If you’re familiar with some of the basic ideas of Libertarianism chances are high you’ll at least recognize something called the non-aggression principle. It seems simple at face value. Don’t go looking for a fight. Pressing a little deeper into the philosophy some claim it means committing no action which would harm others. In that regard aggression is confused with violence. Were it the same, it would create an internal contradiction; for many libertarians one of the core liberties is the right to be armed. If we’re armed, there’s an implication of threat, a promise of violence, based on certain conditions. In totality it would seem that this violates the precept of the NAP altogether. I argue that its viewed the wrong way- that violence and aggression are mutually exclusive concepts. In an era where aggression is openly being used as the mask on civilian disarmament has been removed, its important to understand the difference.
We have to define interpersonal violence as the intentional use of physical force against another person. Violence is not a random act. We must form an intent and a recognition that in that moment, such force is justified. Recognizing this definition, being armed becomes an implicit, and in some ways explicit, promise of violence.
I am armed, with the explicit implication of violence should you take any action of unjustified aggression against me.
Most are familiar with the right to be armed, while wholly unfamiliar with the duty assigned to that right. The preservation of such right is predicated upon first being armed then proficiency at arms, followed by the assurance of violence should any other right be taken. Your duties accompanying the right of being armed is the capacity for all three of those qualifiers. And that violence must be both quick and decisive; violence has no other legitimate purpose aside from the preservation of one’s liberty.
Aggression is separate concept wholly independent from violence. While aggression usually accompanies violence, in most contexts aggression is a posture and almost always precedes a violent act. It is a reaction. Aggression can be understood as weakness feigning strength. The raising of one’s voice, the beratement of the other, the unnecessary posing with one’s weapons for no purpose other than vanity; these are forms of aggression which precede violence. Each are forms of posturing. Posturing is much akin to a growling dog. The truly menacing dog won’t growl, he’ll just bite. He needs no confirmation of his own power, nor does he need any other justification than his prey is infringing on his territory. The small dog on the other hand will growl and snarl in an attempt to intimidate, inherently ceding their inferiority. Violence is thus natural when threatened, and among the prepared, aggression is unneeded.
So to say that one is armed nonviolent is an absurdity. The fact that I am armed implicates violence. It is a promise of violence, both quick and decisive in its nature. There should be no posturing, no prostrating with one’s weapons of an unnecessary goal. Rather, the presence of weapons and thus violence must serve an end. For me at least, that end is both a recognition of my rights through assured duties as well as training others to do the same. To build those skills and to foster that confidence in others. Violence is both necessary and a natural force; aggression is not. I am both armed and violent, trained to be violent, and train others in exercising that collective violence. That violence is quick and decisive, ending the fight as rapidly as it began.
Collective Violence. Individually, interpersonal violence exists as a resolution. However what of the concept of violence when extended to whole categories of people? When I am told “Hell Yes we are going to take your AR-15!” I consider this aggression with an implication of violence. Robert Francis O’Rourke, a product of a life of great privilege, acts through aggression. The man couldn’t disarm a child much less a trained adult, but he’ll send someone else to- make no mistake of that fact. But what serves as a deterrent to such aggression? Violence as a collective.
So with those two concepts better defined, can violence exist within the parameters of libertarianism? Absolutely. I argue that the core concept of one’s liberty is preserved through the promise of violence, that the proficiency and skill at such violence in all forms is a vital one. Aggression being an independent concept from violence, it is wholly possible to be non aggressive while being entirely violent. The difference is that violence must serve an end goal while being entirely justified. Amid those calls for civilian disarmament through force, there’s no better deterrent than building that proficiency at all levels, be it individual to collective violence.