The Non-Aggression Social Contract Or How Unions Are A Product of the Free Market

Of late I have been trying to balance my staunch support of the non-aggression principle (NAP) and self-ownership with my increasingly leftist values. For some anarchists the NAP and property rights are totally and wildly incompatible with anarchism, with the argument going so far to claim that stereotypical anarchism is rooted in a rejection of property. I can’t say that I totally disagree with that assertion, at least depending on how one views the concept of property. The NAP is usually bundled in with the “argument against property” because aggression in this context is usually understood as aggression against a person’s property. But as I said at the start, I am a huge advocate of both and, yet, consider myself a strong left-libertarian. What does it mean exactly to have “left-wing values?” In my opinion, being a “leftist” means advocating a mix of values, sympathies and organizational arrangements that extend out past stark individualism and into the community at large.

To start, the reason I advocate the NAP and self-ownership is because they are concrete expressions of conducting our exchanges peacefully and living as autonomous beings. How so? The NAP serves as an accessible starting point for how we should conduct ourselves in civilized society. While it is inherently peaceful, it is far from being a pacifist framework. Simply put, all individuals should be able to live as they choose as long as they don’t inhibit someone else’s ability to do the same. In like manner, self-ownership means being in control of what we put in our own bodies, as well as where we choose to move them. In many cases the idea of movement, exchange and behaving peacefully are expressed in ways that are too abstract for me. I am not saying they are invalid, but simply that they are not concrete enough for me. Examples include solidarity instead of the NAP and “you are your body” as opposed to self-ownership.

Despite the fact that I advocate non-aggression and self-ownership, I take a variety of strong leftist positions such as being pro-union, pro-worker, anti-war and anti-crony capitalism among other things. This makes for some fiery debates and facepalm frustration from some of my more mainstream libertarian friends. The essential claim that has incited the most facepalm moments is the claim that some socialist ideas might not be as incompatible with libertarianism as we initially think; perhaps my mistake is not elucidating enough on what I mean.

It is not that I want both sides of the discourse to like me, but rather because I see the NAP and self-ownership as supporting the above values. By allowing these two fundamental libertarian principles to play out, things such as the freedom to form collectives, cooperatives and unions become not only more likely but also much easier.

When people have total liberty, which is what, in my opinion, the NAP and self-ownership defends, they have unprecedented opportunities to form arrangements reflecting their values and goals. This could include forming a union to make sure that wage negotiations with a business owner(s) goes smooth and equitably. In this way, unions become a market response to workers becoming disenfranchised or being paid less than what they are worth. Sure, one can argue that these workers have chosen voluntarily what job they will take, but in an aggressively manipulated market environment wherein the political class can easily monopolize and cartelize, alternatives can be harder to come by – barriers to market entrance also become more intensified. Then again, if markets were freed then things such as unions may not be in demand.

In short, one need not become a fist shaking anarcho-socialist to allow for traditionally left-wing values to work their way into your libertarian perspective. The total liberty that comes from the NAP and self-ownership can lay the groundwork for a strong productive class and the elimination of a political class. A sea of collectives, cooperatives, mutual aid networks and good old fashioned private enterprises are all possible under these simple, yet concrete, principles.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory