by Walter Block
The libertarian non-aggression axiom is the essence of libertarianism. Take away this axiom, and libertarianism might as well be libraryism, or vegetarianism. Thus, if a person is to be a libertarian, he must, he absolutely must, in my opinion, be able to distinguish aggression from defense.
Here's a joke. Do you know the difference between a bathroom and a living room? No? Well, don't come to my house. In this spirit I ask, do you know the difference between offense and defense? Between aggression and defense against aggression? No? Well, then, don't call yourself a libertarian.
I can't read anyone out of the libertarian movement. No one appointed me guardian of this honorific. I am just giving my humble opinion. In like manner, if you couldn't tell the difference between a hammer and a chisel, I wouldn't consider you a carpenter. If you couldn't distinguish between a brush and paint, I wouldn't consider you a painter. In much the same way, if you can't tell offense and defense apart, that is, if you believe in pre-emptive strikes against those who are not attacking you, then I can't consider you a libertarian even if you favor free enterprise and oppose criminalizing voluntary adult conduct.
There are areas in which well meaning and knowledgeable libertarians disagree: minarchism vs. anarchism; immigration; abortion; inalienability; punishment theory. Although I have strong views on all of these, I recognize libertarian arguments on the other side. But not on this issue.
You don't have to wait until I actually punch you in the nose to take violent action against me. You don't even have to wait until my fist is within a yard of you, moving in your direction. However, if you haul off and punch me in the nose in a preemptive strike, on the ground that I might punch you in the future, then you are an aggressor.
Suppose you were a Martian, looking down upon the earth, trying to figure out which earth nations were aggressors, and which were not (i.e., were defenders). You have particularly good eyesight. So much so, that you can see actual uniforms, flags, etc. You notice that one country, call it Ruritania, has soldiers on the territory of scores of other nations, and sailors in every ocean known to man, and some completely unknown (just kidding about this last point).
You discern that another country, Moldavia, has its armed forces in but just a few countries other than itself. And that's it. No other country has foreign military bases. What do you conclude? If you are a rational Martian, you deduce that Ruritania to a great degree, and Moldavia to a lesser one, are aggressor nations.
Suppose that your Martian eyesight also allows you to read earthling history books. There you learn that Ruritania fought worldwide wars twice in the last century, and has physically invaded, oh, give or take, about 100 countries during that time. Further, that Ruritania was the only nation in the entire history of the world to have used an atom bomb on people; worse, that they used this satanic device on civilians, not even soldiers; that they did so to get an unconditional surrender (Ruritania refused to promise to allow the emperor of the defeated nation to remain on his throne) from a country they pushed and hounded into war in the first place.
Who would you think was the rogue nation? Who would you think was a danger to the entire world? Who would you think was an aggressor?
But wait. Let's try to reconcile legalizing victimless crimes with not being able to tell the difference between initiation of violence and defense against it. Why legalize heroin, or alcohol for that matter? Surely it is true that those who use these substances are more likely to commit crimes than those who do not.
If you really believe in preemptive strikes against people not involved in a "clear and present danger," then how can you justify legalization? Surely, to be logically consistent, you would have to throw in jail all those who use addictive drugs.
Nor need we stop there. It just so happens that young males commit proportionately far more crimes of violence than any other cohort of the population. Under the preemptive strike philosophy, we would be justified in putting them all in jail, say, when they turn 15, and letting them out when they reach 25. Thus, if the preemptive striker were logically coherent, not only could he not be a libertarian in foreign policy, he could not favor this philosophy even in this area.
January 11, 2003
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