So with that in mind, I accept the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) as a general rule of thumb. While I don’t accept the NAP absolutely due to issues of property and efficacy, it’s something that I think should be looked to first in the majority of cases. If we can define a decent standard of property/possession/whatever-you-want-to-call it, then for most disputes, reflecting upon the NAP will result in a relatively simple resolution. Since I’ve discussed my problems with the NAP before (linked above), I’ll spare a rehashed argument.
Over at Stephen Kinsella’s blog, I’ve been defending “left” libertarianism from the plumb-line criticisms. A commenter asked:
Is it not enough to state a desired outcome when it comes to social organization to simply express it in the negative?
Cannot one rule, NAP, the non-aggression principle suffice? Let there be no initiation of the use of force in society, period. Then whatever happens will naturally be supportive of all peaceful desires.
We can’t predict what people will do, nor can we predict the many different and simultaneous ways that society will organize itself in the absence of violence. There are infinite possibilities, all of which will be moral and supportive of freedom.
So is it really productive to spend time having intellectual conversations about things like private ownership of the means of capital or what the words capitalism or libertarianism mean? We are far from living in a free society. Shouldn’t all our efforts go towards exposing the extreme violence of the state to the duped masses?
The short answer is “no, the NAP is not enough.” Let me explain and it doesn’t lead to specifically “left” answers.
For the most part, the reason is strategic. Simply put, most people don’t want to hear some philosophical gibberish about “aggression” or “how ethics ‘derived’ from the nature of man are the ‘correct’ ethics.” There are going to be certain people receptive to such arguments or interested in them as a matter of inquiry, but your general schlub isn’t going to give a rat’s ass about it. You can protest, but it likely won’t change anything. There are going to be two general ways in which a person is converted to libertarianism: moral and efficacy arguments. The best way will generally be to merge the two.
With regard to morality, absolutist moralization will be a complete failure. If you want someone to listen to what you have to say, it’s wise to avoid calling them “tyrants, slave masters, moochers” or one of the many “friendly” terms so many libertarians hopelessly fling at their “oppressors.” Instead, libertarian moral arguments should be focused on inconsistencies within a person’s moral dogma -- they should be relativistic. Because most people have similar moral values, this can be a relatively safe method of “conversion.” For example, your average person would generally argue that murder is more immoral than drug use even if they claim that drug use is still immoral. Most would also argue that theft and kidnapping are more immoral as well. Well, theft, kidnapping, and murder are exactly how anti-drug laws are enforced. The enforcement requires funds via taxation which is not a voluntary transfer and therefore equates to theft (based on general definitions), just by a different name. Those stolen funds are then used to kidnap and kill the people involved in drug transactions. To some this may resonate, to others it may not. An apparent contradiction like this may seem stupid, it doesn’t have to be (a topic for another time).
If the moral inconsistencies are not present, the next step is to appeal to their economic interests. This can be done by explaining business cycles (in the case of central banking) or public choice theory (in the case of opposing regulation) or whatever else. Most people are on the losing end of these government arrangements so they will probably be receptive. Throw some other science out there to nail home the point and you should be good to go. It really depends on how willing to listen the person is and how good you are at describing the information, but this is going to be a good approach in general.
Combining these two methods of argumentation is the golden ticket, but each one will have different degrees of appeal. The thing in common with each is that the argument is central to them. Neither argument says “This is X. You should want X. This is how you get it.” The arguments that work involve asking or reasonably assuming what the person wants to accomplish or what is important to them. People have a variety of differing goals varying from consumerist to humanitarian to religious and beyond. Artificially restricting your sales pitch to the NAP just won’t resonate. The appropriate strategy is to offer the NAP in connection to all the ends that the person may want, but the NAP is really an unnecessary technicality to bring up for the most part. Instead, libertarianism should be presented as “the provider” of all the things that can reasonably be expected to transpire in a free[r] society. Suppose you’re speaking to someone opposed to racism. The proper line of argument isn’t to yammer on about the NAP or “they can do what they want because it’s their property,” but to explain that compared to alternatives, libertarian societies will best be suited for avoiding racism. Or if abortion is a concern, how libertarian societies could help to provide alternatives to abortion at the cheapest cost.
The only thing I would ask is that advocates of liberty actually tell the truth and make reasonable hypotheses. If a hardcore racist/fundamentalist wanted all of a certain type of person exterminated, hopefully no libertarian would say, “that’d be super easy in a libertarian society.” First, it’d be a lie; and second, it would bring people not suited for libertarian advocacy on board -- sort of like promoting Catholicism to a Satanist by appealing to Satanism.
The second reason the NAP is not enough is just simply due to its relative worthlessness in real life. Would you really want to live in a world where the only constant is non-aggression? A world where everyone was a shallow, selfish dickhead who avoided aggression would suck. Furthermore, would a society where everyone more or less hates each other actually be conducive to extended periods of non-aggression? I’d have to think not. In fact, even if it were sustainable, I’d probably prefer some minute amounts of aggression in a friendly community to a completely aggression-free asshole-filled community. Sure a plumb-liner could object that people generally aren’t selfish dickheads so it’s besides the point, but when we’re already giving our million word spiel on the profound greatness of libertarianism, why not sweeten the pot? I can’t think of any good reason.
People are concerned about the temperament of the others in society that they must interact with. Explaining how free markets improve the nature of community at the same time that you, yourself, exhibit concern for the values of others gives them a much better reason to trust you and it improves inter-ideological communication, something severely lacking at the moment. The NAP is completely hollow and not really all that desirable by itself. Without hesitation, all things equal, I’d choose an NAP society over a non-NAP society, but that’s not the choice and there are other things at play... so let’s play them.