What is libertarianism? With so many people calling themselves libertarians these days, it might be helpful to explain what the term means. Libertarianism is a political philosophy grounded in what is known as the non-aggression principal. Simply stated, the non-aggression principal or NAP asserts that aggression, either directly or by proxy, is inherently illegitimate. You can defend yourself (or your property) but you cannot initiate force. It’s a simple concept that can and should be applied to everyday life. Let’s look at a few examples.
We will start with personal self-defense. You are walking down the street and a would-be robber confronts you with a weapon and demands your wallet. You respond by drawing your own weapon and, ultimately, using it to scare the would-be robber off or perhaps incapacitating him. Under the NAP, the robber has violated the principal and you have responded in self-defense. The robber initiated force illegitimately against you and was met with legitimate force. Virtually all of society recognizes this as a legitimate use of force on your part.
Now let’s add a bit of complexity. You own a house in the city and you share a driveway with your neighbor. You return from a vacation to find that your neighbor has removed the driveway and replaced it with grass and a hedge thereby preventing you from reaching your garage. Your neighbor has clearly aggressed against your property. What is a legitimate use of force as self-defense in this case? I think we can all agree that the aggression is of a less imminent and physical nature than the preceding example and, therefore, justifies a different form of force. In this case, one of the legitimate roles of government is the adjudication of disputes between citizens and your neighbor has initiated just such a dispute. This is an example of self-defense by proxy – using the courts (government) to intervene on your behalf against an aggressor.
But just as government can be used in your defense against an aggressor, government can be used on your behalf as the initiator of force. An example of this is the owner of a professional sports team that convinces politicians to enact a sales tax in order to build a new stadium to increase team revenues. The libertarian opinion is that government has overstepped its legitimate role by interceding as aggressor on behalf of an individual or group of individuals – the initiation of force by proxy. What is the proper self-defense against such an action? What means of self-defense does one have when the adjudicator of disputes and the aggressor are one in the same? In civil society, the correct means of self-defense is to construct barriers limiting government’s ability to act as aggressor. The most viable path to such a solution is the election to public office those that are opposed to aggression by government proxy – in other words, elect Libertarians.