Virtually all libertarians will be able to tell you what the NAP (non-aggression principle) is. It is an ethical stance which condemns all initiation of violence against a person or property. It is not strictly pacifism, since it allows one to defend oneself, yet it disallows all actions that would go against another person’s rights, no matter how small these may seem.
What does one do with this ethical principle? Many libertarians and anarcho-capitalists elevate it to the ruling principle of their own version of a “stateless” society. Now, if such society is truly stateless, how will we know whether it will conform to any particular ethical principle? Why would a stateless society follow the NAP?
Many libertarians will tell you, how wouldn’t it? If force is allowed, people would not truly be free. If we allow people to impose force on each other, to violate each others’ rights, the state would, step-by-step, reemerge.
This view is seriously mistaken. The defining characteristic of the state is not its capacity to commit violence. It is its monopoly on political and legal affairs. The monopoly is that which truly makes a state.
Libertarianism relies on the fact that social organization and cooperation can emerge as a result of individual action, and not as a result of planning and imposition. They talk about a “spontaneous order” that emerges when people realize that peaceful cooperation is mutually beneficial. This emerges trough an evolutionary process, without any central direction. Needless to say, when there is a state monopoly on law, law cannot evolve.
This makes it obvious that we cannot know what law is going to look like in a stateless order. Will the judges really allow a person to McNuke his neighbor as a reprisal for the neighbor’s dog trespassing on his lawn? Will the courts really persecute a mob that lynched a pedophile? Not to mention the whole “trespassing fetus” take on abortion debacle. At the same time, why would the courts protect the rights of someone who does not pay protection? Will they protect them from being made to pay for protection by an agency, and therefore to be allowed a free ride?
These questions too, have serious ramifications on present libertarian strategy. The NAP leads libertarians to justify their positions on the state of affairs that could be in the stateless order, on bizarre ethical views, rather than on that which is really important. And what is really important is how does one combat state monopoly through promoting individual autonomy, decentralization and strong communities.
When we look at law in a stateless society through the lens of pragmatism, not trough the lens of dogmatism, it is clear that the NAP will likely not be the main principle on which the law will be based on. And we will still have a stateless order, simply because *the state*, as a monopolist on legitimate use of force, will not exist. Going forward, the issue should be how to create communities that will be able to function without the control of the state. I hope this article will allow some libertarians to stop engaging in quasi-theological debates, and start achieving the natural, stateless order in the real world.