The non-aggression principle is a long-standing staple among libertarians of many varieties, especially among the right, such as voluntaryists, but also among some in the center, such as mutualists and libertarian Georgists. In this short little essay, we will look at the nature of the non-aggression principle, some of its interpretations, and some of its shortcomings. Short of condemning it altogether, I will suggest a complimentary principle to non-aggression, which should act as a caveat or a proviso. This will be understood as the principle of fair regard.
The Non-Aggression Principle
The non-aggression principle simply suggests that the initiation of force, on a person or their rightfully-owned property, is unjust. The principle allows for force in the case that it is used in defense, but not when it is used to attack. It also limits the amount of defense to that which is necessary to thwart a threat or attack. Escalation of unnecessary force is itself an act of aggression.
There are many debates centered on the principle of non-aggression, especially when it comes to rightful ownership of property. What really constitutes rightful ownership of property? Upon this, our definition of aggression rests. Libertarians may point to first acquisition as the rightful claim to property, while communists may point to physical possession and use. Lacking some sort of agreement, rightful ownership of property is under dispute. I see no reason some sort of agreement can’t be reached, so long as care is taken to get there. In the model of geo-mutualism I put forward, rightful ownership is explicitly agreed upon before property hits the market, leaving no cause for confusion.
Some, especially voluntaryists and anarchists of the right, feel as though the principle of non-aggression is fair, because it protects person and property from unjust invasion, while others, especially the anarchists of the left, feel it is used to protect the property of the rich, and to justify oppressing the poor.
Some libertarians, known by Kevin Carson as “vulgar libertarians,” use the non-aggression principle to defend property-owners against things like standards of fairness, rent control, unions, and more. These are your chain-store libertarians. They fail to understand that, with a more consistent application of the principle, the property of large corporations is not protected, because the state has allotted them stolen property. Stolen property is not legitimate property, except in the most egoistic senses; legality wants nothing of it. A particular form of vulgar libertarian, that Dan Sullivan refers to as “royal libertarians,” also forgets that property is not a matter of natural right or decree, so much as it is a matter of agreement or due claim.
The non-aggression principle has not only been used by vulgar libertarians, it has also been used by voluntaryists, mutualists, and geoanarchists, who are decidedly anti-state and are willing to address the issue of state-granted property rights. These users of the principle naturally clash less with the communist-leaning anarchists. Still, many communists, communalists, collectivists, and others argue that the most prominent use of the non-aggression principle is in the defense of property. Some will say that, if aggression is defined as an offense against property, they are not against aggression at all, but promote it. This argument stems from a conflict over legitimate ownership.
The Need for a Caveat
I will not be going into further detail on the conflict over anarcho-capitalists and communists over the non-aggression principle, because it is unnecessary for understanding my point in this essay. For now, what is important to understand is that, whether the non-aggression principle is used to defend the possession of the mutualist, the property of the voluntaryist, or the land-claim of the Georgist, the non-aggression principle is a principle which is defensive in nature. Knowing this, we may provide a caveat, which settles the concerns of even the communist to some degree.
The defensive nature of the non-aggression principle is founded on a philosophy of negative rights. Negative rights are those rights to maintain, to defend, or to keep. They include those rights not to be affected by others. The non-aggression principle generally prevents against assault, theft, fraud, or vandalism of various sorts. These are considered the acts of aggression. On the contrary, positive rights are those rights to claim, to assert, and to take. They include the ability to affect others. The foundation of the principle upon negative rights explains why people on the right and some in the center— such as voluntaryists, mutualists, and Georgists— are attracted to the non-aggression principle, while people on the left (but also some in the center)— like Marxists, anarcho-communists, and more— are in opposition to it. Negative rights philosophies are necessarily individualist in nature. Naturally, individualists, like voluntaryists, and compatibilists, such as Georgists and mutualists, will be attracted to it to varying degrees, while collectivists will not be.
While I am a supporter of the non-aggression principle, I believe it is important to understand its limits, and not to become polarized on the issue, lest we end up like Benjamin Tucker, defending the mistreatment of children in the name of the parents’ egoism (leaving out the egoism of the disgruntled spectator). Non-aggression plays a wonderful role in defining those kinds of behaviors that should be avoided in regard to others’ claims, but it does little to suggest what is fair to claim in the first place. That is, it does not properly treat the matter of property rights. Most arguments which utilize the non-aggression principle do so to defend already-existing property rights which are assumed. These often depend on natural rights arguments, which ignore Locke’s proviso, or are otherwise non-contractual (and thus non-libertarian, non-egoist) and utilitarian.
Instead of holding on to a polarized view, it is my intention to see the non-aggression principle as part of a larger dialectic. Before we find the synthesis, it is necessary to name the antithesis. Like all things in nature, ethics of property are governed by the laws of equilibrium. As the market is determined by supply and demand, and as capitalism is a production-oriented economy and communism a consumption-oriented one— whereby the monopolist controls supply or the monopsonist controls demand—, the principle of non-aggression, which necessary protects the claims of the propertied, must be balanced by a principle which equally protects the claims of those without.
The claim of those without must be made de facto property by adverse possession, which is taken or protected by force. The claim of those with property must be defended as de jure property—private property—, which is granted by decree. As can be seen, de jure and de facto match quite nicely with Max Weber’s authority and power. De jure rights are a matter of authority and law, and de facto possession is a matter relating to fact of power. I believe these tendencies both to be vices, when left unbalanced. “Authority and Power,” by a man named David Heywood— a theologian, the rest of his work I am unfamiliar with—, suggests that the synthesis of power and authority is “leadership.” He explains that authority is the ability to influence others by way of one’s thought, like a Guru, but never actually getting anything done themselves. Power, on the other hand, is the ability to influence others by way of force or skill. Leadership is the harnessing of the complimentary nature of the two.
I believe a similar relationship of complimentarity is to be found in equal property rights, positive and negative. Because this is so, and because of the non-aggression principle’s right-wingedness, I felt it necessary to propose a principle antimonious in some respects to the non-aggression principle, but, in other ways, strangely complimentary to it, in hopes of emergent effects. I am reaching for a principle which will not disprove, cast aside, or otherwise derail the non-aggression principle, but one which will set limitations to it, in the manner that demand and supply limit one another in an efficient market, or a healthy ego is balanced by the struggle of mutual efficiency between the id and superego. From balance comes health.
Where the non-aggression principle is the negative application of property rights, the principle of fair regard shall be its positive counterpart.
The Principle of Fair Regard
It’s important to remember that property rights are subject to the individual ego, and to society, and are only “natural” insofar as they are accepted to be by their beholders. They are not absolute. Property rights are a social thing. Even the non-aggression principle ultimately depends on its enforcement by a large percentage of, or the complete good will towards it by, society. So long as a majority of society’s members don’t care to respect property rights, they don’t really, in effect, exist. They are unstable.
Fair regard is the concern for others. This is important, because property rights themselves are a form of fair regard, concern for others. That is, in fact, their basis. This being so, my concept of fair regard should not seem so outlandish.
Fair regard may otherwise be understood as non-indifference. Had I not wanted to find a positive counterpart to non-aggression, I would have kept this as the moniker for the principle instead of fair regard. Indifference is here defined as neglect of the well-being of another person, and so non-indifference—or fair regard— is the lack of such neglect, the concern for another person.
Fair regard precedes property; property should not infringe on fair regard. Concern for one’s fellows must necessarily precede any stable system of property, for property rests upon it. One cannot legitimately neglect the well-being of one’s fellows in the name of property, for such an act is to forget the legitimate basis of property, fair regard.
Fair regard is a lien on property. Where the non-aggression principle supports one’s claim to previously claimed property, the principle of fair regard formalizes ethical claims to property which one does not yet have, and which may even belong to someone else. The principle of fair regard is a lien on property, which says that it must be held in a social manner consistently used with reasonable concern toward one’s fellows, but it does not take away the right of property. It also suggests that property that does not belong to oneself should be cared for similarly to the way it would be if it did.
Fair regard demands obligate respect for the person and property of others. The principle of fair regard complements the principle of non-aggression by holding that one cannot legitimately neglect the property of one’s fellows without good cause (as decided in a court of law). One cannot use it without good reason and fair compensation, nor can one witness another’s person or property being damaged or stolen, without acting. Witnesses to crimes are held accountable and they have the obligation to prevent damages, but the right to compensation for help (when possible, explicit consent is best provided for help that may demand compensation). Fair regard entails peer-enforcement of non-aggression.
Fair regard has to be reasonably demanded, and only in emergency conditions. The principle of fair regard is not an excuse for abuse. One cannot go to the store or someone’s home and demand credit (such as food), except in the most dire of conditions (such as starvation), able to be defended in court. One can much more reasonably demand a loan from a banking institution than a loan from a store, as this is their line of service. Only emergencies constitute a reasonable demand for fair regard from individuals.
Fair regard demands that help be repaid. Just as non-aggression limits force to reciprocal amounts (one cannot react more violently than acted upon), the principle of fair regard limits altruism to reciprocal limits (thereby neutralizing it, as it’s not truly altruism if the person must pay back the losses). While the non-aggression principle suggests that force can only be applied to that degree it protects, preserves, or restores person or rightfully-owned property, the principle of fair regard suggests that help can only be demanded to that degree it can be repaid (but that it can be demanded to this extent, even as a levy against property). Any act performed according to the principle of fair regard would be subject to reimbursement. Those losses which are not reimbursable are not subject to the principle of fair regard. Help can be demanded to the degree it is absolutely necessary, and can be, and will be, paid back, but no more.
Fair regard does not discriminate. Institutions are always expected to provide their services fairly and without discrimination. Individuals may not discriminate against one another in times of emergency based on race, sex, gender, etc. Institutions may never do so.
Fair regard demands a hand up, but not a handout. Fair regard entails having equal access to natural resources of the Earth, and exclusive control to products of labor. Institutions following the principle of fair regard are expected to ensure everyone’s access to resources, and to provide emergency help only when absolutely necessary.
Fair regard removes undue pressures. Where non-aggression protects one from fraud, theft, assault, and vandalism, fair regard demands that people be defended from contracting under duress, being exploited, being victimized by manslaughter, and from the negligence of onlookers.
Fair regard goes both ways, and does not impose costs. The fair regard principle does not impose life-threatening situations, or situations in which the person from which help is being demanded would face a greater loss than those whom they are helping, or in which they can never be repaid. To take a morbid example, if someone is in a pool of sharks, and there are onlookers, the onlookers are held accountable only so far as they have not tried all known methods alternative to jumping in themselves, such as extending poles and ropes to the victims. If there are poles or ropes, and they are acknowledged, but are not used, this is an infringement according to the non-indifference principle. They can be sued by the family, or worse.
Fair regard gives way to non-aggression, until referenced during emergencies. Once granted upon the basis of fair regard, non-aggression becomes the dominant principle of property, and fair regard is used as a caveat only during emergencies (which must be proved as such in court). Fair regard demands everyone have equal access to resources and full control of their labor, what one does with their share of resources and with their labor is protected by non-aggression, except where fair regard otherwise contradicts it.
Fair regard forgives accidents (not to be confused with negligence). While demanding compensation for accidents is absolutely fine, compensation must be productive in nature, and should not simply be the imposition of a loss. For instance, in the case an accident incurs the loss of an eye, the offender should not have their eyes gouged out, no matter how otherwise unable they are to produce a new eye for the offended. Compensation should be directed toward lessening the effects of the damaged eye, but not at the demand of the offender’s eye. Non-accidents are not protected by fair regard.
The principle of fair regard would protect people from such things as not having any access to resources, being passed by while needing help, starving on another’s porch, or having one’s things stolen while the neighbor watches. These are all acts of disregard and indifference, which have measurable effects. The principle also protects from non-aggressive, yet excessive, behavior, like acts of revenge (not to be confused with compensation) on accidents (“eye for an eye”), passivity in another’s loss, and non-aggressive hate crimes (like denying emergency help). The principle of fair regard is the counterweight to the non-aggression principle, and keeps it in check.
Fair Regard and the Land
The factors of production are land, labor, and capital. Land includes natural resources, labor is human work, and capital is the mixture of the two. As I have argued in many of my essays, land properly belongs in the commons, having cost nothing for anyone to create, leaving positive claims to resources quite strong. Unlike land, which has been given by Nature, labor, which is exhausting, boring, and generally undesirable, requires a human for its creation. For this reason, appeals to negative claims settle more clearly in regard to labor. The labor, except in cases of emergencies, should belong exclusively to the laborer. Capital, naturally, is a middle ground, or gray area, of sorts. This being so, outside of emergencies or accidents, labor and competitive capital will be left alone, and the non-aggression principle will be largely unrestrained by the principle of fair regard, while land and natural monopolies will be heavily determined by fair regard.
It makes little sense to make a person hand over their freshly-baked pie to the man on the street. It is right that they should want to enjoy the fruits of their efforts, and, for this reason, the principle of non-aggression applies. Instead, the solution to poverty resides in turning over land— firstly that which is unused and speculated on— for public claim, so that people may be productive and gain the means to their own pie, sharing the rent of the land more generally.
While land is best owned in common, it must be used more personally, and so while the principle of fair regard puts the Earth into the hands of the collective, the non-aggression principle defends the fair shares of each. While labor is best owned by the individual, it is often best used more collectively, and so while the non-aggression principle puts labor into the hands of the worker, the principle of fair regard may be worked into their contracts.
Although land is to be determined primarily by the principle of fair regard, and labor by non-aggression, these are only starting positions. These starting positions only ensure that the individual is due a piece of the Earth for their personal use, and that their labor cannot be conscribed; once granted such a slice of the Earth, and once they find employment, they will find security in non-aggression toward their land, and will find benefit in social obligations relating to their labor. Land starts in the hands of the collective, and under the principle of fair regard everyone is due access to equal value. Labor starts in the hands of the individual, and under the non-aggression principle the individual maintains exclusive control to their labor. Once everyone has their equal allotment of the Earth’s value, each is to generally be treated with non-aggression; and once everyone is free to labor as they please, each will likely find benefit in collaboration and co-direction with others.
So long as land is made available, labor can remain untouched, and its fruits can be enjoyed with loved ones (or alone). Except in times of emergency or dire need, land is protected primarily by the principle of fair regard, labor is protected by the principle of non-aggression, and capital is subject to both, to that degree to which it owes its existence to them.
 Fair regard is a popular term which I have been unable to find the original source for, or another formulation of, but which I believe suits quite well.
 A thief, such as the state, never justly earned the title to give the stolen property away. A thief is an aggressor, and their “property” is not protected by the non-aggression principle, nor is a third-party recipient.
 Many capitalists use John Locke’s homestead principle, in which he makes the famous claim that working on the land is mixing one’s labor with it, and so property represents an extension of labor. Little known to the negative rights interpreters is Locke’s proviso to this statement, in which he suggests that claiming land is only fair so long as others may do so themselves. Locke’s proviso is a statement of the principle of fair regard, while his homestead principle is a statement of non-aggression.
 Authority refers to an official, and de jure refers to something happening by law. These are related in their sense of “officialdom,” in that law is usually administered by an official. Power describes control, sometimes at the expense of official authority; de facto describes things that happen, sometimes contrary to the law.