The precondition of a civilised society is the barring of physical force from social relationships – thus establishing the principle that if men wish to deal with one another, they may do so only by means of reason: by discussion, persuasion and voluntary, uncoerced agreement. – Ayn Rand.
Rand’s formulation is similar to earlier injunctions against force by such thinkers as Auberon Herbert, Herbert Spencer, and Wilhelm von Humboldt.
It is important to note that it applies not to all use of force, but to specifically to the initiation of its use. Force is never justified when initiated against others, but only when used to in retaliation against its initiators, i.e. in self-defence.
To rule out force used in self-defence -- or to collapse the distinction between initiatory force and force used in retaliation by labelling both as 'violence' -- does not remove aggression, it rewards it.
'Non-violence' invites agression, it does not disarm those who choose to ignore your 'peaceful protest.'
It’s important to note also that the notion of physical force is not intended to be confined to direct acts of first-strike violence, but also their precursors and derivatives, e.g. threats and fraud – intimidating or deceiving someone into a course of action to which he would not otherwise have consented.
The essence of the evil of force is that it is the negation of a person's mind and the choices otherwise freely made, effected by an attack or the threat of attack on a person’s body and/or property. It is an assault on his distinctively human attributes, his very essence as a human being. It is only by such direct physical coercion that man's rights may be violated, by compelling him by force to act against his own judgement.
People generally have no difficulty identifying and condemning individuals who coerce other individuals, but they are conditioned to accept and applaud coercive behaviour by governments. Therein lies the challenge to libertarians!
This is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by libertarians. Originally published in The Free Radical. The 'Introduction' to the series is here.