Let’s continue from our last discussion and begin answering the questions we left with last time. To recap, Libertarianism is a theory of the just use of violence and is grounded in the non-aggression axiom — the idea that no person or group of people may initiate force on anyone else, unless it is in defense. This is the most important idea to a Libertarian. But why is this useful and why do we even need to come up with a theory of the just use of violence?
To some, the idea of focusing on violence might sound negative. Why not come up with theories of cooperation instead? We all like cooperation. But the truth is, we need to focus on the things that get in the way of cooperation in society. Cooperation between people tends to happen naturally (Ludwig von Mises shows this in his law of association). So, if instead we focus on the nature of what causes violence, and what is considered just, then we will know how to avoid it. Because of that, we will have a better understanding of what cooperation is.
Mutual cooperation requires the absence of aggressive violence (force) within interpersonal interactions. The easy way of saying that is, there is no mutual cooperation between two people when one person is holding a gun to the others skull and telling him to mow his lawn; but there definitely is violence (and conflict). If you take away the violence, the unjust use of force, you set the stage for cooperation. Conflict between two or more people over scarce goods is what breeds violence. If you can avoid conflict, you can avoid violence (for the most part).
It is simply because we live in a world with other people that we need to focus in on theories that avoid conflict as well as explain how to deal with conflict when it arises. If we know this, then the chances for unjust violence greatly decrease (of course, madmen still pose a problem within this arrangement, but they pose an equal, if not greater, problem in all other arrangements as well), and mutual cooperation increases.
If we lived in a world where there was only one person, we wouldn’t need any of these ideas (think of Robinson Crusoe). No interpersonal conflict could arise then. For most of us, though, this is not the case. We need this theory because we all live in a finite world with other people and we all want to keep on living.
We cannot escape scarcity. In our world, there is a limit to everything. In order for us to continue to live, we have to make use of the scarce means around us. However, others may be trying to use those same means as well. Conflict can arise between different individuals because neither can exclusively use the same thing at the same time. Even if every other good in this world was infinite, if both people want to be standing in the exact same spot, then conflict arises. Conflict doesn’t just arise from two people simply believing in two different things, like is commonly believed. They both have to purposively act and use the same thing as one another. Scarcity and purposive action are the two necessary conditions of our world. This is why we need know what the just use of violence (force) truly is as well as it’s implication of how to avoid conflict over scarce means between other people who are trying to purposively act in order to continue living (which is what we all want to do).
Libertarian thought is useful because it is grounded in scarcity, purposive action, and human interaction. By applying the non-aggression axiom of Libertarianism we find a solution to avoid force and a system to respond to an unjust use of force as well. But what is the solution exactly? How can conflict be avoided and what mechanisms should be put in place to deal with conflict? Here’s a hint: it involves property rights. That’s the next topic.
By Cameron Belt
Another running series that I will be doing, along with the Foundation of Liberty will be my version of the ABCs of Libertarianism. I’ve found 26 topics that are relevant to Libertarianism in some way and will be explaining their relevance. I’ve gotten creative with a few of them, out of necessity. Here’s a preview.
Theft (a.k.a. Taxes)
By Cameron Belt
Hi there! Welcome to Libertarian Mindset, the website that’s devoted to spreading the history, principles, ideas, and ideals of Libertarianism along with helping you understand exactly How a Libertarian thinks. To start, we need to understand what Libertarianism is.
Libertarianism is a political philosophy which provides a theory of the just use of violence within society. It rests on one main axiom (an axiom is an idea that is universally understood as true without having to be proven): the “non-aggression axiom.” This axiom states that no men or group of men may use physical force, or the threat of physical force, against the person and property of someone else. Pretty plain and simple. It is wrong for me to attempt to either physically harm you or to take your property against your will. Aggression can also be understood as an invasion.
The only just use of violence within Libertarian thought is the use of force in a strictly defensive manner. If I go to strike you in the head with a club, you have the right to stop me from doing so, or you have the right to strike back if I were to strike you unexpectedly catching you off-guard.
This is the foundation from which all Libertarian thought processes can be traced back to. It is important to constantly remember this self-evident truth when looking at the world through a Libertarian’s eyes. The basis of Libertarianism is private property (beginning with the human physical body) and the protection of that private property from any other possible aggressor.
Why is this idea useful? Why do we need a just theory of force? And why does the non-aggression principle qualify as a self-evident truth (axiom)? These questions will be the topics of the next post in the Foundation of Liberty series.
By Cameron Belt