Twice this week I have heard conservatives object to the Non-initiation of Force Principle (NIP) based on what appears to be a misunderstanding or mishearing of the word INITIATION. This is something that I have begun to notice as my political work takes me among conservatives; that they are generally unaware of the meaning or the basis of the Non-initiation principle that stems from the concept of the Rights of Man.
The non-initiation of force principle is a product of the classical liberal thought of the enlightenment and its modern statement is a product of libertarian philosophy and ethics. Its basis is that each individual has "certain unalienable rights." These rights are not granted by any god or government, rather they have their source in the nature of human beings as moral agents. Because they are unalienable, rights cannot be removed from individuals, nor may a person voluntarily surrender them. They are proper to the nature of the human individual. These rights are defined as the right to Life, Liberty and Property. It is these rights that the Declaration of Independence asserts and that the Constitution* was written to protect.
*The Constitution guarantees US citizens that these rights will be protected by the government it forms, but the Constitution does not "grant" them. If it did so, these would be privileges, not rights. Therefore, the concept "constitutional rights" is a misnomer. Rather, these are rights that are protected by the Constitution.
The first explanation I ever saw of how the initiation of force is a violation of individual rights comes from Ayn Rand's Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal. Rand writes:
"To violate a man's rights means to compel him to act against his own judgement or to expropriate his values. Basically, there is only one way to do it: by the use of physical force. There are two potential violators of man's rights: the criminals and the government. The great achievement of the United States was to draw a distinction between these two--by forbidding to the second the legalized version of the activities of the first." (p. 371)
In sum, it is a violation of an individual's natural rights to initiate force against him. Force can violent, as it is when someone is compelled against her will at the point of a gun or by the threat of torture. But there are also non-violent methods of force, such as fraud, deception and neglect.
Adherence to the Non-Initiation Principle means that one agrees not to use force against an innocent individual who has not first violated or threatened one's own right to Life, Liberty or Property. However, it does not mean that one cannot DEFEND against the violation of one's own rights by the meeting force with force. This is so, because by violating the rights of another, the one who initiates force has forfeited his own rights, and has become a criminal. This is true regardless of whether the initiator is acting alone, or in a group. And the person whose rights have been abrogated is morally obligated to use whatever means possible to defend them and restore them, and he may properly ask others to help him in this defense.
Through our Constitution, we have invested our governments (state and federal) with the power to protect our rights by protecting us from the initiation of force. We have authorized government to use force against those who initiate it against us in order to stop the violation of the rights of innocent citizens. For example, we have given* the government the power try and incarcerate a thief in order to protect us from a violation of our property rights.
*Rights belong to the people, and are individual; whereas the government is granted privileges and duty by the people whose individual rights the government exists to secure.
However, a government that violates the rights of its owners, the citizens, by initiating force against them has become a tyranny. And the citizens has the right to defend their rights against it, and more, they have the duty "to throw off such a government, and provide new guards for their future security." (The Declaration of Independence).
Both of the conservatives I spoke with objected to the Non-initiation Principle because they did not hear and/or understand the difference between initiating force against an innocent person, thus violating his rights, and the use of force to meet and repel the force used in those violations. That is, they did not understand the meaning of the word INITIATION in the context of the principle.
So I will state it plainly: the Non-initiation principle does not preclude the use of force as a RESPONSE to the initiation of force against oneself by criminals, whether they be individuals or groups or even associated with government. That is, it does not preclude the use of fraud, deception, neglect or violence to DEFEND one's Life, Liberty or Property. A free individual has no moral obligation to accept the initiation of force against him; rather he has the moral obligation to defend his rights, and he may morally join with others to defend the rights of another free individual.
If we have been subjected by our own government to " a long train of abuses and usurpations" of our rights--as we have been, and if "our most humble petitions for redress of grievances have been met only with repeated injury", then we have the moral obligation, that is the duty, to defend our rights by any means necessary.
However, we have no moral obligation to act imprudently. Rather, as we go about the defense of our rights, prudence dictates that we consider the consequences of our responses to ourselves and to those around us, using violence only when we have exhausted all other means of meeting force with force. Although there is no guarantee that we will be able to stop those abuses and usurpations of our rights by our servant government short of armed resistance, still it is better to try other means, for if we succeed in them, we save our own blood and treasure from destruction.
For a very brief and shining moment in history, the United States, through the Bill of Rights that forbade the government from initiation of force against innocent citizens, achieved a society in which the use of force in relationships among individuals was forbidden and punished, thus allowing for all relationships to be predicated on the freedom of individuals to associate with one another, and to have the unrestricted freedom of contract. But that moment has been superceded by a government that through the corruption of the values of liberty and individual rights, has usurped the sovereignty of the individual, replacing it with the collectivist concept of "the social good."
Our individual rights are almost gone from want of our strong and consistent defense of them. Rights only exist where free individuals have the will to exercise them, and upon their violation, to defend themselves against the usurpers of rights, whether those usurpers be criminals or government.
Is it time to consider meeting force with force?
I believe it is. And prudence dictates that we begin by demanding of the government their compliance with the limitations placed on them by the Constitution, and by meeting their initiation of force against us with strongly asserted, principled civil disobedience.
If you agree that we have the duty to defend our rights, join with us by signing the Articles of Freedom, and making the commitment to engage with millions of other Americans in the civic actions required to withdraw our support from those who have violated our rights.
Long live the Constitution of the United States!