Links, Libertarianism

Against Non-Aggression

Last week, I argued at that the Non-Aggression Principle has unacceptable implications for the issue of pollution.

This week, I adduce five more reasons why libertarians should reject the Non-Aggression Principle.

The basic problem with the NAP is its absolutist and single-minded focus on aggression as the defining issue of political morality.

It is, of course, common sense to think that aggression is a bad thing. But it is far from common sense to think that its badness is absolute, such that the wrongness of aggression always trumps any other possible consideration of justice or political morality. There is a vast difference between a strong but defeasible presumption against the justice of aggression, and an absolute, universal prohibition. As Bryan Caplan has said, if you can’t think of counterexamples to the latter, you’re not trying hard enough. But I’m here to help.

If aggression is absolutely wrong, then all pollution must be prohibited, no matter what the cost. If the prohibition of aggression is the only matter with which our theories of justice are concerned, then deliberately starving one’s child to death is no injustice (but trespassing across another person’s lawn to feed their starving child is).

Of course, there’s much more to be said about each of the issues I raise in the essay. It’s a blog post, and it would take a series of essays to do each of these subjects justice.

And I have no doubt that, given sufficient time, [libertarians] can think up a host of ways to tweak, tinker, and contextualize the NAP in a way that makes some progress in dealing with the problems I have raised in this essay. But there comes a point where adding another layer of epicycles to one’s theory seems no longer to be the best way to proceed. There comes a point where what you need is not another refinement to the definition of “aggression” but a radical paradigm shift in which we put aside the idea that non-aggression is the sole, immovable center of the moral universe. Libertarianism needs its own Copernican Revolution.

Published on:
Author: Matt Zwolinski
  • Are you serious?

    “If aggression is absolutely wrong, then all pollution must be prohibited, no matter what the cost.”

    Yes, of course. Just as all theft and all assaults must be prohibited, no matter the cost. Pollution is a property-rights violation, it belongs in civil society no more than rape or murder.

    “If the prohibition of aggression is the only matter with which our theories of justice are concerned, then deliberately starving one’s child to death is no injustice (but trespassing across another person’s lawn to feed their starving child is).”

    Correct, it’s not an injustice. It’s hugely morally depraved and wrong, but not quite unjust. Acts can be immoral without be unjust, and vice versa. Your examples illustrate that: one of them is immoral but not unjust and the other unjust but not immoral. Why can’t we as libertarians say that while such an action is not unjust technically, it violates a whole host of contrary moral imperatives we should respect? Left-libertarianism in particular is known for its “thick”ness when it comes to respecting a plurality of moral perspectives.

    • Yes, I’m serious. Are you? If all pollution is to be prohibited, no matter what the cost, are you willing to stop breathing? CO2 is a form of pollution.

      As for the children thing, of *course* there’s a difference between justice and the rest of morality. But you haven’t articulated what that difference is. On my view, the distinction is to be drawn in terms of the stringency and enforceability of the obligations. And I’m willing to say not merely that it would be morally *nice* if parents didn’t starve their children to death, but that they have a stringent and enforceable obligation to do so. Denying this seems, to me, very very counterintuitive.

      • William Schudlich

        I don’t think that exhaling CO2 is a form of pollution. But if we could get everyone to subscribe to that notion and stop exhaling, then not only would the NAP solve any pollution problems we might have, but also all other social ills. 🙂

      • matt b


        This was one of the best posts ever posted on here- well linked to on here- in terms of offering a takedown of Rothbardian natural rights libertarianism. You’ll get a lot of hysterical reactions but this is neccesary though, sadly, I doubt it will reduce the confidence of commited hard libertarians who think political morality boils down to three letters: NAP.

        • Rothbardianism has its own problems, but there’s no issue with thinking of the NAP in a praxeological sense instead of through a natural rights lens.

          • matt b

            Could you elaborate on the praxeological conception… I’m a little familiar with the idea but much more well acquainted with the natural rights defense.

          • Sure. Hoppe provides an account of the NAP that is grounded in praxeology and argumentation, instead of natural rights. He says, paraphrasing, that in order to justify something (anything), you have to argue. You can’t justify something without making an argument. But in order to make an argument, you have to accept that you own yourself. That is, the principle of self-ownership is a priori justified. You could never open your mouth to disagree if you didn’t truly believe you owned your body. So, anyone who argues against the Lockean private property/self-ownership principle is caught in a contradiction.

            That’s not as flashy as natural rights, but it’s more solid I think.

            Check it out at:

          • martinbrock

            Why can’t I open my mouth to argue that I own myself and also own you? Assuming that I own myself is not equivalent to assuming that you own yourself. If I argue that you should keep your mouth shut and do as I say, where is the contradiction?

            Of course, as a libertarian, I don’t want you to shut up and do as I say, but that’s a reason for you to prefer my company rather than an air-tight argument for libertarianism. I don’t believe that air-tight arguments for libertarianism exist. I only know that libertarianism is my preference. If other people want to subject themselves to a totalitarian state, then I want them to do so, but they can’t do it while associating with me.

          • matt b

            Less flashy but not more solid me thinks. What does owning one’s body even mean? If I own my body does this mean that if you could pluck a strand of hair off my head and save a million people’s lives that you would not be justified in doing so without my permission?

          • Oh, goodness, no.

          • martinbrock

            It’s tough to argue that people acting purposefully do not act aggressively. The NAP seems to be an unnatural constraint on human action rather than a natural product of it. Submission to a more dominant personality also seems a natural, human characteristic.

      • Polluting an atmosphere humans use to breathe is not polluting against anyone’s property. I can emit all the carbon dioxide if I want. With regards to cars and smoke, reasonable people understand that many issues of technical aggression can be resolved into a tacit understanding. If you bought a home on a road that sees automobile traffic, one of the things you agree to is normal traffic, occasional noises, etc. Tacit consent in some cases.

        The difference between them is that justice involves intersubjective norms that can be discerned through reason, whereas morality can/is defined in terms of happiness, virtue, or some other criterion. Another way, justice is concerned with property rights, and morality everything else. The principles of justice (non-aggression being one such) are universal; principles of morality change over time.

        Who can or should enforce that obligation? The child can’t, because it’s not even capable of recognizing that it has rights that are ostensibly being violated. You say feeding one’s children amounts to an enforceable obligation – well, where would one justify using force if the right did not come from the child?

        • martinbrock

          The child’s right not to be neglected to the point of starvation comes from the parents’ community, and the community will enforce it. If a parent expects a community around him to respect various proprieties, like a farmer’s right to the fruits of a parcel of land after he has plowed and planted it, then the parent must accept other proprieties that the community enacts as well. No one gets to pick and choose the community standards he will respect.

          A parent alone in a wilderness may leave a child to die of starvation and suffer no community sanction, but we aren’t discussing “justice” or legal “rights” or even “morality” in this scenario. We’re discussing the state of nature. Legal rights are artifacts, and we distinguish the artificial from the natural. Few people say that a wolf abandoning the runt of her litter is acting “immorally”. That’s just what wolves sometimes do.

          • “Property rights generally are similar. They aren’t individual rights in my way of thinking.”

            My goodness, that’s quite a claim. Why is the community the relevant political unit? Why not the individual? Why should a community have the right to determine “its” customs and rules, but individuals don’t hold those rights? Why not?

            “A parent alone in a wilderness may leave a child to die of starvation and suffer no community sanction, but we aren’t discussing “justice” or legal “rights” or even “morality” in this scenario. We’re discussing the state of nature. Legal (and moral) rights are artifacts, and we distinguish the artificial from the natural.”

            So society’s sanction is what makes an action right or wrong?

          • martinbrock

            The community is the relevant unit, because members of a community are the people you expect to respect your rights. You can expect people to respect some right that you assert, but without the willingness of these people, you have nothing but wishful thinking. You have rights only because other people will respect the rights.

            A community is a group of individuals, of course, but “the community” is more than the will of individual members. Even a contract between two parties is not the will of either party. It is a compromise between them. The law of a community is similarly a compromise between members of the community. It’s a multilateral agreement. Every member of a community accepts its rules, but no member of the community would have proposed the rules.

            Every member of a community would live by different rules if he could, but he accepts the community’s rules instead, because membership in a community is valuable, and he finds no community in which every member will live by his unilateral rules. Even nominal “monarchs” find no such community.

            “Right” and “wrong” emerge from human, social organization. The terms are meaningless with respect to an isolated individual and in the state of nature. Animals naturally are amoral, and if I’m the last man on Earth, nothing I do is either right or wrong.

        • “Polluting an atmosphere humans use to breathe is not polluting against anyone’s property. I can emit all the carbon dioxide if I want.”

          Why? If your breath enters my property without my consent, you’ve aggressed. If you contend that act aggression is not actionable because it would be absurd, you agree with Zwolinski that the NAP is too rigid. I think you’re trying to have it both ways here.

    • I think you might be missing Zwolinski’s point. The NAP doesn’t distinguish between aggression and harm. You say that “all” pollution must be banned from civil society because of the absolute nature of the NAP. With that standard, a small minority could ensure the total cessation of all industry, and maybe more.

      If you ran your car anywhere near my property, and the wind carried even an ambsace of exhaust onto my property, I can move against you. You have aggressed against me. If you burned a fire and I could smell it (believe me, smoke travels far; here in AZ, we can smell forest fires burning hundreds of miles away), you’ve aggressed against me. If you hold the NAP to be so absolute that you’re willing to live without fire, since it would be impossible to keep the smoke contained, then at least you have your principles, even without your life, or the lives of just about everyone else alive now.

      But if you think it’s absurd to consider these incidental matters aggression, and you think that people must live with some trivial aggressions in order to thrive (or live at all), then you agree with Zwolinski that the NAP is not the optimal foundation for society.

      • CT

        This is from the Rothbard quote which Zwolinski provides:

        “All such emanations which injure person or property constitute aggression against the private property of the victims.”

        And I think this is precisely the point, only pollution which actually injures person or property can be considered aggression. I should really go over Rothbard again, but I don’t remember him taking the stand that all pollution is a form of aggression. But hey, if Zwolinski is right and Rothbard does consider all pollution to be aggression then I agree, Rothbard’s take on NAP is crap.

        • Great point, CT. Thanks.

        • matt b

          Okay but the problem is one of enforcement. Absent government, how do we ensure that pollution does not reach the point that it injures persons or property? For example, if some plants decide to locate in some small town, pollute like crazy, and people get sick as a result what recourse do those people have? They could sue. But what match are they going to be for corporations with a 6736 person legal team. Beyond that, which polluting entity would they sue? All of them?

          • CT

            I haven’t quite made up my mind on this point, but I’ll tell you one thing: those affected by pollution today are no match for corporations being in bed with the regulators. I see it much too often, a gift here, a little influence there … I’m also pretty sure people would be well represented by large, very well funded, environmental groups.

            “Beyond that, which polluting entity would they sue? All of them?”

            Do like the gov’t does, sue the biggest one and once you win wait for all the others to fall in line.

          • CT

            Allow me to provide you with a concrete example …

            Currently in Canada, there are a bunch of companies which used a temporary loophole in the law to purchase tax losses which they couldn’t have normally purchased. These companies believed they were safe (which anyone with half a brain could have figured out they weren’t), and are now being sued by the federal gov’t because of a provision which states that you must be acting in the ‘spirit’ of the tax act. In other words, the gov’t rightfully feels this is outright tax avoidance. There’s about 12 public companies which have done this. The gov’t is bringing the largest one to court only. In 2 or 3 years, if it wins (which it most likely will), the others will have to pay up or be sued. They’ll fall in line because there’s no reason to pay lawyers for a sure loss. I also know they’ll do this because I’ve spoken to the CEO’s of about half of them and they’ve personally told me they’d have no choice. There’s no reason it would work any differently between polluters and the general public.

            Btw, I haven’t made up my mind where I stand politically (so not an ancap), but I don’t see why you have to be an ancap to support the type of tort system proposed by the ancaps. Given resources today, the argument that the little guy stands a better chance with a corrupt regulator as opposed to court seems like a pretty weak argument.

          • matt b

            I’m more sympathetic to your proposal since you would actually have public courts with the power to seize company assetts but I still find it implausible for a whole variety of reasons that I don’t have the time to get into right now but I would just point out government regulations have actually brought about measurable improvements in the environment.

      • j_m_h

        How do you get to the conclusion that there is not distinction between aggression and harm? There are plenty of harms that are not considered aggression or even open to the harmed seeking compensation.

        Seems to be one of the key components of aggression is the intent to do harm without acceptable justification. While I’d agree the potential of harm occurring is a necessary condition it’s hardly sufficient.

      • With regards to “shutting down industry,” it’s just not true that conceding that pollution to one’s property is a rights violation, this condemns us to a Luddite existence without any wonders of industrialism. That’s certainly not true. If firms were sued for damages every time they committed pollution, they would develop ways of production that contain the waste instead of emitting it.

        • Could they do that without first polluting someone else’s property in the process? How do you know?

    • martinbrock

      All criminal acts are prohibited definitively, but the definitions of “theft” and “assault” are not obvious. In fact, some libertarians routinely claim that states themselves commit theft and criminalize anyone resisting their theft.

      In a free society, in which individuals choose the rules they’ll respect and associate contractually (either bilaterally or multilaterally) with others respecting the same rules, I expect practically every community to codify rules prohibiting “theft” and “assault”, but I do not expect every community to define these terms identically. An act of “theft” or “assault” in one community may not be criminal in another community.

      Permitting one’s child to starve through willful neglect certainly may be an act of injustice, and most people will tell you that it is, so if you want to live in a community that doesn’t criminalize it, you’ll have difficulty finding one.

      • So these words need sharper definitions. Okay. Let’s find them. But barring finding those precise definitions, we can at least agree that the subset of actions that “violate another’s rights” are wrong or unjust. Something like that. We might not agree on which actions, but we do agree those actions exist.

        True, of course. Without a state, the world would become this gorgeous mosaic of competing covenants and communities with various different rules and so forth. So I’m not too concerned with the customary law that emerges from these places. That would be interesting, but not totally related to the question of pollution or child abandonment. I submit that pollution is unjust WHEN it violates someone’s property; emitting CO2 in the air by itself does not create an enforceable claim. Some communities might regard that as assault – but then I think they would be wrong.

        More to the point, joining such a community would enter you into a contract to abide by their rules. So even if nonharmful pollution – as I’ve defined it – would not be an unjust action according to libertarian rights theory, you would still be in violation of their contract if you did so anyway. So I think a lot of this talk about marginal cases of aggression on people can really be solved through social or tacit consent type of language.

  • dL

    the “copernican revolution” definitely ain’t “social justice”…

  • John Kindley

    I’ve long thought the NAP is fatally flawed. I define libertarianism as the limitation of governing to the necessary, with governing defined as simply the art and process of securing inalienable rights. Libertarianism IS the Presumption of Innocence, or in other words the presumption against the use of force or fraud.



    Thanks for the interesting perspective. Are holders of the NAP really committed to the proposition that “It is better that the world should end than that we violate someone’s rights”? Is it truly that absolutist of a stance? If so, it is obviously implausible, but can you cite any contemporary philosophical defenders of this view that take this position? If aggression is not an absolute evil, perhaps the NAP can be interpretated in a way to make it more palatable.

    • matt b

      Are you familiar with Walter Block? I think he’s dealt with some of what you mention and his answer is something along the lines of “Well you can violate the NAP but the person whose rights you violated in doing so can then determine what your punishment will be.” What the hell this means in practice is not clear? If I steal bread from a bakery owner can he then say “Your punishment is 50 years of making bread for me for no pay”? Given Block’s view that property rights are all that me thinks he might find such a sentence quite proportioante. And it does not answer questions of “If you had to kill someone to save 1 million lives” since the persons whose rights you violated there can’t punish you because they’d be dead.


        Hi Matt,
        Thanks. I have read of few things that Block has written over the years, but can’t say I am very familar with his work overall. It seems from what you say here that he is attempting to interpret the NAP in such a way as to avoid certain of the problems Matt identifies. The point of my question to Matt Z. is that the view he ascribes to holders of the NAP seems absurd on its face, so I wonder if any actual philosophers hold it, as opposed to the often poorly informed commentators on certain blogs (not this one of course).

        • matt b

          It’d be pretty hard to find a philosopher who would say “You know if stealing a penny could prevent the Holocaust it would be tough but I’d still have to oppose it.” But I don’t think it would be too hard to find libertarian thinkers who would be willing to allow a lot of horror to take place before they thought any sort of “violation” of property rights was justified.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Okay, but now we are all prostitues and we are just haggling over the price. A defender of the NAP can deflect a lot of criticism by construing “aggression” in certain ways.

          • matt b

            Yes but I tend to think all good philosophy is about haggling over the price, at least at the point where we accept values pluralism.

  • CT

    Pollution is a tricky issue. I would still prefer the NAP to be an important guide as to how to deal with this problem because pollution causes actual physical harm to real people (but obviously I don’t buy the silly argument that all pollution is aggression and therefore should be banned). How much harm the affected people are willing to put up with should be their decision to make (I guess I trust the population to be able to make that cost/benefit analysis on their own).
    As for the fraud issue, it’s been a while since I’ve read Rothbard, but I do remember him writing that fraud is criminal once the exchange has been made because you have gained property through misrepresentation. So if I sell you a fake bag and tell you it’s the real thing, I have aggressed against you and your property.

  • I don’t see how you get from the non-aggression principle to “all pollution must be prohibited, no matter the cost”.
    As I argued in the last thread, why shouldn’t Coasian bargaining resolve the issue? Why can’t polluters (at least in SOME cases) simply agree to reach a voluntary sellement in which they pay for the right to pollute?
    Perhaps there is some extremely strict formulation of the NAP in which even Coasian bargaining over pollution rights is prohibited, but then one needn’t throw out the entire NAP to do that. Just don’t use a formulation of it that prohibits even voluntary agreements to allow pollution.

    • twentythirtyone

      The problem with Coasian bargaining is that it necessitates low transactions costs, something that is basically impossible in the pollution context. I cannot, as an individual, contract with every person who does (or might) have the pollution from my car drift onto their property.

      • matt b

        Exactly and the problem with Theresa Klein and other hard libertarians arguments here is that there’s no factor that would force factory owners to bargain. If I’m a megabucks factory owner, I’m going to set up my factory whereever I want and pollute to profit and what are people going to do about it? Sue me? What if other plants are doing the same thing in the same area? And who is going to enforce the judgement in an-cap utopia? Are the poor townspeople going to send their protection agencies after me? It’s just totally unworkeable.

      • CT

        But I can easily contract with the owners of the roads … whether gov’t or private. Again, contract with one of the largest, then approach the rest with said settlement in hand.

        • twentythirtyone

          In the pollution context? I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Are you saying property owners should contract with the owners of the roads? And does that imply that the owners of the roads are liable for the pollution put out by those who use the roads?

  • les kyle Nearhood

    It is pretty much like every other absolute, it is silly. I once had a discussion with a professor who tried to convince me that lying was always immoral. I immediately thought of about a half dozen counter examples but he stuck to his silly dogma.

    • twentythirtyone

      Was your professor’s name Immanuel Kant?

    • matt b

      Did you pull it the classic murderer is asking if your friend is in the house example? Or the Nazi is looking for Ann Frank? Those examples have got to make the most commited Kantian sweat.

      • les kyle Nearhood

        Yeah the Nazi one and the one asked by your wife/girlfriend, “do you think that girl is prettier than me?” Really, what man in his right mind would say yes?

        • Couldn’t the Kantian say nothing? I mean, he just can’t lie. So why couldn’t he equivocate or not reply at all? Those aren’t contrary to the CI.

          • good_in_theory

            Silence isn’t meaningless and neither silence nor equivocation treat people as ends – at least, not any more than lying does.

          • I’m not rationally bound to give an answer to every question hurled at me. I AM bound by the Categorical Imperative to not lie – that is, to not treat my interlocutor as a means to an end, as an object. To lie, in this sense, is to purposefully deceive. Keeping silent is therefore on much better footing.

          • les kyle Nearhood

            nonsense, being silent is exactly the same as a reply that the woman did not want to hear in my example.

          • It doesn’t make any difference how she interprets your silence. That’s not the point. Lying is against our rationality, Kant says. Keeping silent may lead one to certain interpretations, but you aren’t violating the dignity of her agency by deception.

  • j_m_h

    “If aggression is absolutely wrong, then all pollution must be prohibited, no matter what the cost.”

    Perhaps we need a refresher on the definition of “aggression”. Is trespass an aggression, and specifically is it the same class of aggression as attempted murder is? We don’t suggest the both be addressed the same — all aggressors are not killed regardless of the aggression. Not too much absolutism there.

    Also, do libertarians suggest that murder “must be prohibited, no matter what the costs”? No? Then why is the claim that pollution must be addressed this way?

    Seems like both suggest the absolutism Matt suggests is not really a factor or actually exist in the sense Matt want to suggest it does.

    So that leaves us back at the questions: should the term aggression be definitionally bad, like the word murder, or should it be a neutral term like mechanical force or power? I tend to think the words like aggression, coercion and murder are always understood to have a negative connotative aspect and all have other words that serve the purpose of more neutral or positive meanings. That said, language does change so these connotative aspects of words will also change.

    Is it the right time for that evolution with regard to “aggression”? I’m not too sure.

  • j_m_h

    I really wish Matt would address what I see as the largest error in his claim. The view that something is absolutely wrong is not the same as saying it must be prevented at all cost.

    I’ve never heard a libertarian who supported the NAP claiming that murder must be prevented at all costs and clearly we all very murder as a greater transgression than pollution.

    To suggest that the NAP leads to the view Matt presents seems like such a non sequitur that it approaches the construction of a Strawman — which is an error I don’t typically see Matt as slipping into.

    • I don’t think I suggest that something’s being absolutely wrong means that it must be prevented at all costs. But it does seem to me that if something is absolutely wrong, then it is wrong no matter what benefits might be had from allowing it. Otherwise, what does “absolutely” mean?

      • j_m_h

        Matt, it was you who wrote the pollution must be prevented at all costs while attributing that to the NAP. So who was making the claim? I don’t think any of the NAP people make the claim. Perhaps this was just a rhetorical error on you part.

        On to the more substantial aspect here. I agree that something that is absolutely wrong remains absolutely wrong even if positive benefits resulted. This complexity in the world is what opens the door for almost all tort law and it’s the balancing act here that freedom loving societies must perform. When X is wrong but the harm so trivial that calculating the cost of the harm is greater that the actual harm the wrong is ignored — these would be those victimless crimes (though some will argue without measurable harm X cannot be wrong — we don’t need to get into that debate for this discussion, agree?)

        As the degree of the harm grows the social remedies for the wrong adapt.

        With the case of pollution while it was difficult distinguish between pollution made by mans actions and that which occurs naturally one would not expect to find the society considering pollution as something in need of remedy. Once that distinction become easily made then those injured will start seeking damages and polluters should be expected to compensate those who were harmed. This doesn’t mean society wants to stop the activity producing the pollution for a number of reasons. Two obvious candidates might be a) the output is very important (food?) or b) there’s no intent to harm and the harm is more nuisance than signification in harm and the activity has some existing precedence as being allowed.

        The pollution could evolve further so that not only is the source obvious but there are clearly established harm to health, or perhaps even death. In such a case the activity will not be allowed but any who violate the restriction will still be required to compensate and may face additional sanctions from society. This does not mean that the society will then apply all it’s resources to ensure that no one can every violate the restriction on the activity. There will probably be some policing/monitoring but not to the extent that someone cannot sneak by.

        In all cases pollution remained absolutely wrong but how society addressed the wrong depended on the results of the wrong and not on really on the wrong per se.

        I would not agree that all pollution is aggression but that’s a different can of worms.


    My curiousity aroused, I researched Rand’s precise formulation of her NAP. I believe that what people are typically referencing here is either or both of the following two quotes:

    A civilized society is one in which physical force is banned from human relationships–in which the government, acting as a policeman, may use force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate force (emphasis in original). “Man’s Rights,” The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 95

    The precondition of a civilized society is the barring of physical force from social
    relationships–thus establishing the principle that if men wish to deal with
    one another, they may do so only by means of reason: by discussion, persuasion and voluntary, uncoerced agreement (emphasis in original). “The Nature of Government,” Ibid., p. 108.

    Clearly, much more needs to be said here. For example, what about the use of force to defend innocent others? What about the use of preemptive force in at least some extreme cases? Does fraud count as a “use of force”? And, last but not least, what about pollution?

    Now, for the record, I am no Randian, but I think there is no short step from the above quotes to the conclusion that aggression is an absolute value, or that it is committed when a leaf from one of my trees falls on your property. No doubt some clumsy philosophers and non-philosophers have read too much into Rand’s words or drawn false inferences from them, but I’m not sure that this indicts the NAP, rather than those who misapply it.

    • matt b


      I know you are no Randian as a result of reading the review of your book but I wonder what you make of Rand’s arguments for ethical egoism specifically. Did Nozick (or you) ever take a close look? Because I read the arguments and I shrugged 🙂 I mean it’s really bad. I really wish Rand wasn’t identified as such a central figure in libertarianism, not just because I reject hard libertarianism, but because her arguments are just so wildly ill thought out.


        Before he wrote ASU, Nozick critiqued Objectivism in “On the Randian Argument,” which is collected in his Socratic Puzzles. My own take is in Chapter 1 of my book. I agree that there are large problems with any version of ethical egoism.

        • matt b

          Thanks for that Mark. Did Nozick write at all extensively on the obligations individuals have to other individuals in the sense of positive obligations. Of course, he was uncomfortable, to say the least, with using coercion but did he believe there was a moral duty to aid the poor assuming they could not help themselves. From various reviews, the answer seems to be yes though maybe a weak yes. Anyway, you would know better than me.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Well, Nozick wrote a fair volume of stuff, and I have read a majority, but not all of it. Off the top of my head, I can’t recall an extended discussion of positive moral obligations. If I have missed something, maybe one of the BHLs or one of the well-read participants here can correct me.

  • Patrick Haney

    almost all difficulties with the NAP could be solved if there was a good libertarian theory of how much is just restitution. Then, in stead of saying “property violations are always wrong” we could say “property violations obligate you to compensate the victim”

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