We continue our analysis of John Galt’s Speech in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

On pages 936 – 937, Ayn Rand introduces the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP).

She writes:

    “Whatever may be open to disagreement, there is one act of evil that may not, the act that no man may commit against others and no man may sanction or forgive. So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate—do you hear me? no man may start—the use of physical force against others.“

“To interpose the threat of physical destruction between a man and his perception of reality, is to negate and paralyze his means of survival;

to force-him to act against his own judgment, is like forcing him to act against his own sight.

Whoever, to whatever purpose or extent, initiates the use of force, is a killer acting on the premise of death in a manner wider than murder: the premise of destroying man’s capacity to live.

Defining the Non-Aggression Principle

The non-aggression principle (NAP) stated simply is this:

“Thou shalt not initiate the use of force.”

The NAP does not forbid the use of force in self-defense. It simply forbids being the first one to throw a punch. This makes sense as an ethical universal principle. If everyone was free to aggress on anyone for any reason, society would break down rapidly.

It is morally evil to use brute force to take what you want in life at the expense of others’ livelihood. Humans generally understand this to be true. Every successful society to ever exist bans murder, assault, and theft. If there are societies that didn’t, we don’t know about them, because they collapsed into the footnotes of forgotten history.

The NAP applies to every human being at every level of society, regardless of power, title, authority, or circumstance.

It applies first and foremost to the individual. It applies equally to collectives of individuals. We frown upon aggressive wars *cough* Iraq/Iran *ahem*. We clearly see who is in the wrong, even at a national level, even without naming the ethical principal behind our ethical instinct.

Self-defense is the only valid way to initiate force.

    “Do not open your mouth to tell me that your mind has convinced you of your right to force my mind. Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins.

When you declare that men are irrational animals and propose to treat them as such, you define thereby your own character and can no longer claim the sanction of reason—as no advocate of contradictions can claim it.

There can be no ‘right’ to destroy the source of rights, the only means of judging right and wrong: the mind.

Once the threat of violence is introduced into a situation, the dynamic is irrevocably changed.

Imagine a stranger walking up to you, and asking for a dollar. You ignore him. He gets in your face, and says “Give me a fucking dollar! I want it!”. You back away slowly.

At this point, your amygdala is activated. Fight or flight mode kicks in. You understand you are in danger, though not necessarily life and death. But your body is physiologically preparing for it.

Then he pulls out a knife and walks towards you.

All bets are now off. It’s time to either flee, somehow disable him, or kill him. By threatening your safety, he has forfeited his own. But more importantly and fundamentally – by threatening your right to live, he has forfeited his own.

Once you are under the threat of force, the morality of the situation changes. Before the man pulled a knife, he was simply obnoxious and potentially dangerous. Once he’s pulled a knife, he’s chosen Evil coercion as his means to get what he wants. It is Good for you to defend yourself.

The robber can’t get what he wants by means of reason. He is weak, pathetic, and ill – someone to be pitied. He has fallen so far from his nature as a creative, intelligent creature of reason that he resorts to brute force like a jackal.

His aim is to deprive you of your mind as he himself is deprived. He seeks to win a zero-sum game: his force against your mind.

The appropriate response is to initiate force in self-defense. So long as you’re not the first aggressor, you are living in accordance to the non-aggression principle and morally Good.

Government inherently violates the NAP.

    “To force a man to drop his own mind and to accept your will as a substitute, with a gun in place of a syllogism, with terror in place of proof, and death as the final argument—is to attempt to exist in defiance of reality.

Reality demands of man that he act for his own rational interest; your gun demands of him that he act against it.

Reality threatens man with death if he does not act on his rational judgment: you threaten him with death if he does.

You place him into a world where the price of his life is the surrender of all the virtues required by life—and death by a process of gradual destruction is all that you and your system will achieve, when death is made to be the ruling power, the winning argument in a society of men.

“Be it a highwayman who confronts a traveler with the ultimatum: ‘Your money or your life,’ or a politician who confronts a country with the ultimatum: ‘Your children’s education or your life,’ the meaning of that ultimatum is: ‘Your mind or your life’—and neither is possible to man without the other.

Governments inherently violate the NAP. Many moral and political philosophies, such as Libertarianism, Anarcho-capitalism, classical liberalism, and minarchism consider Government to be the largest violator of the NAP in society.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into Ayn Rand’s political example.

“Your children’s education or your life”.

No politician in 1,000 years would ever say that on stage. But it’s implied through the nature of how government operates. “Public School” is really just Government school. We are forced to give our children to agents of the State so they can be “educated” per the Government’s instruction.

In truth, the Government-run education eliminates inconvenient historical truths about the Government’s evil. It doesn’t serve to teach children critical thinking skills. It forces them to learn obedience to authority and conformity. It holds children completely against their will – not one child ever loved their entire public school experience. And after 12 years of forced education which is supposed to prepare the kids for adult life, they’re economically worthless.

They’re worth $7.25/hr to employers. And many are actually worth less than that.

In exchange for having millions of children emotionally damaged and a dozen formative years of their lives wasted, we are expected to pay taxes to support the broken and failed system.

If we don’t pay taxes, or don’t send our kids to school, you can expect a visit from the police.

If you don’t comply with the police, you can expect them to arrest you.

If you resist arrest, you can expect them to initiate force against you.

If you attempt to defend you life, you can expect them to kill you.

At the end of the chain of events, the true nature of Government is revealed: Government is run off of brute force and nothing more.

That is the meaning of “your children’s education or your life”.

    “If there are degrees of evil, it is hard to say who is the more contemptible: the brute who assumes the right to force the mind of others or the moral degenerate who grants to others the right to force his mind.

That is the moral absolute one does not leave open to debate. I do not grant the terms of reason to men who propose to deprive me of reason. I do not enter discussions with neighbors who think they can forbid me to think. I do not place my moral sanction upon a murderer’s wish to kill me.

When a man attempts to deal with me by force, I answer him—by force.“