Murder Is Always A Violation of the NAP, But it is Not Always Wrong. Part IV

Here is part III.

From: J

Sent: Sunday, December 22, 2019 7:27 AM

To: [email protected]

Subject: Murder justified by martian threats

Dr. Block,

Given the hypothetical (“We martians will murder everyone unless you humans murder one”), the martians could merely be testing human fidelity to the non-aggression principle. If if we engaged in murder under the martian threat, the martians might (a) destroy us anyway or (b) demand another murder, and then another, and then another, until morally we are no longer human, but martian. On the other hand, if we refuse to buckle, they might leave us alone out of respect for our devotion to principle.

The NAP is not just an ideal good but a practical one as well. Best not to mess with it. J

From: Walter Block [mailto:[email protected]]

Sent: Sunday, December 22, 2019 3:26 PM

To: J

Subject: RE: Murder justified by martian threats

Dear J:

That scenario of yours is indeed possible. Were it true, it would be silly not to call their bluff, and refuse to murder ninocent person Joe. But, why not, also, consider my scenario? My Martians are not kidding. They really will blow up our entire planet unless we do as they say.

The point I’m trying to make is that the non aggression principle (NAP) is a very, very good first approximation of what libertarianism is all about. It suffices for 99.99% of all objections. It is an explanation of libertarianism that does will in virtually all cases.

But it fails, and fails dismally, in the face of the Martian example. I bring this up to demonstrate that the real, more basic, undersanding of libertarianism is not the NAP. Rather, it is our libertarian punishment theory. A more sophisticaed understanding of libertarianism does not say, with the NAP: “Thou shalt not murder, initiate violence against innocent persons or their legitimate possessions.” Rather, it states, that if you do, you will be punished in accordance with libertarian punishment theory. On this, see below.

Why did I concoct this Martian threat example. I did so to demonstrate that not only is libertarianism deontologically sound, it also is compatible with practicality, with pragmatism, with utilitarianism, broadly defined. Any “defense” of libertarianism in which everyone on the earth dies might be compatible with the NAP, (e.g., don’t murder Joe, and we all  perish), but it certainly is not compatible with  practicality, with pragmatism, with utilitarianism.

So, what I’m trying to do here is have our cake and eat it. Support deontological libertarianism, alright, but, also, not allow everyone to die in the Martian example. The only way I can do this is to more accurately define the essense of our philosophy not in terms of NAP (don’t murder Joe), but in terms of punishment theory (if you murder Joe, you’ll be punished).

Many people on this blog, like you,  just won’t accept the Martian example. They keep trying to change it around to suit their own purposes. My purpose in employing it is twofold: 1. to put forth a more accurate version of libertarianism than the NAP, and 2. To demonstrate that our precious philosophy can withstand challenges from utilitarians. If you change the example, we can’t refute those utiliatarians!


Block, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2011

Block, Walter E. 2001. “Jonah Goldberg and the Libertarian Axiom on Non-Aggression.” June 28;

Block, Walter E. 2002. “Radical Privatization and other Libertarian Conundrums,” The International Journal of Politics and Ethics, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 165-175; (murder park)

Block, Walter E. 2003. “The Non-Aggression Axiom of Libertarianism,” February 17;

(15th floor flagpole)

Block, Walter E. 2004. “Radical Libertarianism: Applying Libertarian Principles to Dealing with the Unjust Government, Part I” Reason Papers, Vol. 27, Fall, pp. 117-133;

Block, Walter E. 2006. “Radical Libertarianism: Applying Libertarian Principles to Dealing with the Unjust Government, Part II” Reason Papers, Vol. 28, Spring, pp. 85-109;;;; (death penalty justified, net taxpayer, ruling class analysis p. 87)

Block, Walter E. 2010. “Response to Jakobsson on human body shields.” Libertarian Papers.

Block, Walter E. 2011. “The Human Body Shield,” Journal of Libertarian Studies; Vol. 22, pp. 625-630;

Punishment theory:

Block, 2009A, 2009B, 2016, 2018; Kinsella, 1996, 1997; Loo and Block, 2017-2018; Olson, 1979; Rothbard, 1977, 1998; Whitehead and Block, 2003

Block, Walter E. 2009A. “Toward a Libertarian Theory of Guilt and Punishment for the Crime of Statism” in Hulsmann, Jorg Guido and Stephan Kinsella, eds., Property, Freedom and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, pp. 137-148;;; festschrift

Block, Walter E. 2009B. “Libertarian punishment theory: working for, and donating to, the state” Libertarian Papers, Vol. 1;

Block, Walter E. 2016. “Russian Roulette: Rejoinder to Robins.” Acta Economica et Turistica. Vol. 1, No. 2, May, pp.  197-205;; file:///C:/Users/walterblock/Downloads/AET_2_Block_6.pdf

Block, Walter E. 2018. “The case for punishing those responsible for minimum wage laws, rent control and protectionist tariffs.”  Revista Jurídica Cesumar – Mestrado, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 235-263;;

Loo, Andy and Walter E. Block. 2017-2018. “Threats against third parties: a libertarian analysis.” Baku State University Law Review; Vol. 4, No. 1, pp. 52-64;;;

Kinsella, Stephen. 1996. “Punishment and Proportionality: the Estoppel Approach,” The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1, Spring, pp. 51-74;

Kinsella, Stephan. 1997. “A Libertarian Theory of Punishment and Rights,” 30 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 607-45

Olson, Charles B. 1979. “Law in Anarchy.” Libertarian Forum. Vol. XII, No. 6, November-December, p. 4;

Rothbard, Murray N. 1977. “Punishment and Proportionality.”  R. E. Barnett and J. Hagel, III (eds.), Assessing the Criminal: Restitution, Retribution, and the Legal Process.  Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Co., pp. 259 270.

Rothbard, Murray N. 1998 The Ethics of Liberty, New York: New York University Press.;

In the view of Rothbard (1998, p. 88, ft. 6): “It should be evident that our theory of proportional punishment—that people may be punished by losing their rights to the extent that they have invaded the rights of others—is frankly a retributive theory of punishment, a ‘tooth (or two teeth) for a tooth’ theory. Retribution is in bad repute among philosophers, who generally dismiss the concept quickly as ‘primitive’ or ‘barbaric’ and then race on to a discussion of the two other major theories of punishment: deterrence and rehabilitation. But simply to dismiss a concept as ‘barbaric’ can hardly suffice; after all, it is possible that in this case, the ‘barbarians’ hit on a concept that was superior to the more modern creeds.”

Whitehead, Roy and Walter E. Block. 2003. “Taking the assets of the criminal to compensate victims of violence: a legal and philosophical approach,” Wayne State University Law School Journal of Law in Society Vol. 5, No. 1, Fall, pp.229-254

Best regards,



2:04 am on December 23, 2019