Under False Colors, by L. Neil Smith

L. Neil Smith says:

For those uninitiated in the ways of libertarians, the acronym “ZAP” stands for “Zero Aggression Principle”, a slightly different term some of us have settled on lately for what the movement has long called the “Non-Aggression Principle”. What it says is that nobody has any right to initiate physical force against anybody else, for any reason.

Skipping over a lot of nitpicking that goes on among libertarians about formulation and implementation, what it means is that we’re not pacifists. We will fight, we just won’t start it. And if everybody acted that way—not starting it—about 90 percent of the world’s problems, give or take the occasional volcano or tsunami—would be solved. I changed the name simply because I thought that the acronym “ZAP” was a lot more dynamic and attractive than the more traditional “NAP”.

One of the best and, to me, most interesting features of the Zero Aggression Principle is that so many different folks arrive at it from so many different angles. I’m not sure where it came from originally. I first read of it in Ayn Rand’s essays, but later heard it explained in greater detail by Robert LeFevre. Other teachers have taught it, as well.

In Independence Day, Will Smith puts it in terms his character might well have learned from his mom: “Don’t start nothin’, won’t be nothin’!”

9 thoughts on “Under False Colors, by L. Neil Smith”

  1. I would agree.

    However, a truely libertarian view is not one of total pacifism. Infact, the 2000 canidate (Harry Browne) espoused killing only the leaders of ‘bad’ countries. Leaving the infrastructure and citizenry safe. Basically regieme changes.

    He also said that he expected that targeting leaders like that would open him up to such attacks.

    It’s late – facts might be a wee bit off, but the gist is there. :)

  2. I am pretty sure we agree. My bitch is with a lot of libertarians who have essencially become isolationists.

    I expect you have encountered the type as well.

  3. I think that the most important part of the quote is this

    <em>it means is that we’re not pacifists. We will fight, we just won’t start it. And if everybody acted that way—not starting it—about 90 percent of the world’s problems, give or take the occasional volcano or tsunami—would be solved.</em>

    This is the crux of the matter to me. Not every does, or ever will follow this, but the more people that we expose to the idea, and the more that embrace it, the better.

  4. Perhaps the best way to look at it, is breaking into a house is a violent act in and of it’s self. It’s an <strong>invasion</strong> of your property.

  5. If someone breaks into your house they should get what’s coming to them and not be surprised at it, but my perspective is different, to say the least. I won’t bore you with the details of my choice, I’ll just say that I am going to give the bad guy about 2 seconds to drop to the ground upon command, and then I’m going to 10-ring him. Anyone who breaks into your house deserves whatever they get. Burglary is always a felony, and there are good reasons for that.

  6. <em>a nonviolent kid who was just holding a screwdriver instead of the gun you thought you saw</em>

    If I thought that I saw a gun carried by an intruder in my house, I would feel under enough threat to use deadly force.

    If I saw a intruder, and did not see a gun, I would have him in my sights and issues the clichéd ‘Freeze!’ command. If he made a aggressive move, again deadly force would be applied. If he complied, then he would be held until reinforcements arrived. With out reinforcements, i.e. living in anarchy I would ask him how he got in, and repair the breach in my security.

    Again, I do not follow non-aggression. I follow not starting aggression. If needed, I will finish it however. When called upon to finish it, I will fight unfairly, use the maximum amount of force that I physically can, and try everything in my power to insure that I win.

    For example, when the World Trade was hit – the first time, I think that the response should have been more aggressive then it was. I firmly believe in the velvet glove hiding the iron fist – or the walk softly and carry a machine gun thought. We should always attempt to help with out strings attached, however if we are crossed, we should hit hard and fast.

    I do not see that as preemptive. Preemption in my mind is "we think group X might do Z so we take them out". That is wrong. It should be "we think group X might do Z, so we heighten our vigilance in that area – if they try it, then we take immediate and effective action."

  7. I don’t think no pre-emption is quite so simple in many cases.

    I agree it is certainly best to cover the bad guy with your gun and call the police. In many cases that would be the reasonable and expected thing to do.

    If though you knew that a couple of other people had recently been shot by burglers in your neighborhood, you would be much more likely to conclude a shoot first policy is better. This would be especially true if you were in a situation where you couldn’t be sure how much of an advantage you had over this unknown intruder. The end result might be that you kill a nonviolent kid who was just holding a screwdriver instead of the gun you thought you saw but that doesn’t mean your reasoning was wrong or immoral, regretable though the result would be.

    The situation would further complicate if there were no police to call or the police were corrupt (a very realistic situation if one extends this analogy into the realm of international affairs.)

    There are of course other situations where this philosophy does not seem to apply. What do you do in the case where a person is going to injure themselves? Typically most moral codes would justify ‘violence’ to prevent greater harm, wresting down someone who was going to jump off a building for example. This would of course violate the Zero Agression Principle.

    Again, I think you could make useful analogies to international relations with this one.

    Non-Agression is a good place to start the debate from, a decent ‘default position’ if you will, but I don’t think it can be the be all, end all of a moral code.

  8. "<em>My problem with this philosophy, especially as interpreted by many Libertarians lately, is that it definately goes against the idea of defending someone else.</em>"

    I do not subscribe to that view at all. I will defend myself, my family and my community. As the threat grows larger, the response should grow larger. So, if you threaten my town, the town should orginize a defense. Today, that’s called a police force. If you threaten my Country, my Country should defend it’s self. Today, called the military.

    If I see you attacking a third party, I should assist in de-esclating the situation however I can. However, with out a clear and present indicator of the situation – using deadly force would be difficult to rationalize.

    In other words, if I were to come upon two people fighting, I would try and break it up – not shoot one of them. However, if someone came into a stuffer shack and opened fire with a AK, I feel that I would be in my right to interviene with deadly force – be it a gun, a big rock, or a good stiff taunting.

    So, it really depends.

    The only place that we do not agree is in preemptive violence. If some one breaks into my house, I should not shoot them dead. I should take control of the situation. If they resist, and I <strong> am in fear</strong> for my safety, or the safety of my family, the target will go down. For example, if he breaks into my house, and I catch him, I will cover him with my gun, and call the police. If he pulls a knife, then I make the obligatory joke and shoot him.

    Eye for eye is a hard one. I am really torn on that one. If some one commits a heinous crime, should they be allowed to stay in this life? That is not a choice I would want to be faced with. I used to support capital punishment. I still do in some cases – however I know that two wrongs do not make a right. I need to think on this one more.

  9. My problem with this philosophy, especially as interpreted by many Libertarians lately, is that it definately goes against the idea of defending someone else.

    I think that it is moral in many cases to initiate violence against someone else if they have initiated (or in some cases threatened to initiate) violence against a third party.

    In addition, a I believe in a pre-emption philosophy as well. If there is good reason to believe that someone will initiate violence against you, you have a right to do unto them first. For example, if someone breaks into your house you don’t have to wait for them to shoot at you before you shoot them.

    Obviously this all becomes seriously complex in international politics, and the ignoring (at lest in my opinion) of these complexities has really turned me off to a good portion of the libertarian proponants.

    One could claim that a much earlier version of this philosophy is the ‘eye for an eye’ from the Old Testament. Jesus Christ of course took this to an entirely different level with ‘turn the other cheek.’

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