The Non-Aggression Principle

Simplified version: Do NOT lie, cheat, steal, injure, rape, torture, or murder. If you disagree with this principle, you're admitting that you think it's OK to lie, cheat, steal, injure, rape, torture, or murder. That's just the simplified version; please read the whole page to understand our message properly.

This page (formerly http://common-law.net/nap.html , now http://nap.nfshost.com ) includes several ideas which refer to each other, so you may need to read the whole page a few times before you get the full meaning. In fact, to get the best understanding, we recommend reading this page a few times, then this animated version, then this other page by Christian patriot Joel M. Skousen (even if you're not Christian), then back to this page again. We don't necessarily agree entirely with Skousen's page, but it does help explain a lot of the ideas involved. Initially here we're discussing inherent rights; we'll discuss other kinds of rights later.

The 3 fundamental principles of Universal Common Law are the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP), the Equal Rights Principle (ERP), and the Individual Sovereignty Principle (ISP).

To paraphrase, the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) is usually stated as "do not initiate force or fraud", or "if it harms none, do what you will", or "treat others as you'd like to be treated", or "live and let live". In more detail,
"Do not initiate force or fraud against anyone else's person or property without their consent." In other words, except for self-defense, don't harm others, don't harm or steal their property, don't break your word, don't try to coerce anyone by threatening to do any of these things, and don't delegate or encourage anyone to do any of these things. For example, don't lie, cheat, steal, injure, rape, torture, or murder.

For those who see the Ten Commandments as the fundamental laws of ethics, it is important to understand that in fact, NAP is the underlying fundamental universal principle on which the civil portion of the Ten Commandments is based, as well as similar rules in many other religions. Many of the commandments deal with religious matters (the nature of God, and humanity's relationship thereto) which are matters of private voluntary belief, not the proper concern of governments. The civil commandments deal with how we are to relate to each other, so those are the ones relevant here. Most of these are derived from NAP - do not murder and do not steal are obvious. Do not bear false witness means do not lie i.e. do not commit fraud. The essence of do not commit adultry is do not break your agreements, thus back to the underlying concept of fraud being a violation of NAP. The ethical rules of other religions are probably similarly based on NAP at least in part. It could be argued that NAP is the essence of the civil portion of God's Law, expressed in its purest, most abstract, most universal form, applicable to all religions as well as none, and recognized as Natural Law. Thus, those who claim that America was based on "Christian Principles" are partly right, in that both are based on NAP which is part of God's Law. Why do we call it God's Law when that phrase might be meaningless or offensive to certain religious minorities and reduce the appeal of our message? Because NAP is so fundamental and integrated into our very being, that on some inner level, everyone resonates with it, whether they admit it or not; it is universal, it is Natural Law, see further below.

The Equal Rights Principle (ERP) states that everyone has equal inherent rights, there should be no special privileged class, no "divine right of kings". This also implies that a group of people, no matter how many, can't have more rights than any individual. You cannot delegate a right to another individual or group if you do not have that right in the first place. In other words, we hold government officials and bureaucrats to the same rules that everyone else must live by; they don't get special privileges to lie, cheat, steal, murder, enslave, etc. just because they're called "government". If anything, governments should be treated even more strictly and held to a hgher standard, because they should know better, and because they often ignore and violate others' rights.

The Individual Sovereignty Principle (ISP) is that we, as individual sentient human beings with free will, each have the right to do anything we want as long as we do not violate NAP or ERP; and that we create organizations (including governments) and we grant specific, limited, enumerated privileges to them, not the other way around; they have no inherent rights of their own. These 3 principles (ISP/NAP/ERP) form the tripod upon which any viable and just civilization must be founded, but for simplicity, we shall hereinafter refer to them collectively as NAP. Here is a simple animated illustration of these principles.

Liberty is the state of freedom achieved when everyone abides by NAP. It's a fundamental right of all individuals, not something granted by a government or constitution. Liberty is inherently ours by birthright, regardless of whether one believes it comes from God, Nature, the Universe, or the simple fact that we're sentient beings with free will. Logic and necessity demand that we respect each other's rights, or else we revert to the law of the jungle. That is why NAP is the civilized version of:

Natural Law

When most people ask themselves what is "Natural Law", they think of the "law of the jungle", survival of the fittest, essentially total violence and chaos, kill or be killed. This is how it is for wild animals driven by instinct. But we are sentient beings, intelligent, self-aware, with free will and (for most of us) a conscience. If the term "Natural Law" is to have any meaning for us, then what is the natural law, what does Nature have to say, for such an exceptional self-directed being which can utilize not only instinct and intuition but also logical reason?

Obviously, since we're still animals and survival is non-trivial for many of us, we're still subject to the law of the jungle as a last resort. But humanity is smart enough to create and use tools to better interact with our world and exercise more control over our lives. We have developed technology to such an extent that we are capable of (and interested in) much more than mere survival. We have the ability to rationally decide how we want to interact with each other - either violently or peacefully; either fraudulently or honestly. We can come up with more than one solution to a problem, and often some solutions are much better than others. We can thus come up with our own laws to live by, above and beyond the law of the jungle. Indeed, it is the nature of sentient beings to survive and prosper by interacting intelligently with each other, rather than acting short-sightedly like mere animals - and obviously it works better too. This is because by applying rational thought, we can discover or develop opportunities for working together to accomplish more than we could individually. This makes it in our own best interest to deal with each other as equals. Thus, coming up with the most workable and efficient and mutually life-enhancing set of laws would be one way of following our Natural Law. And the better job we do at this, the better we're living up to our true nature and thus fulfilling Natural Law.

In other words, to merely survive as animals, the law of the jungle would suffice; but for us to survive and thrive as intelligent, sentient beings, we need (and deserve) a higher Natural Law to follow, which better reflects our higher nature.

Any systems where some people have more rights than others (like dictatorships) are closer to the law of the jungle, in that someone has to obtain and maintain power by force or fraud and use that power to get a better deal than others. This may seem to work well for the bullies but not for the victims; thus only a few people are lifted above the conditions of savagery. Even those few on top are still living like savages, since they have to continually maintain their power by force or else lose it. Thus, this system is inefficient and ineffective.

A system where all people have equal rights, however, is much more civilized, efficient, and constructive, because it creates the least amount of destructive conflict. Competition can still thrive and continue improving the species but can't get too far out of hand, because the system is self-balancing as long as most people understand and remember the main principle involved (NAP). And because everyone has equal rights, it's easier for people to cooperate and collaborate with each other to produce mutually beneficial results. Thus, under this system, everyone's life can be improved, and to a greater degree. Then almost everyone, almost all the time, is lifted far above the mere concerns of survival and the law of the jungle, so this does a much better job of fulfilling our potential and our true nature and thus Natural Law.

The above argument is based mostly on our rational nature to show how it works in principle independently of any particular religious context. In other words, it works no matter what religion one believes in, or even whether one believes in any religion at all. But this is also consistent with most religious beliefs.

So, the natural state of things is for all of us to have equal rights and to refrain from violating each other's rights - in other words, to always follow the Non-Aggression Principle. Thus, in effect, for humanity, NAP is the essence of Natural Law.

Universal Common Law

The term "Common Law" has several meanings or derivations. In one sense, it means the informal body of law (in effect) consisting of customary behaviors and practices of civilizations over millenia. In America, that tends to mean English Common Law. In another sense, it means what are the most common or universal laws all over the world despite the different laws in different countries or the different laws and rules that different religions or cultures impose on their followers. This is why Common Law must be secular to be truly neutral, universal, and common.

These can all be considered examples of trying to figure out what are the minimum universal common principles that people must live by in order to have a functioning civilization, without the extra laws and customs that are specific to particular countries or religions or cultures. If you've read this entire web page so far, it should be quite obvious that the answer is NAP. Thus, throughout the rest of this web site, the phrase "Common Law" (or more specifically "Universal Common Law" or UCL) will be considered to mean NAP. This is what Common Law should really mean, and the world would be much better off if was truly the common (and only) law of the whole world.

Universal Common Law is not universal just because a lot of different people agree with it; lots of people agree with it because it's universal. You can't vote on right vs. wrong; what's right is right and what's wrong is wrong. Universal Common Law is Absolute, it's Objective; it's not subject to one's point of view or opinion. More on Objective Law further below...

Note that "Common Law" may also refer to some widespread customary privileges which are discussed later. These are not part of Universal Common Law.

Must vs. Should

Much of the confusion and conflict between different rules of conduct and systems of laws and ethics arises from treating all rules as though of equal importance. We've discovered that it greatly simplifies this problem if we consider the principles above (ISP/ERP/NAP) to be MUSTs (or more accurately, MUST NOTs) and the other principles of various systems to be SHOULDs. This gives us the immutable Universal Common Law as the core that everyone MUST follow, and the additional laws, rules, customs, etc. of various religions and cultures are then the individual groups of SHOULDs for those contexts, which often conflict with others. There's no problem as long as everyone follows the MUSTs. The problems arise when people confuse their SHOULDs for MUSTs and therefore try to impose them upon others. This often causes them to violate the MUSTs. If everyone would understand this and conduct themselves accordingly, everything would be just fine.

Negative vs. Positive Rights

This important concept clarifies the application of the rest of this information. Asserting a right creates a claim against other people, in regard to what they must or cannot do to others. A positive "right" (e.g. to health care) imposes a positive obligation upon others (e.g. to provide health care even at below-market rates) and is thus slavery. A negative right (e.g. to not be murdered) imposes a negative obligation upon others (e.g. to refrain from murdering others). To clarify, the negative obligation is only with respect to others; you can't impose upon someone an obligation not to do something to or with himself which does not harm others. Obviously, positive rights cannot be inherent universal rights because they are unsustainable, they cannot be asserted simultaneously by everyone without requiring the imposition of involuntary servitude, and thus there would be privileged and unprivileged classes, a direct violation of ERP. Negative rights can easily be asserted by everyone. In other words, to put it simply, you are not obligated to do something good for me, but you must not do anything bad to me. There's no way that everyone could agree to be obligated to honor a positive right, because the resulting positive obligation would violate someone's inherent rights (e.g. not to be coerced, not to be defrauded, not to be stolen from, etc.). Everyone could agree to be obligated to honor a negative right of another person, because generally they weren't planning to violate others' inherent rights anyway, e.g. no one minds being obligated not to murder someone, except murderers. Only truly evil people could object to a negative obligation regarding another, an obligation to refrain from violating others' negative rights.

Effectively combining NAP and ERP, Christian patriot Joel Skousen has chosen to express his understanding of inherent rights as that these are the rights that everyone can simultaneously assert without forcing others to serve them. In other words, only negative rights, not positive rights, can be inherent rights. This further explains why SHOULDs must be subordinate to the MUST NOTs, as SHOULDs are often positive rights, while the MUST NOTs can only be negative rights. Inherent rights can only include negative rights, not positive rights, or else they'd be unsustainable.

Freedom and Responsibility

Freedom and Responsibility, like "Human Rights" and "Property Rights", are not opposites, they are co-requisites - you can't have one without the other. If one tries to hold others responsible to follow a list of SHOULDs (positive obligations), but they are forced to comply (not given the freedom to not comply), then how can they be considered responsible? Clearly, one must have the freedom to choose to either accept or reject something before they can be responsible for the consequences of their choice. This does not apply to the MUST NOTs, since those are inherent and are negative obligations.

Objective Law and Good vs. Evil

So where do Good and Evil fit into this overall structure? Well, remember the absolute universal Core vs. the variable additional parts that are specific to the various cultures, religious, countries, etc. The central Core is the Objective rights, the Universal Common Law, or Objective Law - they are absolute; they are not subjective, they do not depend on one's point of view. The variable parts are subjective and vary with the different points of view (religions etc.). Note that the sole legitimate function of Government is to enforce the Universal Common Law i.e. Objective Law. Each different religion, culture, etc. might define good and evil in terms of complying with or violating their laws, but these are not universal. Government can only legitimately be concerned with Objective Law. So, Evil should then be defined as only that which is Objectively Evil, i.e. violates Objective Law. One might define Good as complying with Objective Law, but that is only a baseline, it's the minimum expected compliance, and the term Good usually represents something more - but that goes into the varying realms of different religions etc. so it's not objective. If this framework is used, then one could say that the sole legitimate role of Government is only to stop people when they're doing (Objective) Evil, not to force them to do (subjective) Good. Government should only enforce the MUST NOTs, not the SHOULDs. It's when people try to force others to comply with their own idea of Good that the self-appointed "good" people are in fact violating the others' rights and thus being Evil. Now if you consider that liberals tend to define "good" as generous, and conservatives tend to define "good" as complying with their list of restrictions regarding various kinds of voluntary conduct which really hurts no one, then one can see that both liberals and conservatives are using the coercive power of Government to force their ideas of "good" upon others, and thus they're actually being Evil, while libertarians refrain from doing that because they understand these principles.

Ethics vs. Morals

These two terms are often used interchangeably, or different people have different ideas on what's the difference between them. A useful possible distinction in this context might be to define "morals" as the SHOULDs, which vary from one religion or culture to the next, and to define "ethics" as the MUST NOTs, which are universal. Thus, one could say that the sole legitimate purpose of government is to enforce only Ethics, not Morals. This, then, would be the proper understanding of the saying "you can't legislate morality".

Rights of Animals, Children, the Unborn, and the Incompetent

The theories and principles of rights generally deal with competent adults, which are able to properly understand, assert, and exercise their freedoms and responsibilities. This gets more complicated when involving those who by their very nature are dependent upon others and are not able to properly understand, assert, and exercise their freedoms and responsibilities. Some work has been done in this area but much more work is needed. But clearly, it's necessary to get the proper understanding of the rights of competent adults correct first, otherwise both areas will have errors. So that's the focus of this web site - figure out the rights of competent adults first.

Various Kinds of Rights

So far this discussion only applies to Inherent Rights, those which are a natural part of being human, those which are inherent in our very being. There are other kinds of rights as well. I have conceived of these classifications to facilitate discussing several ideas I propose here that go beyond NAP in useful ways.

Contract Rights are obtained by mutual agreement (which must be voluntary, all parties must be fully informed of the relevant facts and conditions, no parties may be under duress or compulsion, and there must be mutual consideration i.e. each party has something to gain and something to lose under the contract). These rights can include positive rights as well as negative rights, since they are obtained voluntarily by fully informed consent of the parties. Thus, one party asserting a positive obligation upon the other may do so as long as it's provided for in their contract. The asserting party has paid the other party for the privilege of asserting the obligation.

Presumed Rights are rights (or in some cases, customary privileges) that exist in the Public Square (or are customary to the point of being considered part of  informal "Common Law" although not UCL) and are therefore presumed to exist on private property unless otherwise specified. The Public Square is an abstraction, as there's virtually no place left on Earth that does not apparently belong to some individual or organization, although the Public Square does include monopoly governments since individuals are not given a choice. Thus the Public Square may not refuse to honor these Presumed Rights (see further below). The other point of discussing the Public Square is to facilitate discussion of rights in a neutral context, and then to compare this with discussing whether the same Presumed Rights apply on private property or in the context of a private agreement e.g. Contract Rights. For example, it is known and obvious that smoking violates the rights of those who are subjected to the poisonous smoke against their will. So it has become customary to have areas where people can gather without smoke being allowed to be present. This custom has become widespread enough in America to be considered to be part of  informal "Common Law". Thus, in a private context, it is considered to be a Presumed Right unless otherwise specified in the private context. So, I'd suggest that the best way to handle the issue of smoking in private restaurants is to have a rebuttable presumption that any given restaurant has a no-smoking zone, and if a particular restaurant doesn't, then it must post a sign to that effect so that people immediately know to go elsewhere without being inconvenienced to get out of their car and enter the restaurant only then to find out.

Special areas more accessible to the handicapped could be handled the same way - a restaurant or other "public" place would post a sign if they can't accomodate wheelchairs or whatever. A similar approach could be used to handle the Presumed Right not to be discriminated against by irrelevant criteria (such as race, age, sex, religion, etc.) in applying for jobs. Now this is a trickier issue to include as a right, since it's harder to demonstrate that it causes harm as smoke would harm a sensitive person, but such discrimination is usually based on prejudice and misinformation and tends to perpetuate such incorrect information and therefore could be fraud. Thus, a business could be presumed not to discriminate unless it posts a sign to the contrary.

To clarify, monopoly governments do NOT under any circumstances have the right to discriminate or to refuse to accommodate the handicapped or nonsmokers. Only private individuals and organizations have the right to do this, and only if they provide notice thereof.

We've also thought of a more obscure category called Limited Rights, don't worry about that. Suffice it to say that we've figured out a way for skinny-dippers to have their designated area (e.g. a separate clothing optional part of a beach) so that the general public isn't exposed to it, without violating anyone's rights.

Loyalty is NOT a Virtue

The other remaining ethical problem plaguing the world is that many people tend to quit thinking in terms of abstract principles and prefer to be told what to do, so they pick someone they like and trust that person to be right. They may apply some ethical principles in making their decision at first, but then they get intellectually lazy and band together and start thinking that if their idol or guru is saying or doing something (especially if others in the group agree) then it's probably right. After a while, they become "loyal" to that person rather than to ethical principles. Since that person is a fallable human being, mistakes can be made. Even worse, this situation encourages power-mongers to take advantage of others in order to increase their power, so this situation is biased toward encouraging unethical behavior - the more a charismatic "leader" bosses his mindless group of sycophants around (or manipulates them in more subtle ways), the more likely he's leading them to violate the rights of others (and thus violate the MUSTs) in order to further his own goals. This may be the primary means of spreading moral corruption. So always be suspicious of governments and other political organizations and probably large longstanding organizations in general (some say including organized religion and corporations), especially if they appear to be powerful or influential. Always question these and the people that are "loyal" to them, especially the most fanatical. These people may have traded their minds and disciplined, rational, abstract thinking for the ego gratification of always feeling like they're doing the right thing without the work of having to actually think about it. "Loyalty" to a person or even a cause is usually a bad idea and eventually invites this kind of stagnation. Instead, always evaluate considered actions in terms of right and wrong, based on these ethical principles, starting of course with the MUSTs, and then your own personal SHOULDs but only if the MUSTs have not decided the issue. If the person or cause you want to follow is also being this ethical, then you'll continue working together. If they're not, and especially if they still refuse after you point this out to them, then you're better off (at least ethically) withdrawing your support. If you want to be "loyal" to anything, be loyal to these ethical principles, the MUSTs.

Summary

We hope that this provides a workable framework for ethics and morality and rights  that solves the issues dividing different people and groups, such as whether morality is absolute or relative, and to what extent God or religion is or should be involved in politics and government. If you do not agree with this analysis in terms of what you think should be the principles that everyone should live by, we hope that you'll at least agree that this system is a workable compromise, such that if all people, religions, cultures, nations, etc. adopted this system, they would be able to peacefully co-exist. Then we'd have a stable, viable starting point from which more progress could be made.

Email your feedback, questions, discussions, suggestions, etc. to  mailto:Ethicist@POBox.com?Subject=Discussing-UCL-on-NAP-web-site  - thanks.


Animated Principles of Liberty

Why Universal Common Law must be Secular to be Universal and Common

Why it is God's Will that Good Government Must be Secular by Christian Patriot Joel M. Skousen

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