Saturday, 18 June 2005

Cue Card Libertarianism -- Force

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.


Icehawk said...

I'm a bit confused, but you seem to be challenging the special status of The State.

That is, the fact that govts are allowed to do coercive things that individuals are not allowed to do.

1) Is that what you are challenging? The whole notion that the state is exceptional in that it is permitted a monopoly on coercion?

2) You say violence as "self defence" is morally okay. But do you really mean "self defence" as we usually mean it and as our courts interprete it. Or do you mean "violence to defend my property is morally okay"?.

Peter Cresswell said...

Hi Icehawk. What I'm saying in a nutshel is
1) that the distinction between initiation of force and retaliatory force is crucial;
2) that calling both 'violence' collapses that important distinction;
3) that initiation of force should be outlawed;
4) that we each have a right to the exercise of retaliatory force, ie., force used in self-defence;
5) a government is the appropriate means of placing the retaliatory use of physical force under objective control.

Clear enough? :-)