The Non-Aggression Principle Is Stupid

A Letter to L Neil Smith

By John "Birdman" Bryant

Note: Some relevant comments not contained in the original letter have been included here. They are set off by square brackets and a slight right-indentation.


To: L Neil Smith (

Date: 6/27/02 12:16 AM

Mr Smith:

I agree with most of what you say in The War of the Weenies, but I (violently?) disagree with the non-aggression principle, and your use of it to 'define' libertarian. Here is a tiny essay expressing my thoughts:

It is a favorite tack of the intellectually dishonest, and particularly the Left, to advance definitions which marginalize -- or seem to marginalize -- their enemies. It reminds me of the special-interest legislation which is worded so as to APPEAR to apply generally, but is of such a nature as to apply to only a small number (often only one) of persons or corporations. Having been the victim of such legislation within the last week at the hands of St Pete legislators led by a Jew with a roaring hard-on for someone who dares to criticize his kin, I am exquisitely sensitive to this sort of thing.

L Neil Smith, a man who has made a name for himself by using his middle name as a first name and thereby overcoming the ordinariness of the name 'Smith', and who as a libertarian has cleverly managed to fit perfectly into his definition of it, has decided that 'libertarian' means -- a la Humpty Dumpty -- exactly what he wants it to mean, which in this case is 'an adherent of the non-aggression principle', meaning, 'do not use force against another unless force is first used against you'. But the problem with the non-aggression principle, or NAP as we shall call it, is that it is just plain stupid.

The most obvious case of stupidity is where you discover that someone is planning to use force against you, but hasn't quite done it yet. A case in point is Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union: It has now been established beyond a reasonable doubt that Stalin was planning to invade the Reich, and Hitler's attack was preemptive.

[But beyond the above, there are at least two other problems with the NAP.
The first is that the determination of whether someone is planning to use
force against us must of necessity be a probability judgment. El Neil
ought to know all about probability judgments, inasmuch as his best-known
book is called
The Probability Broach; but the point is that no judgment
about future events can be certain, and thus any judgment as to whether
someone is planning to attack us could be wrong.

[Beyond the probability problem, there is also the simple difficulty of
determining what constitutes a voluntary act -- an important matter because
reacting against someone who acts involuntarily may be wholly different
from reacting against someone who acts voluntarily. If, for example,
someone threatens to harm our family unless we pay them off, can we count
our act as voluntary? What about the situation where the threatener has
already harmed our family, and has promised to do more unless we do their
bidding, thereby increasing the probability that the threat will be carried
out? Or if these examples seem too abstract, what about the tactics used
by the Rockefellers to crush their competition in the oil business, whose
first act always involved an offer to buy out the competitor for a
pittance, but would escalate to strikes, transportation boycotts and other
forms of pressure if the buyout offer were not accepted? There is a
widely-shared feeling that the Rockefeller tactics were not fair, but
libertarians have defended them, particularly on the basis that prices for
oil products became much lower over the period when the Rockefellers were
establishing their monopoly. It would be easy to envision many examples
which are even more difficult; and while they may constitute rare
occurrences in the everyday experience of cossetted libertarians, it
remains a fact that, in at least some important cases, there is no good way
to distinguish the voluntary from the involuntary.]

Now for anybody with any common sense and no immediate need to go to the bathroom, that example should be enuf to put the NAP on a slab in the remotest morgue in Ideational Mongolia. But we can actually do it one better. That's because 'force' is a weasel word that slips and slides around like a greased pig in a mud puddle. For what is 'force', really? To answer, I always think of that old Joan Baez song which ends, "Some people rob you with a gun, some with a fountain pen." The point -- just in case you stepped out a minute to go to the bathroom -- is that robbery, deceit, and other tools in the bag of tricks of the modern-day hucksters, quacksalver artists and other con-men and ought-to-be con-victs constitute wrong acts which may need to be righted by -- gasp! -- FORCE. So whether you call these tricks 'force' or something else, they constitute aggression in a real and significant sense, and if you have been the victim of some of these tricks, then it may just start to make sense to you that a very good remedy for such stuff -- and in fact the ONLY remedy in most cases is -- gasp! again! -- FORCE.

Now the Libertarian Party used to send out these little membership cards with the NAP on the back, and the warning that, unless you agreed to it, then, in the words of James Whitcomb Riley, the Goblins 'll git yew if you don' watch out! Or something. It used to irritate me, but I only quit the Party when they took in that thug Irv Rubin for membership and put the muthafukka on the FRONT PAGE OF THE LP NEWS. I mean, I wrote the chairmen of EVERY SINGLE STATE PARTY to protest this absurdly hypocritical act and even sent them an URL where they could read the thuggish bio of this thoroughbred thug, but the response would have let you hear a pin drop. And now the thug is in prison and the LP is beating the war drums and even those little membership cards with the NAP on the back have probably been secretly burned at midnight by the light of the full moon.

But if all this is irritating, L Neil is even moreso in his characterization of would-be libertarians as 'so much collectivist garbage' or some such. It reminded me a little of Hitler's famous 'Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer!', and even more of what I think of those randy Randians, who apparently think of themselves as God-pure libertarians who have substituted Rand for Jesus, and who yell in their echolailic ecstatic mouth-frothing frenzy, 'Ein Volk, ein Right, Ayn Rand!' What I am getting at is that, in L Neil's attempt to purify the libertarian movement by defining a large segment of people out of it, he has not only been dishonest, but he surreptitiously attempts to make the dictionary PREscriptive rather than what it is, namely, DEscriptive, that is, he takes the purpose of definitions to be to tell people what words OUGHT to mean, rather than considering that words mean what their users intend, and the most that a dictionary can do is describe these meanings.

Or to put it another way, L Neil, 'collectivist garbage' is fightin' words, and them's the sort of thing that might jes' cause me to use FORCE.

[Smith, a well-known libertarian and author of The Probability Broach and several other books, did not respond. However, a glance at his website,, shows him to be locked in a two-man daisy chain with Aaron Zelman, the founder of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership; so it is possible that my comments on the Foreskinners may have caused him to believe that I was affected with a touch of bigotraceousness. And of course when you are a Big Man Libertarian who is put down by a Small Man Libertarian, particularly when the latter appears to be affected by a touch of bigotraceousness and the put-down is well-done, that easily ranks as a Chef's Special Combo that provides at least two and a half reasons not to answer.]


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