I recently gave a speech regarding my decision to conscientiously object to further military service. A good friend posted a transcript of the speech, and I caved in to read the comments. One reader mentioned that my pacifist position was well-intentioned, but naive. This comment caught my attention, because I had never mentioned pacifism in my speech, but had referenced the non-aggression principle (NAP) a few times. I was further confused, because some of the comments were on a libertarian Reddit thread – I assumed that most people there understood non-aggression as it relates to pacifism (…or maybe I am naive!).
But let’s explore pacifism and NAP a little more in depth. I had begun to study pacifism throughout my CO process, because it seemed like a worldview that maintains the moral high ground (for purposes of this discussion, I take pacifism to mean non-violence in all situations). I read some Tolstoy, met some Quakers, and generally conducted my own research and reflection regarding pacifism. It is clearly a good thing if I do not harm anyone or their property through my actions. My pacifism, however, does not necessarily deter others from trying to hurt me or take my stuff. I eventually concluded that pacifism is not an appropriate worldview for me – apparently I haven’t transcended my instinctual need to defend myself (or my loved ones).
…which is a good segue for the non-aggression principle. NAP holds that the only morally justified use of force is defense. Common sense (and a dictionary) dictates that defense is a reactive behavior. Therefore, there must be an instigator or initiator of violence and/or force. This is consistent throughout playground-bullying scenarios to one nation invading another. Under a just system of property rights, you are morally justified to defend yourself or your property should the need arise. This does not allow excessive force, and it does not allow preemptive aggression in the name of defense (for example, the 2003 invasion of Iraq or the 2011 murder of the al-Awlakis). NAP simply provides a means to defend yourself (as we are instinctually prone to do) and recognizes your right to also defend your justly acquired property. This is the only instance in which violence and/or force is acceptable.
Pacifism and NAP differ slightly (but importantly) regarding the use of force for defense. Both, however, do not permit the initiation of aggression; they are both peaceful. There is merit in both philosophies and each can be morally justified, which brings me back to the title…it doesn’t really matter if NAP is to pacifism as apples are to oranges: they’re both fruit!
To your freedoms,