_1188125594536502_7497137675369335988_oThe original article can be read here.

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.

Darryl W. Perry is seeking the Presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party and and is Vice-Chair of the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire.

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About Caryn Ann Harlos

Caryn Ann Harlos is a paralegal residing in Castle Rock, Colorado and presently serving as the Region 1 Representative on the Libertarian National Committee and is a candidate for LNC Secretary at the 2018 Libertarian Party Convention. Articles posted should NOT be considered the opinions of the LNC nor always those of Caryn Ann Harlos personally. Caryn Ann's goal is to provide information on items of interest and (sometimes) controversy about the Libertarian Party and minor parties in general not to necessarily endorse the contents.

28 thoughts on “Darryl W. Perry: Libertarians, Libertarianism and the Principle of Non-Aggression

  1. jim

    I agree. However, I prefer the term, Non-Initiation of Force Principle to NAP. The latter sounds too much like simple pacifism, and there have certainly been people calling themselves libertarians that confuse these two ideas.

    Further, I take a broad view of “aggression”. Once an organization (called a “government”) aggresses against anyone, I think that force may be legitimately used against any employee of that government. One reason for this is that much of government’s power involves a realistic threat of aggression: It is credible, because it can, does, and will happen. And I don’t think we as people are somehow obliged to wait until the first blow is actually struck, if the government has been aggressing against others. To do otherwise would amount to turning NIOFP into a suicide pact: The government could realistically choose its targets, and attack them after developing a huge one-sided advantage. We shouldn’t have to choose between accepting their threats and dying.

  2. Caryn Ann Harlos Post author

    I am fine with both terms. I don’t confuse it pacifism as defense isn’t aggression. And I am a pacifist. And I always make it clear that my pacifism comes from a different place and is separate from my libertarianism.

  3. paulie

    I think Perry’s explanation in this article makes a lot more sense than what I’ve heard recently from Petersen and a few others.

  4. Robert Capozzi

    dwp: Therefore, it should be obvious that the principle of non-aggression is fundamental to libertarianism.

    me: Seems like an argument from authority. Friedman and Boaz said so, so it must be true. Feels like a great big leap is being taken here.

    How would DWP police the definition of L against who use the word but maybe don’t quite buy the NAP as fundamental?

  5. Rod Stern

    Lots of people misuse all kinds of words. How does anyone enforce any kind of definition?

  6. Steve Scheetz

    Robert Capozzi,

    It is a simple thing. If you are not philosophically Libertarian, i.e. you do not believe in the principle of non aggression, then you are perfectly free to join an organization that is more in keeping with your values. The Republican and the Democrat party are two possibilities for you.

    If on the other hand, you wish to be a member of the Libertarian Party, it is most likely because you are on board with the fundamental philosophy that Libertarians believe in. If not, WHY join a party that has nothing whatsoever to do with what you believe in?

    If someone is new to the idea and wishes to passively observe before deciding, no Libertarian would be discouraging to that person. However, if someone decides to use fraud in order to obtain membership, and begins to act in ways that incongruent with our values, at least here in PA, in the past we have strongly discouraged their membership. Most of those people leave of their own free will. (I am thinking of two case in point examples from when I first became Chairman of the Libertarian Party of Pennsylvania. If you wish specifics, message me off list please.

    Regardless, The NAP is simply a moral standard we choose to live by. If your morality does not line up with these basic principles, (and they are not hard principles to live by) don’t be shocked if you find yourself no longer a member.


    Steve Scheetz

  7. Andy Craig

    “”I think Perry’s explanation in this article makes a lot more sense than what I’ve heard recently from Petersen… “”

    That’s not a very high hurdle to clear.

    “”and a few others.””

    I assumed the article was directed squarely at Petersen, and just didn’t want to name him. There are plenty of disputes in the party, but I don’t know that I’ve heard any other Libertarian outright condemning the non-aggression principle, as a concept that the party should affirmatively reject. Plenty of debates over how it should be framed, or its interpretation, or if it is the exclusive or best, only way to define libertarianism. But AP is the only one I’ve heard say it’s *wrong* per se. Not even pure utilitarian and consequentialist libertarians say that, they just disagree about the means by which the same principle is reached. (e.g. we should have a policy of reciprocal equal freedom because it works, morally compelled or not.)

    For what it’s worth, I do think the insider-jargon abbreviation “NAP” should be avoided in the party’s public communications like the plague. Likewise simplistic references to some policy result being commanded by “the non-aggression principle,” that assume the target audience will already know all the vast libertarian catechism that is packed into that phrase. The work isn’t in getting people to agree aggression is wrong in the abstract, (almost) everyone already thinks that. The point is to explain *how* fill-in-the-blank *is* an act of unacceptable aggression. In other words, don’t assume that what is obvious to libertarians, is obvious to the general public. But, that’s just semantic rhetorical nitpicking, not about the substance of what’s being advocated. I like variety in vocabulary, and there are so many better ways to say it and explain the idea, than just using that same label for it over and over again.

  8. paulie

    There are plenty of disputes in the party, but I don’t know that I’ve heard any other Libertarian outright condemning the non-aggression principle, as a concept that the party should affirmatively reject.

    Other examples include Phillies in IPR comments, R. Capozzi (presuming you count him as a libertarian); Moulton and Knapp, IIUC, support it personally but don’t believe it should be considered an exclusive definition of libertarians, since as they see it it excludes all non-anarchists.

    For what it’s worth, I do think the insider-jargon abbreviation “NAP” should be avoided in the party’s public communications like the plague.


  9. paulie

    The non-initiation of force principle long predated David Nolan, by hundreds if not thousands of years. He did believe in and advocate that principle, but you have claimed in other threads that is not what he meant by the party membership pledge, that what you think he meant by the membership pledge (not using violence against the government) is what you support, and that the non-initiation of force principle as explained in the article above is not what you support. Did I get that wrong? I can look up the quotes from you if need be but I am reasonably sure that was what you said on the other thread(s).

  10. Caryn Ann Harlos Post author


    Further, Darryl is not talking about the Pledge. I understand the disagreement about the Pledge, and though I don’t buy it, the fact is that the NAP is in the SoP and the Platform. The Pledge could be removed tomorrow and that doesn’t change the fact that it is absurd to claim that the NAP is unLibertarian. Which is what Petersen claimed. That is AS bad as any anarchist claiming that if someone is not an anarchist, they are not a libertarian. (actually I think it is worse since at least the anarchist is keeping some people who hold to an LP core principle in the club while AP excludes everyone who does— saying that, I am not interested in either kind of rhetoric).

  11. Caryn Ann Harlos Post author


    ===I’m so glad I’m not the only pacifist here.===

    🙂 We are rare birds. Most people think I have gone nuts.

  12. Caryn Ann Harlos Post author

    Andy Craig,

    ==vast libertarian catechism===

    LOL I like that turn of phrase. And it is apt. And it was a “catechism” prior to the Pledge…

  13. Jill Pyeatt

    Jed said: “My whole family thinks I’m whacko. They may be right.”

    You say this like it’s a bad thing! 😀

  14. Jed Ziggler

    Actually I do. I wish all viewpoints were respected, considered, and taken seriously. Instead, the minute I suggest that people shouldn’t be locked up for smoking marijuana, I get laughed at, called a weirdo, or interrogated about whether I’m a pothead (despite the fact that I’m wearing a hoodie that says Drug Free on it).

  15. Jill Pyeatt

    I’ve always been different, and maybe even considered whacko at times. It never really bothered me much, but it mattered less and less as I got older. Now I’m proud of being a person who can think for myself. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  16. langa

    Caryn and Jed,

    I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for pacifists (though I’m not one myself).


    Considering the state of the world today, I consider it a badge of honor to be labelled “crazy” by most of the supposedly “normal” people.

  17. Robert Capozzi

    ss: It is a simple thing. If you are not philosophically Libertarian, i.e. you do not believe in the principle of non aggression, then you are perfectly free to join an organization that is more in keeping with your values.

    me: Maybe that’s the opportunity. Is it as simple as you say? Believe in the NAP or not? Perhaps not.

    Personally, I like the sentiment of the NAP. I was once a hardcore Randian/Rothbardian. Now I have questions about the entire deontological approach. Of course, what a principle, “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning,” actually means in practice is — I’d think — an open question. Is it a RULE, one that requires a hardline advocacy of extreme implications of the NAP, golly gee, I wouldn’t think so, Beave.

    Tell us more about why you think it all boils down to a simple either/or….

  18. Motherhood; Apple Pie, Fireworks on 4th of July

    There’s nothing all that controversial in what Daryl Perry writes. Because this is true, it’s simply philosophical masturbation.

    Arguments over, nay, discussions about libertarian philosophy are absolutely critical to maintaining the current masturbation level of the libertarian movement, as a whole. In order to maintain the existing police state, it’s absolutely crucial that libertarians continue masturbating vigorously.

    Such discussions are absolutely critical to making sure the movement stays in one place, covers no ground, and takes no territory.

    The NAP is good for one thing: relating libertarianism to Christians as “the foundation of western civilization” by comparing it to the golden rule, and challenging those who doubt this as dishonest. It’s useful for mapping onto natural empathy responses for non-Christians. It’s useful for relating to the law, via the consciences of jurors, for lawyers seeking a “fault-tolerant” libertarian moral basis to the legal system.

    It’s fault tolerant, because, where property rights fail (because they’ve been applied incorrectly and inconsistently by 100 years of recursive wealth-accumulation from generations of central bankers), there is still conscience. Conscience says, “Applying the drug laws unfairly leads prosecutors to apply the laws more harshly against blacks, who are to be found in certain geographic areas.” It doesn’t matter that you need to follow those laws, too. Those laws are illegitimate.

    But when I say this here, I’m preaching to the choir (and a few random idiots who are a part of the problem).

    Bringing the libertarian philosophy to your neighbor is what needs to happen.

    That said, your neighbor has no incentive to listen to you, because the good philosophy inherently points out that he’s been a supporter and component of bad philosophy his whole life, since he was a child. In fact, bad philosophy is “baked into” the self-contradictory religion he belongs to.

    Further, if the non-initiation of force principle is evenly applied, it doesn’t rule out pre-emptive strikes against known and fully-communicated threats. Example: A man walks the streets saying, “I’m gonna shoot anybody who has ever worn a hat!” …And every so often, you see people come up to him, with photos of people wearing hats, pointing, and then a shot rings out. The man walks up to the corpse, and people ask why he did it, and the man says, “My hat informants showed me PROOF that this motherfucker wore a hat! Here it is! A photo of him wearing a hat!” …If you’ve worn a hat in that situation, you don’t need to wait for a shot to ring out. Someone who fully abides by the NAP is allowed by the NAP to kill the hat-wearer-murderer.

    If this were not true, then the NAP would require its adherents to die or be slaves: the direct opposite of libertarian philosophy.

    Thus, critics of the NAP are simply splitting hairs about language. They do this because they like to masturbate with other libertarians.

    So do I.

    Just writing this was WAAAAY more fun than debugging computer code. It was way more fun than going out and talking to non-libertarians about libertarianism. It was way more fun than writing a check to a political party or candidate who would do those things on my behalf.

    Just writing this was my way of saying that shooting the bull about motherhood, apple pie, and fireworks on the fourth of July is way more fun than becoming a mother, baking an apple pie, or smuggling sufficiently-awe-inspiring fireworks into whatever East-Coast shithole someone happens to live in (or moving to a State where a modicum of freedom is tolerated).

    The LP doesn’t need to worry about the NAP. Libertarians don’t need to discuss the NAP. Libertarians don’t need to care about the NAP.

    The libertarian movement is a classic case of “too many chiefs and not enough braves.”

    Want to work for liberty? Make sure LP donor dollars get to people who are knocking on doors.

    You can do this by making sure that every libertarian activist is SIMULTANEOUSLY paid an industry standard dollar amount for (1) a ballot access signature that places a statewide slate of candidates on the ballot in a given state (2) a ballot access signature that places a single State legislative candidate on the ballot in a given state

    Industry standard per-signature dollar amounts are “no less than $2/signature when weather is close to 70 degrees and without rain.” No less than $3/signature when petitioning is difficult by weather or other rarer factors.

    There you have it. That’s the recipe for success! That’s what the LP has been “trying to figure out” for 40 years! Of course, they’ve been trying to figure this out by masturbating vigorously, so it’s no wonder they haven’t succeeded. They’re like a mission to mars that has been building rubber wheels instead of rockets.

    Why don’t we elevate our game? Why don’t we stop talking philosophy, and get serious about not only talking strategy, but implementing it?

    General Option 1: We’re too stupid to do so.
    General Option 2: We’re too cowardly to do so, because that would mean encountering real opposition that is willing to murder and steal to stay in power.

    I don’t think it’s Option 1.

  19. Steve Scheetz

    Robert Capozzi, You must really try to find reasons to dismantle the Libertarian Philosophy whenever you wake up in the morning.

    The Non-aggression principle is an either or, because it is antithetical to Liberty to believe that you should be able to take someone’s stuff, or oppress them in some way, or use the force of government to take someone’s stuff or oppress them in some way.

    That is in no way Libertarian, HENCE why the pledge. when one takes the pledge, he/she is pledging to the ideal that the initiation of force or fraud is bad, and should not be done. Those pledging are not pledging to the party, but the party does win, because these people, if not being fraudulent in their pledge, are philosophically on board with at least most of what the party is on board with.

    Caryn brought up Anarchists vs Libertarianism. Well most Anarchists fall into the category of Voluntaryist, which has a more specific definition than simply “no rulers.” Many of us with these philosophical leanings have agreed with me when I describe Voluntaryism as that shining beacon on the hill. It is that place where people are willing to trade with each other fairly, not because there is someone with a gun making sure of it, but because it is the right thing to do. It is that place where people respect each other’s person, and each other’s stuff because it is the right thing to do… etc.

    We are not there, obviously given some of the statements I have read by people like you. However, we are still striving, and if we demonstrate that we are all on the same page philosophically, it removes half the battle right there.

    If you have to ask why it is an either or, maybe you should instead ask why you have a problem with it being an either or. What outlandish scenario can you dream up to start off a conversation with something like “well what about Bob? he has had this done to him, and that done to him, and he was scarred for blah blah blah, and he should be able to be a member without taking the oath.”

    Good luck with that.


    Steve Scheetz

  20. paulie

    There’s nothing all that controversial in what Daryl Perry writes.

    Clearly you haven’t read what Austin Petersen has written lately or some of the other IPR discussions on these issues in recent months if you believe that.

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