This post is a COPYPASTA that was originally published under my old pseudonym, 'Sentient Void', at the Ron Paul Forums Blog, on 01-24-2014.
First, what is 'the NAP' (for those unlikely few of you)?
"The non-aggression principle (NAP) is an ethical and moral principle that aims to avoid conflict between individuals by prohibiting crimes like theft and murder. The crimes prohibited by the NAP are behaviors that are malum in se as opposed to behaviors that are prohibited due to laws, social norms, or moral systems. The principle asserts aggression is always an illegitimate encroachment upon another individual's life, liberty, or property, or attempt to obtain from another via deceit what could not be consensually obtained. For example, the NAP prohibits the initiation of force by one individual or group of individuals against another individual or group of individuals.
According to Laurence M. Vance, the NAP is the defining principle of libertarianism. According to some libertarians the NAP and property rights are closely linked, since what aggression is depends on what a person's rights are. Aggression, for the purposes of NAP, is defined as initiating or threatening the use of violence against an individual or legitimately owned property of another.
Supporters of the NAP often appeal to it in order to argue for the immorality of theft, vandalism, assault, and fraud. In contrast to nonviolence, the non-aggression principle does not preclude violence used in self-defense or defense of others. Many supporters argue that NAP opposes such policies as victimless crime laws, taxation, and military drafts. NAP is the foundation of most present-day libertarian philosophies."
Now, the NAP is the very beating heart of what libertarianism is and stands for, as a philosophy. It's not merely just for concepts of 'government' but really for general interaction with your fellow man. The whole idea is that the same moral principles good people apply to themselves and others are not exempted when it comes to government 'officials' of any sort - be it a police officer, soldier, representative, or the president himself. You can't give rights to others that you do not yourself have, even if you and a mob of 50 other people against 49 say otherwise.
But, before (fellow) libertarians decide to 'revoke my libertarian card' after reading my critique - know that I am a firm advocate of the NAP. Basically, I think the best justice system will be built around the NAP and that a society that follows the NAP most consistently will be the most 'just', as well as the most prosperous and happy.
That being said, far too many 'libertarians' et al say that the NAP is never to be violated, no matter what. They believe in a rigid adherence to the NAP - that it is some absolutist doctrine. I think this is a serious mistake and a failing of philosophy.
Another caveat. Understand that while I provide an example to illustrate my point, the example itself is irrelevant. The point, is the logic. If our philosophy relies on consistent theories and tests based purely on a priori reasoning, we must be willing and able to take it to its logically implied extremes for rigorous testing. Bad ideas, taken to their logical conclusions, produce extremely bad results. That's how you detect bad ideas. Good ideas are just the opposite, and are tested in the same way. Moderation is only good for stopping us from taking bad ideas too far. Also, we cannot remain intellectually honest and claim a priorism is the most important path to truth and knowledge, yet only cherry pick when we want to use it and when we don't.
So here we are. The NAP must be logically tested at its extremes just the same as we would (and should) concepts of corporatism, socialism, communism, and whatever other flavor of -ism you can come up with. We could really use any logical extreme, even ones we'd imagine are virtually or completely impossible to ever take place, and they would still be valid. For the sake of making the NAP zealots happy, we'll try to use a fairly realistic, albeit simple, thought-experiment.
Let's say it was 3:00 AM and you had to drive your daughter home (from wherever, for whatever reason). Suddenly, you realize that you (the imperfect human that you are) made a mistake and forgot her medicine (whatever it is), or that she ran out, or it was lost, or some other situation. She gets horribly sick and is potentially near death within five or ten minutes, unless you get medicine very quickly. You just drove by a closed pharmacy. What do you do?
Do you say to yourself and to your dying daughter, 'No, I won't break into that pharmacy and violate the NAP in order to save my daughters life', or do you say, '$#@! the consequences, I'm saving my daughter's life and violating the $#@! out of the NAP to get some medicine for her'?
Maybe you call the ambulance at the same time (just in case), but that's besides the point.
Of course, this and other such examples make 'the libertarian' uncomfortable. They think any debunking of rigid adherence to the NAP necessarily 'implies the state'. This used to be my position and I avoided and equivocated and danced like a dervish and engaged in all sorts of mental gymnastics to try to 'find a way out' of the logical corner I felt I was put in. So trust me when I say that I sympathize with you. However, this conclusion is a non sequitur. Just because some rare lifeboat scenario dictates a violation of the NAP, doesn't mean it implies the state - that we need to then have some permanent institution with a monopoly on violence.
So I say you 'should' violate the NAP, and that if you didn't, you'd be an insane, irrational human being who is a parent with your priorities way the $#@! out of whack. I'd go so far as to say that you probably shouldn't be a parent in the first place.
This is absolutely not to say that we should toss out the NAP. It just means that while the NAP is very good, it's not flawless. It has limitations. Virtually nothing is so perfectly flawless and sometimes life trumps so called 'principles' in extraordinary situations. Principles *should* have a 'price' (they should just be very high, such as in my example above), lest you be a wholly irrational and insane person. Of course, you weigh the consequences of your actions against the alternatives.
It means that if the price of saving your daughter's life is violating 'your principles' and some jailtime and/or restitution, or losing your hand (like Riyad, Saudi Arabia), or whatever - then that's a very, very small price to pay.
Perhaps it's better or more accurate to call it 'the Non-Aggression *Maxim*' or NAM? If I am correct, then calling it a 'maxim' is far more appropriate.
In any case, while the NAP would have been violated, you can still have justice (which is of utmost importance to libertarians) as long as restitution/retribution is rendered to the victim. This is a cost-consequence one must be willing to accept as an exchange for the life of their child, or whatever/whoever else in some other scenario. Ultimately, it all comes down to weighing the just consequences of the act in question with one's value of the person(s) that needs to be saved. Are the consequences worth it?
In this case, the victim of the theft (the pharmacy) would have the right of 'up to' (taking into account Rothbard's proportionality principle, which I think is fairly solid) the value of the property lost/destroyed/stolen in restitution. Because it is 'up to', this means they also have the right to not pursue restitution. This may actually be good PR and attract more customers and thus, profit, because of public support. So, even in this situation, the incentives surrounding the market work in the case of all agents involved.
Yet, we can push on the NAP even further. Yes, restitution is the next possible ideal in an unideal situation -- but what if turning yourself in to the police for either the sake of 'justice' or paying restitution would yet again put your daughter into harms way? As an example, perhaps you live in extreme poverty and can't afford restitution and need to focus on her at all times? Once again, the only sane choice leaves the pharmacy owner and the NAP shit out of luck.
On the other side of this discussion, what if we look at some extreme logical conclusions of 'rigid' application of the NAP? Such strict adherence implies that we could engage in any number of thought-experiments where the world could burn and humanity killed off because one refused to engage in some (even minor) kind of NAP violation. Principles are important, not hurting or killing people is important, but morality is indeed a social construct. There is no intellectually honest is-ought gap-crossing way of denying this. If morality is a social construct, then it is for the purpose of minimizing the pain and suffering of others in life, if not the existence of life itself. If one is willing to uphold principles at the expense of life, then you have destroyed life and thus any such value of morality itself.
If you're willing to kill off the entire human race just to uphold a principle, then what is the whole point of principles and any other social constructs? Stated differently, if the universe is devoid of human experience, what relevance does any claim of morality have without humanity to live or partake in it?
It seems to me, to have any real sense of morality, one must be willing to violate it, at some point. Any claim otherwise, seems completely irrational, illogical and self-destructive.
Libertarians seem to fear these types of hypos - they equivocate on them, they try to rationalize them, or they try (dishonestly) to outright dismiss them as 'unrealistic' and thus 'irrelevant'. Since when did a priorists abandon pure, hard logic and become empiricists? Since when did 'libertarians' who acknowledge that everyone is self-interested, suddenly become enamored with the idea of thrusting themselves upon the self-sacrificial sword and altar of 'principle' or 'to bring liberty to the masses for the greater good', at their own expense, or better yet, their death or the death of their loved ones?
Ultimately, your so-called principles are your values. Your values, have a value. This means - they have a price. It's time for those of us libertarians to come to terms with this if we are to be honest with ourselves and others about libertarianism and non-aggression. Otherwise, we will be stuck under the glass-ceiling of sophistry and freshman philosophy, on par with the cretinous socialists and ignorant communists, merely with a different flavor of dogma. The sooner more of us come to realize this, the sooner libertarianism and libertarians can be taken seriously as advocating a form of government that is fit for life and reality.