What Explains the Appeal of the NAP?

It is obvious that citing the NAP as making the case for libertarianism doesn't work at all: it is only convincing to people who are already libertarians, and not even to all of those. So why is it still clung to so tightly? In the comments, Matt wins the cigar:

" It's an appealing thing for some to believe, so they choose to believe it."


  1. "Oh, well sure you can resort to force and aggression but *I* am trying to reason becuse *I* am not just a mindless statist thug."

    I paraphrase but that's the idea. It is wrong to think the hardcore Libertarians *want* to persuade or affect policy. They don't. They want to feel like Cassandra, ignored, put-up, noble, and right. They want to lose. So pointing out the vapidity of the NAP will not lessen its appeal one iota. As we see.

  2. The NAP appeals to libertarians because it states explicitly what is already their implicit worldview: that exchange and property are the basis of legitimate human social organization and any other element is illegitimate "aggression." It's like an early modern monarchist adverting to succession from Adam.

  3. And in making explicit what was already implicit, it sounds fresh, powerful, and simple, like a real "eureka" moment. That this powerful, elegant concept only works if you already take its assumptions for granted is something an ideologue is too unselfconscious to recognize. It's also a derivative from liberalism more generally, so even some non-libertarians are stopped short by the idea; they partially subscribe to the latent formula thanks to the liberal democratic culture of our milieu. (Much as the argument from Adam seemed not utterly implausible to people who believed the Bible to be broadly or exactly historical.)

  4. The non-aggression always seemed off, but I could never put my finger on it and I still can't. I saw the part about a "ban on force and fraud" and thought "That's not right. There's more to law than that.". Likewise, "enforce property rights and contracts" also felt incredibly odd. In my mind at the time, crimes were specific and weren't really connected to each other, so murder, rape, speeding, credit card theft, pollution, hacking, copyright violations, and so on were atomistically separate. The term "property rights" never entered my thinking. Neither did "free market" or "the state". That's why "enforce property rights" as solution to pollution didn't feel right. Now my perspective has been altered by libertarianism (hopefully only temporarily) and my political thought is now in those terms. I tell you, 'property rights reductionism' is incredibly frustrating.

    The thing with the NAP, I suppose, is that it isolates one concept, namely "property", and causes the mind to view social life atomistically. Everything could be expressed as a violation of property rights. Recently, however, I had a stark realization about the nature of as it regards pollution. The libertarian solution was to "enforce property rights" as if they somehow weren't this whole time, the reasoning being that the damage done by pollution was the violation. But, I realized, how is this any different than what non-libertarians have been trying to accomplish on the issue? The non-libertarians have also been looking to hold polluters responsible for the damage they do to other people's stuff, they just haven't been using the same words as libertarians.

    I submit that the reason the NAP appeals to people is because its presentation relies on the equivocation of terms, slapping the single label "property rights violation" on most things people normally consider crimes. Murder? "Violation of property rights". Theft? "Violation of property rights". Yard damaged by pollution? "Violation of property rights". Hit by another car? "Violation of property rights". I think it ensnares so many people because it uses sophistry and redefinition. Then, pretty soon, the convert starts confusing territorial/jurisdictional claims with property claims, thinking of "public property" as "state property", thinking all rights are property rights, calling the trading of lunches at school by students a "market exchange", and so on.

    1. The fundamental error is thinking all rights are (mere) ownership rights, and so that all rights are in principle equal. This is why Walter Block says you can kill trespassers.
      Give him credit. He's more honest about this particular implication than most Libertarian ideologues.


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