On GD’s Political Animal, George Dance points out historical linguistic facts about the Libertarian Party’s Non-Aggression Pledge in response to the video by Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Austin Petersen (see below). Tom Knapp’s original article dated February 25, 2006 can be read here.
Often, when debating the meaning of ‘the pledge,’ Libertarians cite David F. Nolan, the ‘founder’ (with a few others, but generally recognized as the prime mover in the founding) of the Libertarian Party, to the effect that ‘the pledge’ was simply intended to let the FBI know that the members of this new political party weren’t bomb-throwing revolutionists who would shortly be assaulting the Nixon White House with molotov cocktails….
I’ve stated the content of the pledge. In every form I’ve seen, it includes the very specific phrase ‘initiation of force.’ That’s important. That phrase has a history which pre-dates the formation of the LP by at least a decade-and-a-half and possibly longer. It is a phrase which carried great weight among the adherents of two particular schools of libertarian thought throughout the 1960s: The Objectivists and the Misesian “anarcho-capitalists” (i.e. the disciples/compatriots, respectively, of Ayn Rand and of Murray N. Rothbard).
Nolan – or at least those who cite him – expect the rest of us to believe that the occurrence of the phrase in the LP’s membership pledge was a mere coincidence: That it did not arise from the ubiquitous use of that phrase within the movement from which the party emerged. Even at first blush, that assertion looks pretty untenable…. In the very first paragraph of the article which he wrote in 1971, promoting the formation of the Libertarian Party … Nolan describes the movement to which he belongs, and which he hopes to form into a party, as a coalition of ‘Randists, Miseists (sic), and elements of the old “radical right”‘….
Nolan’s biography at the Advocates for Self-Government site specifically lists Ayn Rand as a writer who ‘cemented his innate libertarianism.’ Is it possible that someone who regarded Rand in such terms, and whose libertarianism took the form of political action, would entirely miss the core principle of the political branch of her philosophy?
‘Whatever may be open to disagreement, there is one act of evil that may not, the act that no man may commit against others and no man may sanction or forgive. So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate — do you hear me? No man may start — the use of physical force against others.’
— from Galt’s Speech in Atlas Shrugged (1957), and For the New Intellectual (1961), by Ayn Rand….
Next let’s look at Rothbard — leader of the second faction which Nolan wanted to form a party around….
‘The fundamental axiom of libertarian theory is that no one may threaten or commit violence (“aggress”) against another man’s person or property…. Here is the fundamental rule from which can be deduced the entire corpus of libertarian theory.’
— from “War, Peace and the State” (1963), by Murray N. Rothbard
The actual phrase ‘initiation of force’ seems to have crept into Rothbard’s personal vocabulary later rather than sooner….
‘The libertarian creed rests upon one central axiom: that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else. This may be called the ‘nonaggression axiom.’ ‘Aggression’ is defined as the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else.’
– from For A New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto (1973), by Murray N. Rothbard….
Taken in its obvious historical context, the pledge clearly derives from a Randian and/or Rothbardian worldview and therefore – at a bare minimum – clearly and indisputably binds its takers to a no-coercive-taxes approach (which even the ‘Randian minarchists’ held to), and less clearly and less indisputably (but still arguably) to Rothbardian anarchism.
The only way to get around that conclusion is to assert that the framers of the pledge were a bunch of drooling morons who in some strange trance state spontaneously and collectively forgot the entire content of the ideas they stood for, while simultaneously functioning efficiently enough to put together an organization to politically support said ideas … and who just happened to randomly pick words out of the dictionary which were identical to nearly two decades of predominant phraseology relating to those ideas, for the purpose of saying something entirely different.