Is the Nonaggression Principle Incoherent?

Economist and libertarian David Friedman and Soho Forum Director and libertarian Gene Epstein debate the resolution, “The right way to persuade people of libertarianism is by showing them that its outcomes are superior by their standards, without any resort to the flawed nonaggression principle.”

Coincidentally, both Friedman and Epstein are 78 years old and Jewish. But as Epstein pointed out in his opening remarks, the comparison ends there. Friedman is the son of the famous free market Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman and his wife and collaborator, economist Rose Friedman, and was schooled intensely in the art of debate while growing up. Epstein, by contrast, can claim nothing comparable in his own lineage.

Taking the affirmative, Friedman reviewed key arguments set forth in his book, The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism, originally published in 1973 but issued in updated editions since then. Though he does not believe that the libertarian’s nonaggression principle, or NAP, is a coherent principle, he also explained that one can do without the NAP in convincing nonlibertarians to accept libertarian solutions to society’s problems.

Taking the negative, Epstein argued that what he preferred to call the zero-aggression principle, or ZAP, often plays an essential role in defending the libertarian case for radical reform. He provided examples, including abolishing both drug laws and government’s interference with free international trade. He also addressed various aspects of Friedman’s view that ZAP is an incoherent principle.  

The debate was held before a live audience at noon on June 23 at the Porcupine Freedom Festival (“PorcFest“) in Lancaster, New Hampshire. It was moderated by PorcFest leader Dennis Pratt. As Pratt has said, the primary purpose of the six-day event is to induce libertarians to move to the “free state” of New Hampshire. 

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