The Difference Between Initiation of Force and Self-Defense

I paid some lip service to the non-aggression principle that makes up the foundation of libertarian philosophy when I was explaining the reason that taxation is a form of theft. Oftentimes when explaining the non-aggression principle people will get it mixed up with the concept of pacifism. The non-aggression principle is not pacifism and I think it’s important to to clarify the difference and explain who a libertarian can also be in favor of self-defense.

The non-aggression principle of libertarian philosophy states that all aggression is illegitimate. What is meant by aggression is not violence but the initiation of violence. For example if I had done nothing to you and you then decided to run at me with a knife you would be initiating violence. In this case you would be the aggressor. On the other hand if I had pulled a knife on with apparent malicious intent you and then you pulled out a knife I would be the aggressor because I initiated the violence.

This difference between the non-aggression principle and pacifism becomes apparent with what is advocated in such a situation. If you pull a knife on me I have several options available to me; first I can simply let you stab me, second I could defend myself, and third I could attempt to flee. A pacifist is somebody who is against all forms of violence and thus the only options they would consider legitimate would be the first and third. This is because pacifism doesn’t believe in the use of violence regardless of the situation and view any use as illegitimate. On the other hand somebody adhering to the non-aggression principle would consider all three options legitimate because somebody has initiated violence against you and you have a right to defend yourself by the fact that you own yourself.

People seem to get mixed up as I’ve hard conversations where people have called me a hypocrite because I claim to adhere to the non-aggression principle while also carrying a firearm. Those of us who legally carry a firearm do so for the purposes of self-defense. That is to say we carry it in case somebody initiated violence against us. I know of nobody who has a carry permit with the intent of initiating violence against others. Instead everybody I’ve conversed with who holds a carry permit is unwilling to use their firearm unless they are first attacked. That is to say people who carry firearms adhere to the non-aggression principle, they are no pacifists. The difference between the two is great and needs to be understood before claiming somebody calling themselves non-violent and carries a firearm is a hypocrite. What is meant in the context of non-violence is not pacifism but adherence to the non-aggression principle.

3 thoughts on “The Difference Between Initiation of Force and Self-Defense”

  1. The paraphrase that worked for explaining it to my wife was; “Start no fights but finish any that start.”

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