The non aggression principle (or NAP) is one of the foundational principles of libertarianism, the school of social thought that I believe to be the best starting point from which to live your own life and for all of us to build a fair and moral society. What is the NAP? According to The Non-Aggression Principle: A Cure for War:
The Non-Aggression Principle, or NAP, is the belief that individuals should be free to act as they choose with the exception that they may not initiate force, or the threat of force, against another person or their property.
The NAP differs from nonviolent pacifism in that it does not include the belief that force may not be used in defense. Only the initiation of force against another is forbidden. While the NAP can be considered a universal principle, there are many grey areas where its application is unclear.
Does the NAP apply to children? I believe it should, with limitations. Obviously, children are not adults. Children are not fully responsible for their actions. I believe that a child’s parent or legal guardian is morally justified in using minimal force to prevent that child from harming his or herself. I also believe that adults have greater moral justification to use force in defense of a child against others.
What is the implication for schools and day cares? It seems reasonable that the same limited authority to use force against a child to prevent self harm could be delegated to a teacher or other care giver. Also, care givers can use necessary force to defend themselves and other children under their care from aggression by a child. Physically punishing a child for bad behavior that is not endangering anyone is a violation of the NAP.
The Mentally Ill
The mentally ill are similar to children in that they have a diminished capacity to understand the outcomes of their actions in all cases. As adults, they have the right to self ownership. Therefore, force should only be used to prevent the most severe forms of self harm. Preferably, a mentally ill person who is a danger to his or herself or others should be put in the care of a competent mental health professional.
Self Defense and Defense of Property
The use of force in defending oneself and others from aggression does not violate the NAP. Reasonable force in defending personal property against theft or willful damage is also allowed for by most libertarians. One should take reasonable steps (e.g. no trespassing signs) to prevent aggression against unintentional violations of ones property.
A child in the womb is still a child and I believe the NAP should apply to it. If the child is endangering its mother, reasonable steps to ensure her safety are warranted. How should this be balanced with the mother’s right to control her own body? This is a real grey area. It’s clear to me that prior to conception, there is no child, and after birth, there is one. As with the question of when does a child become an adult, we need to choose a reasonable point in between.
Preemptive Self Defense
When is it acceptable to use force to prevent someone else from using force against you? If they are threatening to use force, you are justified in preventing them by force. Otherwise, you are entering another grey area. If you act against someone without certainty beyond a reasonable doubt that they intend to harm you, you are violating the NAP.