-13 votes

Anarcho Ad Absurdum

Some fun with NAP and it's favored theory of property.

The absurdity lies in the property theory and not in the idea of non aggression. The idea of non aggression is common to pretty much all legal-ethical systems, it is simply a question of which system of property rights defined whether aggression occurs.

In this system, property is:

1) obtained only by title transfer, or
2) homesteading - with no limits on how much you can grab that aren't arbitrary
3) absolute, inalienable
4) defensible with any force
5) one's domain where one can commit any acts whatsoever
6) one's legal domain where no law holds unless agreed to by contract
7) a place where trespassers can be captured, tortured, etc. since they are criminal trespassers and guilty parties

We can call this the sovereign or feudal property theory, and if this is the property theory you believe in, it will lead to all manner of fun absurdities, of which the following are some.

-In such a system, aggression would be trespassing on someone's square 500 mile homesteaded kingdom to pick an apple, in which mercenary robocop armies from private agencies could descent from skynet to machine gun the hungry person.

-All enforcement of these property claims must be privately obtained by purchase, donation or maybe volunteer serfs...

-On the other hand, of 100 to the 850th power of people agree to X rules and force 1 person to adhere to those same rules, grave injustice has been committed.

-If people bought up the 4 spaces of land around my holding and built a tower of Babel around my property and cut my water off, I would be the aggressive party to climb over the wall.

-If I walked by a drowning person in a river and he grabbed onto my leg and pulled himself onto the bank, I could shoot him down as an aggressive trespasser.

-A person making gigantic bonfires in their yard sending flaming debris and ash through the sky can't be stopped - that would be aggression. But if the entire town caught fire, he would be sued in a private arbitration... or something.

-If ten adjacent properties that formed a square shared an outer perimeter, and a mob of violent freemasons was descending on the town, and nine property owners told the tenth not to permit access into the defensible square, and tried to stop him, then the nine are aggressors and the one is the victim.

-If one man homesteaded the entire earth except for the city of Fargo, North Dakota, and all the rest of humanity existed inside of Fargo, it would be aggression for them to force a redistribution.

-If a man was on his property torturing exotic ring tailed lemurs from Damascus for personal amusement every day, it would be aggression to enter his property to stop him and he would be entitled to shoot you down unless he had signed a contract with PETA/Blackwater corp.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

My concerns with Anarchy:

What about the possibility of more powerful private protection agencies eventually transforming themselves into governments? Say, if they are tired of competing and then start using force to outgun/outlaw weaker competition and then force everyone in their domain of operations to pay protection tax/racket just to them? We have forms of this today, where various gangs demand/racketeer businesses and gun down any competition that enters their turf. Eventually, opposing gangs/governments do manage to work out their boundaries, since it is expensive to go to war over turf, but the tyranny remains nevertheless. Or would it eventually disappear completely?

Also, what about the problem of not wanting to be part of/pay for any protection agency/racket? Is it morally OK to accept and ignore murder due to failure of an individual/group of people, for whatever reason, to pay a protection agency. Whatever the system and whatever the choice of the individual is, I am inclined to believe that it is the burden of the society to address murder, theft, and loss of liberty, whenever those suffering from such abuses cannot or would not pay for it in the free market (as the last resort), even if it takes coercion to achieve it. And that implies some sort of minimal but non-monopolistic micro government to protect life, liberty, property (but not provide food, education, healthcare...). Again, but only when the market would not take care of it due to lack of private funding or lack of pro-Bono motivation. And govt. would in such cases not necessarily be the one to find and punish perpetrators, but rather just to tax/demand society to pay for the costs of investigation. The acquired funds could still go to accounts of private agencies that give best quotes on getting the job of investigation done. I know, using coercion to prevent coercion is an oxymoron, but what other option is there left in addressing the abuse of life, liberty, and property when the hurt parties can't or won't themselves pay for it, and when charity isn't available?!! Is it OK to look the other way? In my opinion, these three aspects certainly cannot be viewed and disregarded in the same way as the issues of hunger or education for example.

All ideas to help dispel these concerns and turn me into a 100% anarchist are welcome...

Ron Paul Revolution is spreading around the world: Freedom and Prosperity TV: libertarian network of alternative media in Western Balkans

The NAP is useful for the

The NAP is useful for the first level of analysis, a kind of rule of thumb. Trying to make more of it than that will end with absurdities, like the kind you describe. At the end of the day, the NAP has to be bounded by some utilitarian concerns.

Any philosophy can be drilled down to absurdity

We live in the real world of real people and real situations. The extreme cases you concoct leave the libertarian no choice but to agree to ridiculousness...or vacate libertarianism.

There is a saying that goes something like: extreme cases make bad law. A test of the relative viability of a political philosophy is how extreme you must get before the philosophy becomes absurd. I will posit that any philosophy you can think of will fail the test with relatively easy cases...indeed, they fail in the mundane world. But libertarianism, and NAP, must be pushed to the hypothetical stratosphere before becoming repulsive.

In the real world, libertarianism beats out any philosophy yet thought up. But we should always be open to improvements...

Do you have any that would improve on NAP without introducing elements that would make real life worse?


..wrote a reply. DP deleted it as it always does when you are drinking and typing. Won't reply again besides to say that there is no way to know what practical set of rules will result in the most freedom for the majority, which is utilitarianism anyway. An absolute standard of property is objective, but historically, produces feudalism. Any non absolute, arbitrary standard, might produce more freedom for more people, but it's status is only validated by utility, where the end justifies the means. I've already accepted utilitarianism as a valid ideology, even if not binding on me.

I've lost many brilliant rebuttals to an errant finger

I will consider your rebuttal to be devastating, and I am now licking my wounds.

Utilitarianism, as I understand the term, has serious issues that leave it susceptible to everyday manipulation. It seems to fail in everyday usage because of manipulations of the terms "good" and "for whom". I see it in arguments that are used every day. Example: we must use public money to build a new stadium for the local professional football team because if we don't people won't come to our city and that will depress business in hotels, bars, restaurants. If those venues close or cut back, there will be fewer jobs and the industries that rely on consumer spending like retail, real estate, and entertainment will suffer. The whole city will spiral downward. So, for the good of everyone, it is best that we take one quarter of a percent of every transaction and devote it to this critical infrastructure.

Of course, the economic argument is crap, but that argument wins elections every year in dozens of cities throughout the country. The "good" is really not good, but it is dressed up with smooth arguments to make it look "good" to the average person. The real beneficiaries are not the People, but a select group who manipulate the public into pouring money into the pockets of rich people.

It's been some years since I read John Stuart Mills, but I think I've got my old college copy around here somewhere. I'll dust it off as soon as I finish Moby Dick.

Thank you for acknowledging the argument-crushing power

of my escaped rebuttal.

I agree utilitarianism has to be clearly defined by any proponent with his idea of good and an argument of why this or that policy will produce it for most people.

My only point was that since the utilitarian has a goal in mind, he is free to adjust his means to reach the proposed end.

We're all free to disagree with his ends, and his means, but he has an outcome as the focal point, not a principle. If you're committed to the principle as the end, then you are stuck with whatever practical outcome you get.

The utilitarian as the opposite problem. You can draw all kids of absurd situations from the End justifies the means, but I think much less absurd then the above, where the ethical means justifies any absurd end.

Anyway, if we are going to arbitrary define, bound off and restrict property away from absoluteness, it seems like we must be doing it for utilitarian reasons. If we were working from some principle of self ownership/absolute sovereignty on one's property, it would seem to follow that on one's land, one's own law goes.

If not, I'd like to know what right we have to so limit natural self ownership if it is indeed some kind of ethical a priori from natural law.

Since I don't think it is, and its own proponents like Rothbard even restrict it when needed to limit absurdity, then they are really acting in a ends-justifies-means way by doing so, and seem to be utilitarian then. But if they open the door to utility, why stop at their arbitrary point? Why not go further?

Hold onto your hat

I'm about to say something I am probably going to regret...and I don't want you getting used to this...but...

I agree.

The NAP/Natural Rights concept is only viable because it's outcomes are favorable. If NAP/Natural Rights resulted in death and destruction all around, then I think it would be easy to say there was something deeply flawed about the concepts.

I would go so far to say that the principle of NAP/Natural Rights was devised AFTER positive experiences with freedom as a way of explaining why freedom worked...sort of the way a scientist observes a phenomenon, then comes up with a theory to explain it. NAP is a great shorthand 'principle' that can be used as a guide in 99+% of human interactions, but there will be rare times when NAP may be absurd. How do we know NAP is absurd? Because it leads to outcomes that are intolerable. Now we're back to testing NAP against utility, which is the opposite of the principle.

The great danger in treating NAP/Natural Rights as just another tool in the utilitarian's toolbox is that the tendency will be to disregard it whenever it is inconvenient to a particular end. Now all possible means can be considered, including violence, to achieve an end, because the end justifies whatever means it takes to get there. We all know how that has worked out for totalitarian societies in the 20th Century.

So I am aware that NAP is only valid because it works. Conversely, NAP works because it is valid....almost all of the time. Do we throw it out because it can't deal with exreme hyptheticals and deliver a non-absurd result? Or do we acknowledge that NAP is a fine principle, great for organizing a peaceful and productive society, and ought to be modified or changed only in the most extreme cases?

This is similar to Newtonian physics. It works fine for everyday life, but it is useless when dealing with nuclear science (or so I'm told).

Anyway, don't get used to the idea that I will agree with you much. I'm generally defensive, arrogant, and bull headed. (Other than that, I'm a nice guy.)

I agree

The only problem is we don't "use NAP all the time," unless we equivocate its meaning. As it is normally defined, attached to a radical property theory that has no link to our present law or its historical development, we don't use it at all.

Our laws and our behavior have nothing to do with the property theory of Rothbard or any other anarchist.

While its true that most of us don't practice violence ourselves, for whatever reasons (disposition, fear of the legal repercussions, some other morality, etc.), this is true within the context of our actual laws, which have nothing to do with NAP.

NAP is not just being personally non-violent. The would remove from it a specific definition of property, which is necessary for the term, since it applies not just to bodies, but to what we justly own.

NAP contains within its premises about property rights an integral system of law follows therefrom. If force is restricted only to self defense and what one legitimately owns, this implies a particular property theory.

Since NAP has a radial heterodox theory of property that has no correlate in law and practice or history, then we do not ever practice NAP, so defined.

You may say that our current legal framework shares some overlap with the NAP, as we imagine it would be in practice, but that doesn't mean any of us adhere to NAP. Just because two systems might have overlap doesn't mean we adhere to NAP now in some proportional sense. The average adherent of Marxist was also non violence and respected others space and possessions. That doesn't means he was 80% NAP lol. Principles don't work that way.

If NAP is stripped of its specific property theory of what one "owns justly," then a Marxist with his theory of property would also practice NAP. Non aggression against justly owned property could be applied to any theory of property.

Since in the real world we don't apply the Rothbard theory in our behavior, since most people generally accept the need for some government and taxes, therefore we do not at all use NAP.

Granted--our society does not practice NAP

We suffer for not following NAP, in my opinion.

Yes, NAP requires a clear sense of ownership, and we must not be too rigid about what that means. There was an aboriginal tribe in the South Pacific that seemed to live communally since they shared things between them. However, the understanding of property was highly refined and 'ownership' was thinly sliced...for example...individuals in the community 'owned' the produce from the fruit trees at various times of the year. Each had their share of time defined, and it was in their self-interest to maintain the trees even when it was not their time to harvest. What appeared to be communal sharing was actually a highly refined system of personal property. Such a system might work in our society, but it is not the one that grew out of our cultural history.

While I'm tempted to agree that any theory of property would be compatible with NAP, I would argue that some forms of ownership would work better than others. (There goes that pesky utilitarianism, but there is no escaping that as a practical matter property is whatever a society agrees it is.) Again, as with NAP generally, the theory of property was developed AFTER the observation of the utility of secure property rights. The theory helped explain (and justify) property ownership. Property rights are valid because they are useful, and they are useful because they are valid.

However, I find persuasive the argument that ownership begins with oneself. Denial of that seems an absurdity (though in a society with established institutional slavery or other compulsory obligations self-ownership probably seems absurd). At the very least, the argument for self-ownership speaks to something inside of us, and experience seems to show that, on a utilitarian level, ownership works. Does it work because, as humans, the concept of ownership is consistent with our natures? I'd say absolutely yes. But I acknowledge that it is possible entire societies might voluntarily forego their claim to self ownership and as a result make NAP moot.

My mind is fried. Rothbard is easier. Must take my wife to dinner. Must drink. Maybe I can wash away the bad taste of agreeing with Bill3.

Cyril's picture

Just FYI,

Just FYI, I probably made at least a dozen times by now the exact same point as you concisely put in the first two sentences of your comment.

AFAICT, the OP has always downright ignored it or skillfully managed to go around it in ever imaginative ways to make the argument drift long and far enough for the purpose (of avoiding it).

Again, just FYI...

'Hope this helps !

"Cyril" pronounced "see real". I code stuff.


"To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous." -- Confucius

What point are you referring

What point are you referring to? Where did I disagree with it? And, if I ignored it, how do you know I didn't agree with it?

Ron says above that we just can't be too strict about what property means in different cultural settings. This is fine, but it agrees with me rather than with anarchists/Rothbard. They claim their idea of property is the right one, derived by reason from natural rights, and that to depart from it is against natural ethics.

So if you take a different position, that other systems of property are fine, then you'd just be agreeing with me and not with those I was critiquing.

In Ron's points above, the behavior of this tribe would not be at all in accord with the property theory embedded in standard NAP formulations. So it's not a defense of NAP, its a retreat from it's rigid theory of property.

It doesn't refute me at all.

I'm not so sure it's a deal killer

If a society understands property ownership to be exclusive use, however finely sliced, and if NAP requires that we respect that exclusivity, then the tribal understanding of property does not conflict with NAP. Some property arrangements may work better than others, and the effectiveness of NAP may be influenced by the type of property arrangements, but I think it is too strong to say that NAP cannot operate in non-standard property arrangements.

The only situation in which NAP will not work is when there is NO system of property ownership.

Of course it wouldn't

Of course it wouldn't conflict with NAP, for NAP would be the enforcement of whatever property arrangement society agreed upon. It wouldn't have any standard of its own. We follow NAP right now on that definition; we only allow aggression in self defense or to enforce our system of legally defined property rights.

You are all over the map here. Either NAP contains within itself a definition theory of property, or else it's just the principle nearly all systems follow, where the civil society refrains from engaging in violence except in self defense or to enforce the law.

If a society has a property theory in which a portion of everyone's earnings goes to fund public goods and law enforcement, than anyone who resisted forfeiting that portion would be acting aggressively.

Without a theory of property built in, NAP means only that you can never use aggression against physical bodies, but can take whatever you can in terms of things.

I've read your second paragraph a dozen times

I cannot make sense of it.

Of course NAP assumes some definition of property, of course it is the principle nearly all societies follow. Need they be mutually exclusive?

I got lost in the weeds for a while. Let me continue:
Yes, NAP includes a definition of property. I've not looked up a definition, but I assert the following--property is the right to exclusive use. Ok, lot's of other issues (who grants the right, who recognizes the right, who authorizes the transfer,etc., and if the answer is 'society, then who is 'society?' I'm not going to pretend to have given that enough thought to resolve the many many issues involved in THAT definition.)

If a society (whatever that means) defines away the term 'property' as we commonly understand it, then NAP has no meaning. Even a slave in a slave society would be an aggressor by walking away from his master and 'stealing' the master's property. Therefore in a society that says what's yours is mine, the term 'property' no longer has any relationship to the reality we live in. Laying claim to money I have earned in order to support public schools does not mean that I, by resisting such payments, become the aggressor unless we empty the term 'property' of any meaning in common use. Even the society we live in recognizes that the money does not belong to the schools, or even the government, because if that were so then they would not refer to their funds as 'taxpayer' money for which they have fiduciary responsibility. The Mob, on the other hand, DOES consider the money they have extorted to be rightfully theirs...though we do not accept their assertion. If the government says the money is theirs, does that make them morally or functionally different from the Mob?

As I said at the beginning of our little thread, NAP is a true principle because it works in everyday life, and it works because it is true. But it only goes as far as it goes. The test of a theory is always against utility, so far from being a slam-dunk for the Rothbardian/Natural Rigths crowd using First Principles to arrive at a prescription for social organization, its' only real justification is utility. Does that make me a Utilitarian? I suppose.

I still find the idea of 'rights' and of First Principles to be useful in explaining why NAP works.

Your definition of property

Your definition of property lacks a definition of property. Yes, property means the legal right to exclusive use. But that doesn't say what those rights are, so you've skirted the entire issue.

If society, as you say, decides when to protect exclusive use and when not to, then it defines its system of property rights, potentially differently from other societies. If our society defines some portion of the income flow of land or assets or commerce or income as debt to the public goods fund, i.e., not rightfully the exclusive use/control of individuals, then it doesn't thereby "define away" property as you suggest, it simply defines the parameters of what property it will enforce and what it won't. "Exclusive use" as a concept requires, presupposes something to enforce that exclusive use.

Some systems may be better than others, but you have to provide an argument or reason why this one is better than that one, and to what end.

In the absence of the rights enforcing apparatus, all property is up for grabs by force, might is right. Therefore, to offer the protection of the "rights enforcement apparatus," the society can define property as not encompassing everything a person ever gains. It already does this by defining what forms of gain are legal and what are not.

If a portion of the productive output of society was not rightfully claimed 'public,' then there could be no government funding of a rights enforcement apparatus, in which case society would have no recourse to define or enforce anything, it would have no "right" to "rights" that it couldn't buy from others. It would simply be a world of might is right.

If society isn't allowed to define property in a non-absolute sense, including define what portion belongs in the domain of public goods and funds, then property would be absolute.

In reality that would just mean might is right, everyone defending their own definition of what constitutes their property with force. If there is any definition of property enforced by a public body, then society has to decide what "property rights" it will enforce and what things (land, money, goods, labor) are not protected by society.

Society doesn't just define property law, but criminal law and law in general. It gains this role or prerogative by being the source of all law, and the source of the individual's claim to defense from the law. What laws are appropriate and which are not is part of the public discussion and also part of the individual's moral code.

You or A can say that to our own conscience, this or that law is abhorrent. But that personal moral decision doesn't change the fact that all law extends from the existence of a collective, coercive apparatus beyond the individual to enforce the laws.

If society doesn't define the law, define what property rights exist, then all law and all property claims are subject to the force of individuals and private groups.

Now, if you want to claim that everything you ever gain through peaceful means is your rightful property, you are free to make that claim regardless of whether society agrees to enforce it. But in that case, you are left to your own resources to defend this claim. This is no different than if you claim that everything you grab through violence is rightfully yours. You are free to make the claim, and if you can enforce it, good for you.

If society says that for you to receive the protection of its laws you have to be subject to those laws, then you have the choice to adhere to those laws or forfeit their protection.

You may think that forfeiting their protection sounds cool, because you're used to living in a peaceful civil society. But historically, forfeiting the protection of society or the tribe is basically equivalent to death or exile, and any individual including the police can just threaten your life and take all of your property, and you are left entirely to your own resources to defend it.

Simple stuff!

Thus, the slave the is the aggressor

If I try to respond to you right now, I'll basically repeat what I have already written. Waste of time.

Honestly, Bill3, it's late and I have to work early in the morning. I promise to read your rebuttal more thoroughly tomorrow. Then, like Zoro, I'll cut you to ribbons.


I look forward to these deep

I look forward to these deep cuts. They make me... feel alive.

"-If one man homesteaded the

"-If one man homesteaded the entire earth except for the city of Fargo, North Dakota, and all the rest of humanity existed inside of Fargo, it would be aggression for them to force a redistribution."

And if pigs could fly you would want a good umbrella...


I agree

both sentences are true.
But one person homesteading a large area is more plausible than pigs gaining flight, although both are possible.
After all, birds poop and fly, and we don't need special umbrellas.

Your remaining argument consists of youtube spam with a silly looking person in a t-shirt, which I humbly decline to entertain.

After all, birds poop and

After all, birds poop and fly, and we don't need special umbrellas.

I think a pig strike would be more devastating than most bird strikes.

Your remaining argument consists of youtube spam with a silly looking person in a t-shirt, which I humbly decline to entertain

Ah, the famous ad-hominem attack, the last resort of the loser of an argument.

Ad hominem

may be famous, but is not well understood. I certainly did not try to refute an argument by attacking the arguer. I just have a policy of not entertaining youtube spam in general. If you can't make your own points, don't spam me.

You don't normally go to a

You don't normally go to a philosopher to have your car repaired or have a mechanic explain epistemology to you. I just thought Larken (the well dressed man)could explain the subject better than I. I would much rather listen to the audio of a video than read three feet of a written explanation, but that's just me.

Your defintion of agression is too broad

"If people bought up the 4 spaces of land around my holding and built a tower of Babel around my property and cut my water off, I would be the aggressive party to climb over the wall."

I don't think a trespasser fits the true definition of demonstrating "aggression" to a warrant justifiable violent self-defense as permitted by NAP.

This is a straw argument that precludes any attempts by either party that would practice NAP to negotiate the right of way or other easements--you cannot be a libertarian or a anarchist without the common sense that your actions need to preclude violence and conflict prior to making such arrangements if you really, truly want a live and let live world.

Conscience does not exist if not exercised

"No matter how cynical you get, it's impossible to keep up!
---Lily Tomlin

I've actually seen several

I've actually seen several people here and other libertarian leaning websites say that trespass is grounds for the use of force, even lethal force. In fact, they argue that proportionality requirement puts an undue burden on the property owner.

Cyril's picture

On Purpose, Intent, a Banner, and the Non-Aggression Principle

No self-proclaimed anarchist here, however certainly a self-proclaimed advocate of the Non-Aggression Principle, among other things.

Because I can also read English - I hope!(?) - besides my first language, I didn't miss to notice this website's banner which reads :

Dedicated to restoring Constitutional government to the United States of America

Coincidentally, that same Constitution alluded to, also comes with a nice safeguard complement, aka "the Bill of Rights" :


which, AFAICT, is not only fairly compatible with the Non-Aggression Principle, but is also, I'd venture, actually quite dependent on the incentive it derives from understanding the Non-Aggression Principle as a prerequisite.

Keyword hints from the latter : "... Congress... SHALL NOT..."

So, what's the actual issue with the NAP, again, even in the condoned presence of a form of government chosen by the people?

I still fail to see!

Go figure.

"Cyril" pronounced "see real". I code stuff.


"To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous." -- Confucius

Cyril's picture

(AFAICT : As Far As I Can Tell)

(AFAICT : As Far As I Can Tell)

"Cyril" pronounced "see real". I code stuff.


"To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous." -- Confucius

The more you read Bill3 the

The more you read Bill3 the more you realize he's someone who likes to parade himself as a libertarian, but is really a statist or, more likely, just a troll.

I have answered all these arguments for him numerous times, pointed him towards the relevant Rothbard and Mises, yet here he is regurgitating his same tired logical fallacies.

Bill3, statist or troll? There's no third option.

"In reality, the Constitution itself is incapable of achieving what we would like in limiting government power, no matter how well written."

~ Ron Paul, End the Fed

I agree

And I'm a little pissed that Michael Nystrom hasn't banned him yet.

How much vote-destroying anarchist propaganda...

...should you anarchists be allowed to post without getting banned? Bill3 isn't losing our movement any votes.

Ventura 2012


I don't believe anarchists should avoid voting. They should vote in the direction of more liberty. I think it's silly when they say that voting gives legitimacy to the state.

I'm voting for Rand, what about you?