A Christian Defense of the Non-Aggression Principle

Click for more in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

This is the second installment in my series responding to the series by Adam McIntosh posted at The Kuyperian Commentary. This article specifically deals with the second part of his analysis, “A Christian Critique of the Non-Aggression Principle.”

My first installment focused on the massive amount of agreement I have with McIntosh. However, I must now turn my attention to the points of disagreement. I have three.

First, I believe he is too quick to dismiss the Non-Aggression Principle. Having exposed Rothbard’s philosophy as being unsurely founded on Natural Law, he seems to set the Non-Aggression Principle aside and disregard it’s legitimacy and the importance of its application.

Second, I disagree with the very brief glimpse he gave into his rubric for extracting Biblical instructions for determining what sins should be considered criminal, and what sins should not. This is the crux of my disagreement with Theonomists, Minarchist or Statist, and I must clarify. If you read my series on a Biblical Theology of Civil Government and Human Authority, you will know that I left this as an open end. I intend to close it in this series.

Finally, I believe he suffers from a faulty understanding of property rights, as demonstrated by his contrived island example. I intend to provide a thorough analysis of his island analogy and demonstrate how property right solves every single one of the proposed problems he raises.

And if you can make it through all of that, I intend to round the series out by going back to the issue of public vs private law enforcement, and explain my idea for how we might solve the problem of funding the criminal justice system without stealing from citizens and without going full on anarchy.

I really do hope you stick around.

In this article, I intend to rebut his dismissal of the Non-Aggression Principle. You may have noticed that I gave a very brief synopsis of his critique in the first installment. I kept it so brief because Part 1 was running rather long, and I didn’t want to drag it out any further. So perhaps it would be good to start this rebuttal with a recap of his argument.

McIntosh Rightly Challenges Rothbard’s Foundation

The Non-Aggression Principle, as defined by Rothbard is

no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else. This may be called the ‘nonaggression axiom.’ ‘Aggression’ is defined as the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else. Aggression is therefore synonymous with invasion.”

On the outset McIntosh seems to be favorable to the Non-Aggression Principle, saying

the non-aggression principle (NAP) as defined is not necessarily a bad thing. The Bible certainly teaches peace and non-violence unless acting in self-defense. In this sense, all Christians should adhere to the NAP.

Next, he takes the very valid step of analyzing the Non-Aggression Principle from a framework of world views. And in doing so, he exposes, that Rothbard’s foundation for the Non-Aggression Principle is Natural Law

The problem is that Rothbard defends the NAP by appealing to “natural law.” Man is supposedly a blank slate who must use his sense perception and mental faculties to decide what his values will be, what his life goals will be, and how to effectively bring those goals to fruition. Man’s freedom is absolute. He is to never be forced to do anything he doesn’t want to do, even if that means freeing himself from obligations and responsibilities.

Rothbard suffers from the classic atheist flaw of trying to appeal to something – anything – to make moral judgments. But, of course, the best he can do is to appeal to Natural Law, as Locke did. Unfortunately for Locke and Rothbard, Natural Law can only tell us what “is” and not what “ought to be.” Thus, Rothbard finds rights to life, liberty and property in a concept of self-ownership which cannot, ultimately make any moral judgments. McIntosh exposes the moral bankruptcy of such foundation by quoting Rothbard’s illogical position on abortion and child abandonment.

Where McIntosh Goes Wrong

This is all well and good, and so far I have no disagreement with what McIntosh has done. It is what he has not done, that I find troubling.

McIntosh appeals to the image of God as the basis for human dignity, and very nearly acknowledged that the Non-Aggression Principle is very Biblical, but he fails to connect the dots to reveal a very nearly Rothbardian ethic.

Rothbard’s problem is not that he started with an atheistic premise and attempted to draw moral principles from it which are clearly way off base. It is that he attempted to find an alternative foundation for moral principles that God’s law had impressed on his conscience (Romans 2).

Follow me very carefully here, because if you’re just casually reading, it may sound like I’m saying something I’m not. As those with a Reformed world view, we understand the Bible alone to be the Word of God. We understand that it alone is our authority on God’s law. However, we scarcely believe that it is God’s only revelation. Indeed, man, fallen as he is, is God’s greatest revelation of himself outside of Scripture! Since man is made in God’s image, and God’s moral law is based on his own character – his nature, it follows that the basic form of human nature would include some semblance of this moral code.

In fact, we find from the Scriptures (Romans 1-2) that inherent in the human genome is a basic knowledge of right and wrong – God’s moral law. It is fallible and errant in that it is subject to the fall. Since fallen men neither can nor want to obey it, they suppresses the truth in unrighteousness, to their eternal peril.

Yet underlying all of the layers of sin there is, coded into our DNA, the deep and abiding foundational principle of human ethics, which, when properly understood from the word of God, says:

Each individual human is created in God’s image and therefore has inherent human dignity. Being owned by God, he is given to steward over his own life, liberty and property, which no other man may invade. For to aggress against a human is to aggress against God’s image!

Natural Law is never so clear, yet it is there, and it is because of this that philosophers throughout history have been able to produce axioms somewhat similar to the golden rule, of which the Non-Aggression Principle, as put forth by Rothbard, is merely one. It is also because of this that civil governments throughout history have all been able to come up with the idea that murder and theft are crimes. It is not this way by mere convention, but by observing the natural law, which was put there by God and which our conscience uses to “accuse or excuse us.”

The problem with Natural Law is that it is weak. It is simplistic. It lacks the authority to convict and instruct that the Word of God possesses. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” but they are powerless to “[make] wise the simple.” Natural Law can tell us how God set things up, but it cannot tell us why they ought to stay that way.

Rothbard’s attempts to appeal to the Natural Law fall short of the authority he is looking to find there. But this does not mean that the appeal he is making is principally false. The failure of his attempt to appeal to Natural Law to back the Non-Aggression Principle is not that the Non-Aggression Principle is false, but that it is only through the Word of God that we can properly find the authority for the Non-Aggression Principle.

This is where I take exception to McIntosh. He successfully pulls the rug from under Rothbard, but does not recognize or acknowledge that his idea of Non-Aggression is merely borrowed from the Christian worldview. Had he done this, he could have successfully guided a readjustment and re-foundation of the principle on God’s Word. Indeed, under the Christian world view, the Non-Aggression principle is not absent. In fact, it is stronger! For it is not based on some concept of self-ownership, but of God-ownership.

I wish he had done this, because Rothbard is extremely useful, not in the sense that from him we learn a principle foreign to Scripture, but in that he has, despite his flaws, articulated a Biblical principle in a chiefly relevant way. Let us not make the mistake of throwing all of Rothbard’s notions completely out, for he can be very helpful in our quest for justice, provided he is brought into submission to Scripture and his Non-Aggression Principle is properly contextualized within God’s law.

The Word of God keeps us from going to Rothbard’s extremes on things like abortion and child abandonment. By ignoring that each individual child, even the least developed fetus, is an image bearer of God, Rothbard absolved parents of the responsibility for their care. This is because he has no higher framework in which to operate. God’s Word teaches us that the baby belongs to God, and God has appointed the stewardship responsibility of caring for this child to the parent. It is from this that the parent derives the moral obligation to care for the child who has a right to life. To end that life by abortion or intentionally withholding food, for example, is murder.

All in all, McIntosh is a bit too quickly dismissive of the Non-Aggression Principle. He rightly critiques Rothbard’s foundations, but does not do an adequate analysis of the principle with respect to God’s Word, which would have revealed the truth of his axiom and its proper context. This is supremely ironic in that McIntosh seems to appeal to the Non-Aggression Principle when he gives an example of dividing civil and moral laws. But I will get into that more in part 3.

Continue to Part 3 >


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