Murder to Save the Entire Human Race? Steal to Prevent Starvation?

From: D
Sent: Tuesday, October 31, 2017 4:42 PM
To: Walter Block
Subject: Question about thorny situations according to NAP
Good afternoon, Professor Block:
Should the following situations be considered evil?:
– A man who steals food because he has no money to feed his family, assuming that in the place where he lives there is no charitable entity that can provide free food.
– A man who is forced to kill an innocent person because the survival of the entire human species depends on it.
On the other hand, certainly, these are violations of the Non-Aggression Principle, which any libertarian would condemn, but could not previous cases constitute exceptions? Sincerely, D

Dear N: A very good and important question. Thanks for raising it. Here’s my short answer: Whether something is “evil” or not is a question for an ethicist, or a moralist. I’m neither. Rather, I’m a libertarian (a small branch of ethics, morality). For libertarians, there is really only one question of interest, of relevance, and that is this: “Under what conditions is the use of force justified.” And, libertarians give only one answer to this sort of question: “Only in defense against, or in retaliation against, the prior use of unjustified, initiatory force.” So, I then ask, does stealing food from innocent people, or killing them, constitute the use of justified force? And I answer, “No.” Therefore, if someone engages in either of these two acts, it would be justified to punish him (or for the innocent person, or food owner, to defend his property, or his life, against the attacker). So, no exceptions to the NAP.

Here is my long answer to this question, with which I’ve wrestled quite a bit:

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;


6:08 pm on October 31, 2017