Can everyone do absolutely anything they want?

Equal Liberty
Liberty has a limit, and it’s called Equal Liberty.

Perhaps you’re wondering, “If everyone is free, does that mean they’re free to do bad things?” Here’s how to think about that…

  1. You have the liberty to do virtually everything you enjoy
  2. Reciprocity is required; your neighbor has the same liberty
  3. But there is a limit to this power, for both you and your neighbors — namely that you cannot injure your neighbor, her person or his property, in the process of enjoying your liberty

If number two wasn’t true — if you didn’t extend the same freedom to your neighbors — soon your liberty would be gone. If number three wasn’t true, your neighbors would quickly band together to stop you!

The concept of Equal Liberty binds together the three concepts above. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “Your rights stop at the end of my nose.” That’s Equal Liberty!

Equal Liberty is the LIMIT to your freedom.

You have maximum liberty to do as you please, so long as it harms no one else.

You can pursue your happiness and follow your conscience, as you see it, so long as you don’t harm others. But as you pursue that happiness, you cannot…

  • injure others
  • damage or steal other’s property
  • defraud others

These are crimes, whether you do it alone or as part of an organized, even “democratic” gang.

You also have zero “right” to make anyone else pay for the pursuit of your happiness. This too is theft, even if done by majority vote. Your neighbor owes you nothing, except to leave you alone.
Equal Liberty is grounded in Empathy and related to Reciprocity. Two-way signIt’s a two-way street. That is, you desire your liberty so you practice Zero Aggression towards others. Therefore…

Your neighbor has the right do as he or she pleases, no matter how distasteful or offensive you find it, so long as he or she does not injure you or anyone else.

Therefore, you also owe your neighbor nothing, except to leave him or her alone.

Of course, while there is no law for it, kindness and consideration for your neighbor go a very long way and should be socially encouraged.

Perry Willis

About the Author

Perry Willis

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Perry Willis is the co-founder of the Zero Aggression Project and Downsize DC. He was the National Director of the Libertarian National Committee on two occasions, and ran two Libertarian Party presidential campaigns. He has an extensive background in marketing and fundraising, and has ghost written direct mail appeals for numerous luminaries, including Karl Hess, Ron Paul, Charlton Heston and Harry Browne.

Jim Babka

About the Author

Jim Babka

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Jim Babka is co-founder of the Zero Aggression Project and President of, Inc. He’s an author and former talk show host.
Previously, he was the President of, Inc., defending free press rights all the way to the Supreme Court. He and Susie are the proud, home-schooling parents of three teenagers. He enjoys theology, UFC, target practice, and Tai Chi.

About the Author

Jim Babka

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Show Comments 20


  1. I’m just curious about how zero aggression would be applied to something someone does that does not harm anyone directly but may do so over time or at some later date. An example of this would be a person or business that pollutes the land or water with a chemical(s) A. That are currently known to be environmentally friendly but later discovered to cause problems with health. B. That are known or thought to cause harm but their release by said business or person was done in a manner that would be below harmful levels or thought to be below those levels.
    Another example could be the current action for current and former players of the NFL over the brain injuries the sport causes.
    Another example is related to my first one but more specific. Airlines must jetison fuel from the plane if they take off and discover a problem requiring the plane be landed prior to the destination in order to prevent the weight of the fuel breaking the wings off upon landing. Sometimes the planes must do this anyway because they received too much fuel at the last stop. These jetisons of fuel happen without regard to where the plane is. This example can also apply to the waste container from the lavatories when such action is required to properly operate the plane during flight or landing.
    There are other examples but basically they fall under the examples above.

    1. Hi Matt. These are all interesting questions. They are also edge cases. We think the Jury is the key social institution for dealing with all questions of potential harm, including edge cases such as these. Is an action aggressive? Is there a victim who should be compensated? A jury should decide. The advantage of a jury is that verdicts must be unanimous. The flaw of democracy is that mere pluralities and majorities can rule.

      1. Interesting ideas, folks.
        Juries and courts have ruled in the past, that unintentional trespass carries liability to
        restore damaged property, but is not a crime.
        For example, if I’m walking my dog, and the dog runs onto your porch and defecates there, I may trespass onto your property to recover my (trespassing) dog. You may demand that I clean your porch of the dog’s feces, by any means that you specify, and I am bound by law, to obey your demand and clean the porch.
        That’s the law of trespass, as juries apply it.
        A resource that is ownerless, has no one to speak for it’s preservation.
        That is why individual wrongs (my dog defecating on your porch) are easier to resolve, than collective ones (the factory that employs half the city’s population, spills some toxin that runs down a hill and contaminates every parcel of land downhill from the factory, but the workers don’t object. A worker sells you his house, you buy it, and need to sue somebody over it.)

        1. Interesting example. The fact that the employees don’t object does not prevent an environmentalist or a passer by or anyone else visiting the area from suing the factory for harming the environment. And if a jury agrees, the factory will have to clean up their spill and assist the people affected. One does not have to be directly the affected party to act in defence of the physical environment.

        2. It seems to me that the maxim of “buyer beware” should prevail. Do your due diligence on the prospective property BEFORE you sign the contracts and/or order those tests, etc. beforehand just as you would have title work done to make sure that a property didn’t have encumberances.

          1. Post

            Agreed. But doing due diligence does not require acting alone, without expertise. The State gives us the “illusion of free” with its regulatory programs. These same programs drive out the demand for much more efficient, voluntary forms of governance and regulation, to which both industries and/or customers would eagerly subscribe. We’ll be developing these thoughts further. But for now, we recommend the following links: , and several of the Mental Levers found here:

        3. I am under the impression that in a free society, there would be natural means for settling disputes. One method that makes sense to me is that there would be arbiters available to anyone who is harmed or suspects that harmful results would occur. These arbiters are self employed and for hire. The complainant and offender would agree on who is to be hired for the job. Of course the ‘loser’ would be responsible for the damages and costs.
          The system of ‘justice’ in the US is too strict, obfuscated and does not apply to all situations. The only thing to be determined is was harm caused and what is the remedy.
          I found a good description of this process in the book “The Market for Liberty” It’s freely available in text, reader, pdf and audio format.

          If you desire to respond to my remarks, please skim the book first.

          1. Post

            The fact that The State provides these services, from tax dollars, drives out a market for much more efficient voluntary services. Governance and regulation are highly desirable and beneficial to both industry and customer, when said governance is organically created and then accountable to its customer base, particularly for maintaining its reputation. That is, if it is discovered to be corrupt, its customers abandon the regulator. The same cannot be said of The State.

      2. This is another very effective tool. It’s encouraging how these levers trigger such useful discussion and challenges. I would like to add that it seems we anarchists are always arguing against perfection; if we cannot satisfy every conceivable scenario, voluntaryism is therefore imperfect and must be abandoned. Arguing against perfection is a booby trap, a logical fallacy, and a tactic of statists. Shall we enumerate the myriad flaws and evils of statism? If perfection were the real goal, the state would have been dumped in 1791 following the whiskey rebellion.
        For the record, utopia has never nor will ever exist because, as Robert Higgs puts it, many people are, “irredeemably vicious in the extreme.” Give those same people the power to tax, police, and make war and look out. For my part, I will take the challenges of the voluntary life over the incurable evils of life under the state.

    1. Post

      Indeed. The entire ethic of the Zero Aggression Principle is actually a “Silver Rule.” Whereas the Golden Rule says, “do,” the ZAP says, “do not,” as in “do not harm your neighbor.” Here’s other colloquial ways to state roughly the same thing: “Leave others alone,” “mind your own business,” “don’t be a busybody,” and “first, do no harm.”

  2. The problem I see with jury in the specific case of industry pollution is the industry has lots more money to “buy” experts (witness the number of “experts” who testified that cigarettes were good for you. How do you equalize that?? Maybe courts should be the ones to hire experts. I agree completely with the concept but have concerns about application when there is disparate power.

    1. Hi Chuck. The problem you mention is legitimate, but it exists in the current system too. It’s not unique to a voluntaryist approach.
      But it is possible that a voluntaryist society could find better ways to employ experts. There is, by definition, only one approach to things in a statist court system. But there could be competing approaches in a voluntaryist society. Perhaps someone could innovate one or more solutions.
      I can imagine several potential experiments. For instance, some courts could mandate equal budgets for experts. Others could let juries rule on which experts would be admitted. There may be other possibilities. The key point is this — the statist system already has this problem and has not solved it. Maybe a voluntaryist approach could do better.

  3. The word “harm” is inappropriate and misleading. If I start a company that puts yours out of business I would say that I have harmed you although unintentionally. A better limiting circumstance needs to be used. We could discuss what that might be or we could read Rothbard.

    1. I would actually disagree with the idea that by out-competing another company you harm your competitor. Just as a woman who chooses to date Man A does not harm Men B, C, D, and E, the customers who choose Company A do not harm Company B, and Company A cannot be said to have done harm by making a better offer than Company B.
      I do not dispute that A’s entry does have negative consequences for B, but this is not the fault of A. It is the fault of B for failure to match his competitor, or to make accurate economic forecasts.
      Harm must be defined as damage or fraud. If we start calling it harm when somebody is better than somebody else, we must end with all people being compelled to equality: if a man is faster than another, he must be made to wear heavier shoes until he has no advantage–nonsense.

  4. Liberty also implies the right to act (within the limits of liberty) without supervision, oversight, or permission, especially from government, unless there is a crime (transgression) or a danger be so great. That is where we have gone wrong in America and most other “free” countries. Governments seek to prevent crime and influence society by controlling the people. Liberty requires that governments let the people be until there is a crime.

    1. Thomas, you nailed this. Both right statists, as we see now with the whole mess with aiding ISI(S)L and left statists, (in the Hobby Lobby case, and lesser known cases as well) are almost to the point of the ‘pre-crime’ prosecutions of Minority Report, and in Pennsylvania, are: news/ homeland-security-moves-forwar.. news/ 2015-08-05/ pennsylvania…

  5. Pingback: I Want Lew Rockwell to Be Libertarian on Immigration - Students For Liberty -

  6. This is why political government is criminal; politicians use force/violence/aggression as in taxation and regulation to pursue their own “happiness” at your expense. They loot A to satisfy B. Regulated freedom is oxyumoronc! Politics is violence and political government is the bane of humanity; it is not Christian. Voting is thus an act of violence as it sanctions the use of force against your neighbors and millions of others to impose the voter’s beliefs, opinions and “false religion.” Ask the Marc Stevens/Lysander Sooner Question: What factual evidence do you, judge, prosecutor, politician/legislator, IRS agent, policeman or anyone, have that the constitution and law apply to me just because I am physically present in some state such as commie/socialist, Democrat tyranny corruptifornias? It doesn’t exist and never has else we would be stinkin’ slaves on the plantation state run by masters/politicians and overseers/judges/enforcers in the “land of the free and home of the brave.” How diabolically ironic is that?

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