As with all political ideals, a sound moral theory must be presented to establish the validity of the ideal. I do that here.
Politics, at least political science, deals primarily with ideas about how systems should operate in order to best ensure justice is achieved within society. It seeks to codify into law how men ought to act and establish a just system of recourse for when laws are broken. Of course, this begs the question, “How should men act?” (As an aside, when I say men, I mean individual people. Men is just shorter and faster to type.) In order to answer this question, we must establish a basic framework of ethics and morality.
Morality is the study of right and wrong, and ethics is the application of rules governing right and wrong action within a society. We have to determine what is right and what is wrong, and in order to do this, we start by accepting some basic facts of reality.
- We exist. Some philosophers in the past have tried to argue that we do not exist or we cannot know if we exist. Our capacity to think, feel, and interact with reality should be evidence enough of this.
- We have free will. The fact that I have chosen to write these words and the fact that you are now choosing to read them is evidence of this.
- An individual owns his or her body. Without self-ownership, all ownership is impossible. Ownership is defined as the ability to exercise exclusive control over something. An individual is the only being capable of exercising exclusive control over his or her body, and is therefore the owner of the self.
- Through self-ownership, each individual is responsible for his or her actions. This is called moral agency, or simply agency.
- Agency makes each individual responsible for the impact of his or her actions towards one’s self and towards others.
- Through self-ownership, we are able to acquire other property as well. Clothes, cars, land, etc. and we are responsible for these items just as we are responsible for our bodies.
- We are allowed to preserve and defend our ownership over ourselves and our property. No person has the right to violate self-ownership or the ownership rights there derived. If a person cannot defend his or her body or property, then it cannot be said that they have exclusive control over it and therefore do not own it. This is a contradiction, and therefore we conclude that self-preservation and defense are inherently a part of self-ownership.
From these founding principles, we deduce the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP), which states the initiation of the use of force is morally wrong. The NAP is a deduction from observed reality; it is not an assertion. We deduce that because any initiation of the use of force interferes with the principles of self-ownership, it is a violation of reality, and is therefore immoral. Allow me to elaborate.
Murder, rape, assault, and theft are all obvious violations of the NAP. Murder violates self-ownership by ending the function of a body that is not owned by the perpetrator. Rape and assault are both violations of self-ownership in that the attacker is compelling action against the victim’s will which violates the principle of self-ownership and therefore cannot stand. Theft is simply the taking of another’s property and of course is a violation of the principle of self-ownership.
Fraud and deception are a little harder to categorize, but they are also violations of the NAP as they seek to compel one to act against his own self-ownership without full volition. If I hire you to vacuum the rugs in my house, and you agree, that is a completely sound contract. If, however, I have cut a hole in the floor under one of my rugs with the sole intent of having you fall into it, you are not responsible for the ensuing injuries to your person; I am. I have intentionally led you into a situation that is clearly against your own best self-interest, and I am responsible for the outcome. If I was not aware of the hole, or you enjoyed falling into holes and knew beforehand that it was there, the situation would be different. Due to the fact that I was fully aware that I was defrauding you, I am responsible for the outcome.
This the moral framework by which we establish a moral society under anarchy. This will of course require a high degree of internalization of morality as well as some voluntary enforcement systems, all ideas that will be covered in subsequent posts.