The nature of the appropriate use of force is the central concern of libertarian philosophy. This philosophy offers a concise answer: initiating the use of force is never acceptable, but using force to defend against an initiator of force (hereafter referred to as an aggressor) is always acceptable. Unfortunately, this answer is not as clear as it may appear to be because there is confusion over what constitutes using force to defend against an aggressor. This confusion, coupled with the influence of statism, has led to an idea known as the immediate danger standard, which says that using force against someone who is not presenting a physical threat at the exact moment that force is used constitutes aggression. Let us explore both why this standard is wrong and why it has risen to prevalence.

Libertarian Theory

The starting point for all of libertarian philosophy is self-ownership; each person has a right to exclusive control of one’s physical body and full responsibility for actions committed with said control. Note that in order to argue against self-ownership, one must exercise exclusive control of one’s physical body for the purpose of communication. This results in a performative contradiction because the content of the argument is at odds with the act of making the argument. By the laws of excluded middle and non-contradiction, self-ownership must be true because it must be either true or false, and any argument that self-ownership is false leads to a contradiction.

Each person has a right to exclusive control of one’s physical body, so it is wrong for one person to initiate interference with another person’s exclusive control of their physical body without their consent. This is how the non-aggression principle is derived from self-ownership. Each person has full responsibility for the actions that one commits with one’s physical body, so one may gain property rights in external objects by laboring upon unowned natural resources, and one owes restitution for any acts of aggression that one commits against other people or their property. The reason for this is that one is responsible for the improvements that one has made upon the natural resources, and it is impossible to own the improvements without owning the resources themselves.

Because the non-aggression principle and private property rights are derived from self-ownership, they are dependent upon self-ownership. That which is dependent cannot overrule that upon which it is dependent. Therefore, self-ownership takes primacy if there should be a conflict between self-ownership and external private property rights, or between self-ownership and non-aggression. Libertarian philosophy is a logical construct. Therefore, it is subject to logic in the form of rationality and consistency. This means that logical contradictions are objectively invalid, and hypocrisy is subjectively invalid. Contradictions cannot be rationally advanced in argument, and hypocrisy cannot be rationally advanced by the hypocrite. For private property rights, the non-aggression principle, or indeed even self-ownership, to apply to a person who has violated another person’s rights of the same kind is inconsistent. As such, a thief or vandal has no standing to claim property rights, an aggressor has no standing to claim non-aggression, and a murderer has no standing to claim self-ownership until restitution is made for their crimes. In the latter case, restitution is impossible because a murder victim cannot be made whole. The practical result is that if an aggressor refuse to perform restitution and continue in a state of criminality, they may be attacked in ways which would violate the non-aggression principle if done to a non-aggressor, as an aggressor’s actions demonstrate a rejection of the non-aggression principle.

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