Why I’m Losing Faith in the NAP

Being Libertarian - Losing Faith in the NAP
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paul-Charles_Chocarne-Moreau_The_Cunning_Thief.jpg

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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Luke Henderson

Since joining the Libertarian Party in 2016, Luke Henderson has been active in the liberty movement through journalism and political activism. Luke is an educator, composer of fine art and electronic music, and also contributes to Think Liberty, Antiwar.com and the Libertarian Coalition.


  1. In general I understand your thought but it misses a simple fact. People who commit aggression are not caught 100% of the time. Therefor you have said by making punishment exactly proportional to the crime that if there is any reasonable chance of getting away with it then there would be a positive expected value for the committer of said aggression. From and economic point of view you simply want the
    expected value = (value of Aggression * (1- chance of getting caught)) – (cost of Getting Caught * chance of getting caught)
    In economics this is know as expected value, so long as the expected value is a negative you deter the aggression, if it is positive then you encourage the aggression

  2. Are you criticizing the NAP itself or criticizing the idea of a set of laws set up by a state, backed by the threat of violence, that somehow portend to follow the NAP? The latter is of course a contradiction but isn’t that question begged by referring to “a society run by NAP law”? Is the NAP a direct analogous substitute for what we understand as state enforced law or is there a broader dimension and a greater responsibility than saying “If you steal my candy bar I get to pummel you to death ’cause the NAP said it’s ok”? Also, referring to “developments in justice that have made the free world into a better, more civil society” In my view has some problems to consider. I assume you don’t hurt people and take their stuff but by your reference you suggest perhaps you might if it were not for the current state run legal & penal system. Do you mean to suggest that “developments in justice” which are a product of the state, are responsible for the pro-social behavior of every non-violent person you know? Or do we have a other reasons more personal and noble that serve as a much greater deterrent, while crooks among us commit aggression regardless of law and punishment? One more thing: Where is the “free world”? I really want to go 😉

  3. What’s your account of NAP based on? As I see it, NAP allows using force in response force to aggression, but also sets strict bounds on it: defensive force should be only enough to eliminate the direct threat; retaliatory force, like arrest or punishment, has to be proportional to the crime. Ussing force which exceeds those bounds is in turn aggressive; and therefore, legally impermissible.

    Not every advocate of NAP believes that; pacifist libertarians, for instance, think no responsive force is justified. But I have never met, or read anything by, an advocate of NAP who took the position you’re saying follows from NAP: that one can use whatever force one wants on someone else, provided only that the other person did something aggressive first.

    The only time I’ve heard that sort of thing, it’s been a progressive or other troll going on about libertarians wanting to “shoot trespassers” and the like, more for caricaturing (or strawmanning) than anything else.

    So where did you get the idea that that strawman position (which you obviously reject yourself) follows from NAP?

  4. The propositions set forth in this article are essentially no different than taking the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and asserting that it grants the right to commit fraud. If you want to criticize the NAP, then your first course of action should be to learn what various notable NAP advocates actually say about it. What you should *not* do is put your own spin on the idea—or base your idea on random public Internet comments—and then attack that as the prevailing position.

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