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Let's talk about Property Rights and Aggression

We own ourselves and our labor. Therefore, what our body and labor produce we own. To be rightfully owned is be acquired justly. Other than owning what we produce directly, we may justly come to own things via gift or trade. What we own we call our property.

What makes property, well property, is the just Right of owner(s) to solely determine how to employ it to their advantage. Though no one may justly deny the owner the use of property, the range of just uses in not limitless. Society as whole, comprised of individual sovereign property owners, does not permit one to violate the Property Rights of another. It does permit one to defend one's property from aggression, and it is by this mechanism that we may say that only the property owner who respects the Property Rights of all others may claim it for himself.

For the aggressor to restore this right to himself, the harm his actions may have caused must be sufficiently rectified in the eyes of the aggressed. We call this justice.

Therefore the Libertarian creed known as the Non-Aggression Principle states that all instigation of aggression is illegitimate. There is no moral ground from which aggression may stem. The aggressor may not lay claim to Property Rights to defend the instigation of aggression.

It's vitally important to define aggression in order to correctly ascertain when it has occurred. After all when it occurs retaliatory aggression is justified. Since the victim of aggression generally decides for himself if he has been aggressed upon, it's easy to see how the two sides of any altercation could both claim to be victims. Woe to anyone who feeling the victim lashes out unjustly.

There is of course the obvious forms of aggression; theft, murder, rape, and fraud.

But can there be aggression in idleness?

When contemplating the nature of aggression, I often ponder idleness in situations which seem to morally demand one’s participation. For instance, if a starving man begs me for food, and I have what I deem to be plenty, yet deny his request, have I aggressed against this man? If a man is drowning beside my boat and I refuse to come to his aid, despite no suspicion that doing so would jeopardize my own well being, am I not guilty of instigating aggression?

That there are shades of obligation in the scenarios mentioned above does not escape me. I am well aware that for liberty to prevail, the individual must be free to consider his own well being; to weigh the risk involved when rendering aid to another. There is no justice in coercing by force one to act to his own detriment. No one is morally obligated to risk his life to save another though such an act is most noble and stems from no other place but love of others.

The cases I am concerned with here are situations where one cannot truthfully assert that the perceived danger was sufficient to justify passiveness. To know with great certainty that failure to lend a hand will result in bodily harm or death to another, and yet choose to remain idle is akin to causing the harm by ones own hands.

Considering again the starving man, who I refuse to aid with food though I have enough to give 10 times the amount requested with no concern for my own ability to feed myself and family, I ask, is there a moral footing on which to stand in claiming that I may do with my property whatever I wish, even to the detriment of others? I know of no Libertarian who upon consideration of this scenario could answer yes. The evidence seems overwhelming to me that I am inclined to believe a poor starving man may be justified in any effort to procure my food by force, under the natural right of self defense. For if I have, with my idleness, instigated aggression – acted in a manor expected to contribute to the demise of another – have I not relegated my own property rights to the rubbish bin, and exposed myself to the possibility of just retaliation?

Do not construe my words here to imply a defense of moral relativism. I am not saying that theft is not immoral in all cases. I believe theft is always immoral. What I am presenting here is the idea that property rights are not violated when a man at deaths door takes by force after making every effort to prevent his end by appealing to the good nature of one who is nearby and burdened with plenty, only to have his most direct potential for rescue deny all moral obligation to render aid and act in a manor intended to ensure his demise.

Mises in “Human Action”, speaking of purposeful human action states that “…action is not only doing but no less omitting to do what possibly could be done.”

By this definition, idleness, carried out with the intention and expectation that acting so will likely allow harm to come to another, it must be considered aggression.

Rothbard states in “The Ethics of Liberty” something that seems to take quite the opposite stance. “…In the free society, no man may be saddled with the legal obligation to do anything for another, since that would invade the former’s rights; the only legal obligation one man has to another is to respect the other man’s rights.”

While the word legal lends me to believe that what Rothbard is saying is that no man should be legally compelled to act by threat of state punishment for any failure to do so. This I can agree with entirely. However, he is presenting a framework for ethical behavior, and on that ground alone, I presume that Rothbard would heartily agree that there is a moral obligation to rescue, but it is best left to the individual to determine when he can live with the consequences of being idle and when his character compels him to render aid.

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The real exercise here is to

The real exercise here is to examine aggression and whether or not ldleness can constitute aggression which justifies a retaliatory violation of property rights. If my examples don't compel you to consider the possibility, can you imagine a scenario of your own that could illustrate aggression in idleness?

Here is another one. A screaming woman bangs at your door begging to be let in. There is an attacker after her and she fears for her life. You walk back to your easy chair believing you are not obligated to allow the woman the use of your property, even though you believe the threat is legitimate and recon that there is no risk to youself if you were to allow her in.

Has she been aggressed upon by you? I say yes and it is precisely this aggression which justifies her entering through an open window and using your house to escape danger without your permission.

No matter which side of the fence you come down on on this issue I'm interested in hearing your reasoning.

No. You would not be an aggressor in this case.

But the woman would be justified in protecting her own life by entering your house.

Is the word you are looking for "negligence" instead of "idleness?'

What is the justification for

What is the justification for violating anothers property rights if its not aggression?

I do mean idleness. Negligence is good to I suppose. I think you're inferring what I'm implying anyway.

You see others will argue

You see others will argue that its morrally ok for the woman to break in in such a situation but deny that the justification is being aggressed upon. This puts one in the position of having to say that the initiation of aggression is not always unethical which violates the non aggression principle and reeks of moral relativism.

Ive been mulling this

Ive been mulling this conundrum over for quite a while now. The only solution I can conjure is that idleness can legitimately be construed as aggression.

Is non-aggression the only moral principal?

Honestly don't know much about non-aggression or the philosophy behind it.

Some claim it is a universal

Some claim it is a universal ethical standard. My opinion is that it fails in some extreme situations when one plugs the typical deffinition of aggression into it. To a large extent that is what this is all about - expanding the definition of aggression to beef up NAP.

This is about coercion and

This is about coercion and how it's unethical to force someone to render aid (ie taxes). I'm not making that argument at all. I agree with this video. I don't believe anything I've put forward here disagrees with it.

The non aggression principle is intended to weed out unethical actions from the ethical ones. Forcing anyone to act according to your will is wrong according to NAP but only IF that person has not initiated aggression upon you.

I'm investigating scenarios that people often bring up in an attempt to dismiss/disprove the non aggression principle so I have something intelligent to respond to criticism with.

I am an advocate NAP. I believe criticisms of it can be remedied with a more robust definition of aggression.

There is a fallacy in the premise of the "starving man" scenario

How is one to be certain that the man is starving? How is one to know that his hard luck story is sincere?

There is no obligation to charity. People are free to spend the fruits of their labor as they wish. Besides who has the proper status to define an act of charity. For instance, suppose a person writes a book that has a profound positive influence on the world yet never gives monetary donations to causes that others happen to believe are worthwhile, has that person been uncharitable?

This is the problem with

This is the problem with using examples I suppose. I'm imagining something like coming accross a man in the dessert who is near death and deciding to walk on by despite the fact that I have water to spare. You are imagining a beggar on the sidewalk. I meant to analyze a scenario much more extreme. Maybe I should have been clearer.

Your question?

Is neglecting to aid another an act of aggression towards him?

I don't think so. But that doesn't make it ok either.

I heard that we are now non-denominational around here, but for me it boils down to the second Great Commandment: Love thy neighbor as thyself.

Thanks for thinking this through

As an example, there is a law that compels giving help in an emergency situation. That is, the law of the scripture(Deuteronomy 15:7-9).

I can't say what the punishment should be for failing to give that help. If I had to guess, perhaps up to forty stripes as mentioned in Deuteronomy 25:1-3. But keep in mind that even if we do not punish that failure, the Creator has other ways of doing just that.


Hear, O Israel: YHUH our God YHUH one. And thou shalt love YHUH thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

The punishment I suppose

The punishment I suppose would be existing outside the protection which property rights afford. Natural Law and the justness of protecting one's life and property from aggression mean that a violator would be subject to aggression for which he cannot justly defend himself.

So, in other words

you would take all his possessions?

Is that what you think self

Is that what you think self defense means? To answer your question, no, that's not what I was eluding to. I think the punishment must fit the crime. In a free society where each individual who is aggressed upon is free to punish their aggressor. Someone trying to kill you can be justly killed. Someone who pushes you down opens themselves up to getting pushed back. Someone who punches you opens themselves up to getting punched back. The point is free people are free to punish their aggressor within reason. Freedom is the greatest deterrent to aggression.

That would get out of hand real quick.

On a small scale it works but what do you have in mind? If a drunk runs over my brother would I be allowed to get wasted and plow him over in retaliation?

I see these victim's families bitterly pursuing the criminal to exact revenge as if that will heal their loss. It won't. It would be a dangerous world if the victims were free to exact their version of justice- like road rage to a new level.

I like your thinking.

We don't always have to set the rules and follow up with punishment. God is a better judge.