Recently, I saw a video floating around Facebook of a 15-year-old girl being detained by loss prevention employees for stealing a candy bar. The person who shared the video claimed the force was excessive because they had her locked into a full-nelson and were attempting to drag her back into the store.
The reaction from those who strictly believe that the Non-Aggression Principle is all that’s needed, in regard to laws in a libertarian society, shocked me.
Many were saying that because the girl aggressed on the store owner’s property that the escalation in violence was justified.
As a young minarchist, who believes in “market anarchism” and is enthusiastic about the tenets of libertarianism (but would still like an extremely limited government), I had yet to come into a situation involving retribution, within the NAP, that has actually made me question its validity in society.
I will not be able to accept the NAP if it leads to an “eye-for-an-eye” type of law in society; where an act of aggression is punished by a more severe act of aggression. Shooting someone for trespassing on your property, or beating someone with a bat for stealing money from you, are completely passable forms of self-defense in a society run by NAP law.
The issue that arises for me, is that this form of law is extremely barbaric and not conducive to a civilized society. Many act as if the NAP is absolute; as if the only deterrent (and proper punishment) for crimes is to use additional aggression. But, the justification of increased force in response to aggression is a retaliatory form of law, as found in the Code of Hammurabi.
By criticizing this, I am not taking a pacifistic approach or claiming that thieves and those who damage property should be let go, but the punishment and methods of preventing crime should not be more severe than the act of aggression.
Mike C. Materni describes this in his essay Criminal Punishment and the Pursuit of Justice, “The common good, combined with the respect for the citizen’s originary freedom, demands that penalties be mild but certain, so that they can serve a deterrent effect without brutalizing society.”
Cesare Beccaria, an 18th Century criminologist and philosopher, explained it best in On Crimes and Punishments, saying, “The purpose of punishment […] is none other than to prevent the criminal from doing fresh harm to fellow citizens and to deter others from doing the same. Therefore, punishments and the method of inflicting them must be chosen such that, in keeping with proportionality, they will make the most efficacious and lasting impression on the minds of men with the least torment to the body of the condemned.”
This is where I feel the NAP may fail as the standard of an all-encompassing law because it justifies punishment that is not equal to the crime.
Non-aggression is a good framework to begin to construct the laws and consequences of a civilized society, but it alone does not strive for the non-violent and even rehabilitative form of punishment that is necessary in society.
Fines and imprisonment were developed as the preferred forms of restitution in civilized society because they can deter crime and compensate victims without harming the criminal. While a tad extremist, I could foresee an anarchist society of NAP law resorting [back] to executions, quartering, and hangings as reasonable punishments for crimes.
As libertarians, it is our duty to uphold the NAP, but also recognize its shortcomings and be able to appropriately compensate for them. A mission to abolish the government shouldn’t mean throwing out developments in justice that have made the free world into a better, more civil society.
- Luke Henderson is a composer, economics enthusiast and educator in St. Louis, MO. He is a budding Libertarian, joining the party in 2016, and has contributed to Being Libertarian and The Libertarian Vindicator, in addition to being an editor for the Libertarian Coalition.
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