Let's talk about Property Rights and AggressionSubmitted by onesquarelight on Sat, 01/25/2014 - 21:07
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.