Subtleties of the NAP

Conservative vlogger Paul Joseph Watson recently released a hit piece on Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s nominee for President. Many of his criticisms are perfectly valid, but he starts off his rant by accusing Johnson of endorsing measures that violate the “non-aggression principle.”

The non-aggression principle, or NAP, is an axiom commonly used in libertarian circles, and it essentially amounts to “Your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins.” It is their method of determining the ideal legality of any action. Any action that does not impinge upon the rights or well-being of others should be legal; any action that does — whether committed by civilian or government entity — should be illegal. The government should have the power to violate the NAP only to punish individuals who have themselves violated the NAP.

So Watson asserts that Johnson’s policy proposals fly in the face of the libertarians’ dearly beloved NAP. For examples, he lists his support of mandatory vaccinations for children and a carbon tax to discourage excessive production of greenhouse gases. And indeed, both of these concepts seem to run counter to the NAP and libertarian values in general, at least at first glance. But remember the government power that is allowed them even with the libertarian mindset: The power to inflict punitive damages upon its citizens if said citizens’ behavior is detrimental to others.

Should it be within a person’s rights to refuse to have their children vaccinated against infectious disease? Their children themselves may beg to differ when they are suffering from an easily preventable strain of whooping cough. And the lives of other children are jeopardized as well, given their community’s now-weakened herd immunity. The metaphorical nose doesn’t seem especially safe from the swinging fist.

Then there is the issue of the government’s taxation on emission of greenhouse gases, intended to function as negative reinforcement. The excessive production of such substances may not seem very criminal, but then again we’ve been conditioned to think of crime (theft, murder, fraud, assault, and the like) as something that has immediately perceptible consequences. Indeed, excessive damage to the environment is probably something that libertarians should consider controlling (an issue about which I myself made an inquiry once to Gov. Johnson, and later received a response that left something to be desired).

And it’s true that an individual’s impact might be infinitesimal on a grand scale. But perhaps I could produce counterfeit money so realistic that its recipient could spend it without any problems, and so on ad infinitum. It doesn’t seem that any noses are being broken by my fist, so does that mean my actions should be legal?

Of course not. My actions may not directly impact any one individual, but they still lead to overall inflation, as well as my profit despite nonexistent contributions to society. I, like antivaxxers and polluters, would fail the “What If Everybody Did It” test, something that should probably be administered when determining whether the non-aggression principle is being honored.

Obviously, this does not mean that the solutions proposed by Gov. Johnson are practical or feasible, or even the best means to solve what he believes to be problems. But the underlying concept of using governmental control to solve these problems may not necessarily violate the NAP.

The NAP has some intricacies that are not readily apparent, especially when it comes to violations that are not readily apparent. Mr. Watson can be forgiven for believing that Gary Johnson’s proposals make him a poor example of a libertarian, but it’s a good idea to make a thorough assessment of any action before judging measures to control that action.