Libertarians tend to have two special character traits.
First, we’re a bit contrarian. We stand alone, if we must.
Second, we’re logically consistent. We cannot stand hypocrisy.
In our quest for intellectual consistency, we seek principles. In human action, we seek moral consistency. In other words, we seek to live by those principles.
Our principles guide us. They help us sort out tough situations before all the data arrives. Here are some of the more common principles libertarians live by…
The Self-Ownership Principle: Each person owns themselves. If someone else owns you, you’re a slave.
Zero Aggression Principle: It is always wrong to initiate force to achieve a social or political goal.
Law of Equal Liberty: Each person is free to do what he or she wills, so long as they don’t infringe on the equal freedom of another.
Natural Law: The Creator endows each person with rights, at birth, so we must all respect those rights in others (see: The Declaration of Independence)
Maybe your preferred principle is not listed here. But chances are, that principle, as well as the ones listed above, are…
Personally chosen statements of behavior.
In other words, these principles represent your values. You selected them as an expression of your ethics. Since you chose them, you also enforce them. But we all slip sometimes. Hopefully, you’re forgiving of yourself in those moments where you don’t live up to values.
Likewise, when others around you do not embrace and abide by them, those principles are non-binding.
But there is a “higher principle” for society. It’s higher because it can be repeatedly observed in nature. It’s the Principle of Human Respect…
Human happiness, harmony, and prosperity diminish when a person experiences violence, theft, or fraud.
This principle, unlike the others, has an “If X, then Y” relationship.
In other words, when violence is used to achieve a personal, social, or political goal, the socially desirable benefits of human happiness, social peace, and/or wealth decline. You can test that proposition.
Let’s be clear, each of the principles listed above is wonderful. But the Principle of Human Respect identifies a “cause and effect” relationship that is as consistent and observable as gravity.
Nearly all political philosophies resort to coercive force to achieve their Utopias. Libertarians uniquely recognize that it’s wrong, on both an individual and a political level, to use threats backed by violence to pursue your (conservative or progressive) goals. Only the Principle of Human Respect explains why we’d be happier and more at peace if everyone lived by any of the libertarian “principles.”
Jim Babka is the Editor-at-Large for Advocates for Self-Government and the co-creator of the Zero Aggression Project.