What is the “non-aggression principle”?

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(By Dr. Mary Ruwart from Ask Dr. Ruwart, from the Liberator Online Volume 18, No. 20Subscribe here!)

QUESTION: What is the libertarian “non-aggression principle” (or “non-aggression axiom”)?

MY SHORT ANSWER: Libertarianism is based on a single ideal, the non-aggression principle, so libertarian rhetoric tends to be remarkably consistent.

Libertarians oppose the initiation of force to achieve social or political goals. They reject “first-strike” force, fraud or theft against others; they only use force in self-defense. Those who violate this “non-aggression principle” are expected to make their victims whole as much as possible.

This “Good Neighbor Policy” is what most of us were taught as children. We were told not to lie, cheat, steal, not to strike our playmates unless they hit us first. If we broke a friend’s toy, we were expected to replace it.

Most of us still practice what we learned as children with other individuals, but we have grown accustomed to letting government aggress against others when we think we benefit. Consequently, our world is full of poverty and strife, instead of the harmony and abundance that freedom (i.e., freedom from aggression) brings.

Simply put, libertarians take the non-aggression principle that most people implicitly follow in their interactions with other individuals, and apply it to group actions, including government actions, as well.

You might have heard the Libertarian Party (LP) referred to as the “Party of Principle.” This is because the LP bases its programs and policy positions on the non-aggression principle.

LEARN MORE: Suggestions by Liberator Online editor James W. Harris for more information on this topic: 

* “The Philosophy of Liberty“ is a 10-minute, easy to understand, dramatic animated video introduction to the libertarian idea of self-ownership and what it implies. It is based on what is now the epilogue of Ken Schoolland’s classic libertarian book, The Adventures of Jonathan Gullible. It was created by Kerry Pearson (aka Lux Lucre). Scroll down to the bottom of this website to watch it in English. At the same page you can also download it in many languages. Share it with friends!

* “Libertarianism is the view that each person has the right to live his life in any way he chooses so long as he respects the equal rights of others. Libertarians defend each person’s right to life, liberty, and property – rights that people have naturally, before governments are created. In the libertarian view, all human relationships should be voluntary; the only actions that should be forbidden by law are those that involve the initiation of force against those who have not themselves used force – actions like murder, rape, robbery, kidnapping, and fraud.”

That’s from the introduction to David Boaz’s excellent 1997 book Libertarianism: A Primer. You can read excerpts from that chapter and others online here.

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About the author: Mary Ruwart

Dr. Mary Ruwart is a leading expert in libertarian communication and author of the international bestseller Healing Our World. She is also author of Short Answers to Tough Questions, in which you will find a collection of her answers from this column. In this column she provides Liberator Online readers with answers to questions libertarians are often asked. Dr. Ruwart is a research scientist, ethicist, and a libertarian author/activist. She received her B.S. in biochemistry in 1970 and her Ph.D. in Biophysics in 1974 (both from Michigan State University). She subsequently joined the Department of Surgery at St. Louis University and left her Assistant Professorship there to accept a position with The Upjohn Company of Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1976. As a senior research scientist, Dr. Ruwart was involved in developing new therapies for a variety of diseases, including liver cirrhosis and AIDS. Dr. Ruwart left Upjohn in 1995 to devote her time to consulting and writing. Her communications course for scientists (www.speakingforscientists.com), covering written, oral, and poster presentations has received high praise from attendees. She also provides consulting services for nutraceutical companies, clinical research organizations, and universities. Currently, Dr. Ruwart serves as Chair of the International Society for Individual Liberty (www.isil.org) and Secretary of the Foundation for a Free Society (www.f4fs.org). She has been an At-Large member of the Libertarian National Committee (www.lp.org), served on the Board of both the Heartland Institute (www.heartland.org; Michigan Chapter) and the Fully Informed Jury Amendment Association (www.fija.org).