Libertarians: When Might You Abandon The Non-Aggression Principle?

Dave Killion — December 11, 2012

I neglected to mention in yesterday’s post that Frederick Douglass was a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Like me, you might be startled to find that the Underground Railroad still exists. No, not here in North America… but in China

“North Korea is #22 on the 2012 Failed State Index and it’s generally regarded as the world’s most repressive state. So it’s no surprise that inhabitants wish to leave. That’s easier said than done, though, as it’s a crime to leave the country without permission — and the most common way out is via the neighboring, but unwelcoming, country of China (which rejects North Koreans as criminals and doesn’t hesitate to repatriate refugees). Those individuals who make the choice to flee North Korea travel along an underground railroad — not unlike the one that brought fugitive slaves north in pre-Civil War America. It’s a harrowing and dangerous journey, one that typically requires help from human traffickers and members of Christian relief organizations, who work clandestinely and at great risk to their own lives.”

The risks faced by those who flee is tremendous, and the choices they face are harrowing to contemplate –

“Occasionally someone gets out by going across the DMZ. There have been two examples of that this fall — both North Korean soldiers who saw a chance and took it. In one case a soldier was at his guard post and shot two superior officers and ran across to the South Korean side.”

Could it be that these superior officers were themselves conscripts? Or were they more like prison guards, whose murder is justified? If they were the former, their murder by the escapee is a clear violation of the non-aggression principle. Or perhaps they fell somewhere else on the continuum between victim and perpetrator. My happiness over this one man’s freedom is tempered by the thought that he might have done something terrible to achieve it, and by my unsettling certainty that under the same circumstances, I might have done the same.


Jeremy Maddock says

Good point. This, like moral questions, is fraught with shades of grey. As far as moral philosophies go, the non-aggression principle is pretty self-evident, but too many libertarians fall into the trap of believing that it will solve all problems. Sadly, many moral problems come down to the weighing of competing evils.

— December 11, 2012

Brent Decker says

Interesting stance but freedom is seldom won by non-aggression. The original American Revolution was not won by words and diplomacy. The only times I can think of where true non-aggression worked was when it was used against a modern western democracy. (India under Ghandi) Any government that does not support a constitution that has a ” Bill of Rights”, securing freedom of speech, press and religion will not be swayed by non aggresive acts.

— December 12, 2012

antony says

I take the exact opposite view from Brent. True advances in Liberty can only ever be achieved by peaceful means, violent means will always backfire. You need to win “hearts and minds”. This may take longer, but it is the only way to achieve lasting change. There are lots of examples: the fall of the Soviet Union, the civil rights movement, the ending of slavery (everywhere other than the U.S.), and the “colour revolutions” are a few that come to mind.

— December 12, 2012

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