When contemplating the nature of aggression, I often ponder idleness in situations which seem to morally demand one’s participation. For instance, if a starving man begs me for food, and I have what I deem to be plenty, yet deny his request, have I aggressed against this man? If a man is drowning beside my boat and I refuse to come to his aid, despite no suspicion that doing so would jeopardize my own well being, am I not guilty of instigating aggression?
The truth of the matter is of utmost importance, for as a Libertarian I understand that all aggression is inherently illegitimate. Furthermore, as I understand it, the instigator of aggression remains not cloaked in the protection of the natural right to live free of the aggression of those against whom he has violated the same natural right. Far from being immutable, natural rights persist only for those who respect the natural rights of others, for nature affords each the right to defend against aggression.
So, for anyone to invoke the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of property as justification for the instigation of aggression, either does not understand the nature of aggression or does and would rather be insistent of ignorance on the matter than honest and open regarding his wrongs.
That there are shades of obligation in the scenarios mentioned above does not escape me. I am well aware that for liberty to prevail, the individual must be free to consider his own well being; to weigh the risk involved when rendering aid to another. There is no justice in coercing by force one to act to his own detriment. No one is morally obligated to risk his life to save another though such an act is most noble and stems from no other place but love of others.
The cases I am concerned with here are situations where one cannot truthfully assert that the perceived danger was sufficient to justify passiveness. To know with great certainty that failure to lend a hand will result in bodily harm or death to another, and yet choose to remain idle is akin to causing the harm by ones own hands.
Considering again the starving man, who I refuse to aid with food though I have enough to give 10 times the amount requested with no concern for my own ability to feed myself and family, I ask, is there a moral footing on which to stand in claiming that I may do with my property whatever I wish, even to the detriment of others? I know of no Libertarian who upon consideration of this scenario could answer yes. The evidence seems overwhelming to me that I am inclined to believe a poor starving man may be justified in any effort to procure my food by force, under the natural right of self defense. For if I have, with my idleness, instigated aggression – acted in a manor expected to contribute to the demise of another – have I not relegated my own property rights to the rubbish bin, and exposed myself to the possibility of just retaliation?
Do not construe my words here to imply a defense of moral relativism. I am not saying that theft is not immoral in all cases. I believe theft is always immoral. What I am presenting here is the idea that property rights are not violated when a man at deaths door takes by force after making every effort to prevent his end by appealing to the good nature of one who is nearby and burdened with plenty, only to have his most direct potential for rescue deny all moral obligation to render aid and act in a manor intended to ensure his demise.
I find it most regrettable that advocates of the Non Aggression Principle dismiss the notion that idleness may be a form of aggression. Many, by applying a faulty definition of aggression to the Non Aggression principle, arrive at conclusions which aught to violate the conscience of any moral man.
I realize this might not sit well with many Libertarians. I am more than willing to entertain arguments to the contrary. If I have errored in my judgement on this matter, I will be glad for it to be exposed to me.