The Non-Aggression Principle Only Applies to Humans

EspañolLibertarianism is non-aggression, of course. But non-aggression against whom or what? Daniel Smyth’s cavalier assertion [in our debate on the right to an abortion] that it is entities with (I guess) a certain chromosomal make-up is, I suggest, profoundly anti-libertarian.

People are possessors of minds, above all: of thought, desire, will, dreams. None of these are within the reach of two-celled organisms, or of embryos, and those are what are in question here. We have less reason to protect embryos as such than we do to protect squirrels, rodents, or gila monsters.

The “as such” is important. Part of liberalism’s array of welcome slogans is, “every child a wanted child.” When two parents conceive, desiring the resulting offspring and ready to devote love and energy to its nurture, humanity should cheer. But when those conditions are lacking, then what?

To insist on “protecting” unwanted embryos is to aggress against the unwilling bearer of those organisms. It is to disempower her, rather to protect any actual person.

That’s the point.

In addition, Smyth’s cliche-ridden note about ownership is very unperceptive. To say that we own ourselves is to say, neither more nor less, that we are free beings: that we may do what we want. We use ourselves when we do things, and to be the “owner” of ourselves is simply to be the legitimate doer of our actions, provided those actions are free from aggression. Theorists who want to dump on the idea of self-ownership need to think about it.

Jan Narveson
Distinguished professor emeritus, University of Waterloo, Ontario
Chairman, Institute for Liberal Studies

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