December 21, 2006 2 Comments
For the most part, embracing ethical libertarianism meant that my actions were far more restricted. For instance, I had previously had no problem in principle with the justice of punching someone in the face for mere verbal abuse. The concept of coercion — and specifically, the emphasis on the initiatory nature of coercion — narrowed the field of ethically legitimate options.
There is one thing, however, (and some might see it as quite a major thing) that I had previously considered unethical which became quite straightforwardly legitimate when submitted to the Do-Not-Initiate-Force-Or-Fraud Test.
I refer to the question of lying to the police — or to state operatives in general.
Previously, I had considered it wrong to lie. Does that mean I would have told the Nazi soldiers where exactly I had hidden the Jewish family in my annex?
First of all, I distinguished candor and honesty. My personal restriction against lying was very technically about the truth content of my statements, and not about any positive obligation to give people all the information they want. Secondly, it was clear to me that the hypothetical Nazi soldiers didn’t count, although I’m not sure I could have given a coherent explanation why.
The Non-Aggression Principle is demanding. It leads inexorably to philosophical anarchism, after all, if you’re willing to follow the logic to its … logical conclusion. But it also makes clear that state agents are automatically aggressors, and just as it is ethically legitimate to defend oneself against force by using force against the aggressor, just as it is potentially legitimate even to seek retribution for the initiation of rights-violations, so too is it ethically righteous to lie to thugs and liars. Hitting back is not the same thing as hitting first, no matter how many TV heroes tell you it makes you “no better than them!” (But notice that these action-show moralists are never pacifists: they want you to let the police take care of it. Talk about propaganda for a monopoly!)
Here’s how Dom Armentano put it:
In my view the victim has absolutely no moral duty to be truthful to anyone hell-bent on harming him or stealing his property, especially if the truth would make the crime even more likely. Simply put, criminals forfeit their right to truth when they steadfastly refuse to respect the sanctity of life and private property. Therefore it would be entirely appropriate, I dare say mandatory, for a potential victim to fib or lie (about the nearness of the police, for example) if the fib could prevent the robbery or help catch the criminal. And since 99% of politics concerns the suppression of liberty and the forceful redistribution (theft) of property, I would argue that the same fib loophole applies there — and with a vengeance.
And here’s Rothbard on the same point:
If the State, then, is a vast engine of institutionalized crime and aggression, the “organization of the political means” to wealth, then this means that the State is a criminal organization, and that therefore its moral status is radically different from any of the just property-owners that we have been discussing in this volume. And this means that the moral status of contracts with the State, promises made to it and by it, differs radically as well. It means, for example, that no one is morally required to obey the State (except insofar as the State simply affirms the right of just private property against aggression). For, as a criminal organization with all of its income and assets derived from the crime of taxation, the state cannot possess any just property. This means that it cannot be unjust or immoral to fail to pay taxes to the State (since it cannot be unjust to break contracts with criminals).