Friday, December 6, 2013

Jason Brennan: The NAP Isn’t a Knock-Down Argument for Libertarianism.

I live by a very basic rule when dealing with other human beings: I never ever force anyone to do anything he doesn't want to do. I consider anyone that attempts to force me to do something I don't want to do to be dangerous, a creep and evil.

I also consider this the bedrock to my view of libertarianism. I am not attempting to "prove" my rule by calling it libertarianism. It is the rule I live by. My philosophy needs a name, sometimes I call it a "Private Property Society," because at its essence it is about the respect for private property (including ones own thoughts and body) and sometimes I call it libertarianism, because it is about liberty versus the antonym coercion.

That's why when Jason Brennan writes:
The NAP isn’t a knock-down argument for libertarianism.
I have to wonder what is the bedrock principle he lives by if it isn't the non-aggression principle?


  1. I didn't even know I was a libertarian, until I learned the NAP. Jason understands he is promoting aggression. Perhaps he could convince PhilosophyLines.

  2. "respect for private property (including ones own thoughts and body)"

    ... unless my thoughts are replicas of something you thought first and some third party broke his contract with you by relaying it to me. Then aggression against me is perfectly justified, of course, even though I am not harming you.

    1. No you can't just aggress (?) against someone who honestly entered into a contract unaware of the original theft. A's problem is still just with (B), A may have to discuss things with C but only B is at fault and has to make amends to A and C.

  3. What a clown. The guy isn't a libertarian, bleeding heart, or not. He's a socialist, trying to use the old-and-tried newspeak trick to confuse the meaning of the word and thus short-circuit any meaningful dissent. They pulled that trick once against the classical liberals, didn't they?

    NAP Is the definition, the moral core, of libertarianism.

  4. That's not what he's saying. He's saying that if you assume the NAP, then libertarianism follows, but some people are unwilling to assume the NAP. He's saying that in addition to saying, "I believe NAP, therefore, libertarianism", you also have to make the case to people who are unwilling to assume that initiating violence can never be justified. If you want to convince the "end justifies the means" crowd, you have to show how the end is better in a libertarian society. Otherwise, you're just talking in an echo chamber.

    1. "If you want to convince the "end justifies the means" crowd, you have to show how the end is better in a libertarian society. Otherwise, you're just talking in an echo chamber."

      Which brings us full circle to Callahan's comment, "there is no sense arguing with the brainwashed."

    2. A libertarian society also implies the NAP must hold, thus in formal logic terms the two are equivalent.

      The 'end justifies the means' crowd will never be convinced of libertarian arguments because their ends inherently require aggression. Their vision for society is the soft tyranny outlined in Cass Sunstein's book 'Nudge'.

    3. People who don't believe in the NAP?

      Punch them in the gut and then ask them if they've changed their mind.

  5. Jason Brennan and his feedbackers are smart cats. But the neocortex was the last development of the human brain. It sits on top of human nature. If you misunderstand human nature (the premise) your logical conclusions are wrong - no matter how eloquent.
    "With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly....Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils lie before me."

    States are rotten to the core.

  6. I don't understand libertarians. They say they believe in the NAP but then run for political office. When you get elected your job will be to coerce. The first time you receive a gov't check you will break the NAP. You will knowingly be a receiver of stolen property. And you will perpetuate the idea of stealing property (money) from the citizens of your country. Stealing is aggression.

  7. The NAP is only basic decency.
    If one chooses to agress, then that one is morally corrupt.
    If one chooses to aggress and uses the state, then that one is morally corrupt and is a rotten statist.
    It really is that simple.

  8. The NAP is a personal mode of conduct that should be argued for and defended as such. It is not a theory of a more just social order. Too many people, including Jason it seems, make the mistake of thinking the NAP must be justified by proving it will lead to a more just social order. I personally believe it would lead to more peace and justice, the more people that follow it, but that believe is totally secondary and unimportant to the main argument for the NAP.

    Also, aside from the NAP, who needs to justify the non-existence of the State when the overwhelming weight of historical, empirical evidence shows that the State itself is the ultimate Hobbesian nightmare of "disastrous hell."

    Jason throws around terms like "anarchist libertarianism" and "anarchist capitalism." What do those mean and who the hell cares? How about just "anarchy," which means nothing more than the absence of a State, which is nothing more than absence of a legal monopoly in the hands of a few to exercise force and violence in a given geographical territory? The absence of monopoly violence needs no justification. That would be proving a negative. It is the State that must be justified.

    People make the same mistake about atheism, which means nothing more than the absence of a belief in someone else's positive assertion of the existence of a "thing." Contrary to popular belief, atheism is not an affirmative assertion that such "thing" does not exist. Such an assertion would indeed also be trying to prove a negative.

    Thus both anarchy and atheism are default conditions that exist and should exist absent some kind of positive "is/ought" justification by the Statist or the Theist. Jason is a Statist who is attempting to define anarchy as just another type of positive system that must be held to the same standard of justification as the State.

  9. Rob,

    Didja actually read the post?

    I didn't advocate aggression or anything. I just said a common argument used to defend libertarianism doesn't work, because it begs the question.

    Anarchist libertarians (such as I!) and statists dispute the following issue: Does the state have a rightful claim to collect taxes? If there were a justification for the state and the state's right to tax, then it would follow that when the state taxes you (within whatever bounds that justification justifies), it isn't taking your money. It's taking its money, money that rightfully belongs to it. If there is not justification, then the state is just stealing.

    The problem with the NAP argument isn't that it assumes that initiating aggression is wrong. (It's correct about that!) It's that it assumes the very thing in dispute, which that the state initiates aggression when it taxes. That's the very thing statists disagree with, so to undermine them, you need to show that their arguments for the state fail.

    1. I am quoting the headline to your post!

      As for your entire post, I still haven't been able to understand what your thought process is in the post, given that it is so poorly written, as commeters above have noted. Further your asshole remark about "cartoon libertarians" and then linking to EPJ suggests you don't deserve to be read carefully.

    2. Either he doesn't deserve to be read carefully or you don't care to read him carefully. I wonder which it could be?

    3. @Brendon BessetteDecember 7, 2013 at 12:35 AM

      Do you think an "opinion" writer, that calls out those who hold opposing views as cartoonish, deserves to be taken seriously?

      Just curious as to whether you consider that an appropriate form of argument.

    4. I'm not convinced Brennan fully understands the NAP. It's not "initiating aggression is wrong" it's "defending yourself against the initiation of aggression is right." Tolstoy wrote a book called "The Slavery of Our Times"...taxation is the slavery of our times. The fact that taxes can only be collected through coercion is a priori proof of its aggression thus it is righteous for people to defend themselves against taxation. Jason, it was a vapid article from start to finish. You can't be proud of it. You're going to get bashed for a few days Hurry up and write something good again so everyone will move on.

    5. Jason, please clarify your points about the NAP.

      Bob is the most protective "bulldog" of libertarianism on the interwebs, and ANY "watering down" of libertarian anarchy is heresy here. I happen to agree with him- libertarian thought is entering the "mainstream" and many, MANY faux- "libertarians" will try to muddy the issue. Look at Megan McArdumb, or the Kochtopus, or (T)Reason magazine.

      Please come back and explain, or better yet, ask Bob for a chance to debate on his show.

      I think that anyone who tries to sideline the NAP as the central core, morally, philosophically and economically of liberty is asking for trouble. If unilateral aggression is allowed o this one tiny item, then it can be allowed anywhere.

  10. If NAP isn't the bedrock for libertarian principal than I don't know what is.

  11. The problem is the NAP is dependent on the definition of private property rights in order to distinguish aggression from justified defensive use of force. If you can't get everyone to agree on the definition of property rights (which we can't) then you can easily end up with two parties using using force and perceiving the other as the aggressor.

    1. example please...

    2. Wouldn't you consider anything that an individual obtains via a voluntary exchange a decent definition?

    3. Bill,

      Your response is really an interesting one as I actually bumped into this in our discussions/debates on Intellectual Property.

      I can see where you are coming from.

      The bigger question that comes to my mind though, is whether the notion of the NAP which seems philosophically sound, should be tossed on the trash heap over a small percentage of times where the actual definition of what constitutes property becomes an issue?

      I think we all know the answer to that question.

      Acceptance of the NAP brings man out of his proverbial cave without his club 99% of the time.

      Though my argument my seem utilitarian(and maybe that's not a bad thing, a la Bastiat), I think given that the world is an imperfect place in which we try to form the best philosophies for it that the NAP still holds up to providing the most peaceful and best chance for humanity's fastest advancement to date.

    4. Do you own your own body?
      Do you own your labor?
      Then you own the fruits of that labor (provided those fruits are not themselves directly stolen, and taking into consideration any voluntary deal you've made with an employer).

      The simple fact is this: someone that has not labored for what you own that yourself HAVE labored for, cannot possibly own the fruits of that labor, and any attempt to confiscate it is theft. Trying to own the labor itself is slavery (all of this subject to voluntary agreements involving the laborer). There is no difference between this type of theft and any other globally accepted definition of theft (such as theft of citizen by citizen).

      Utilitarian arguments are useless and counterproductive in my view, as certainly there are a zillion subjective views of "what is best for humanity in general" or what is the "common good". Furthermore, since there can be no uniformity in human kind's happiness or satisfaction, the utilitarian argument would always still lead to aggression against the individual in favor of a collective (which is collectivism). If it didn't, then the NAP would have been applied and the utilitarian argument isn't required anyway. And if it does, it is immoral and aggressive and should be rejected by definition, for it would be no different than any other aggression-based policy or ideology.