Is the libertarian concept of Zero Aggression pacifist?

Zero Aggression is NOT Pacifism
Zero Aggression permits defensive force.
Zero Aggression sounds pacifist. It isn’t. The Zero Aggression Principle only prohibits the initiation of force. Pacifism rejects both initiated force, and self-defense. Any idea that permits defensive force is automatically not pacifist.
Zero Aggression doesn’t even require zero assertiveness. You can compete hard in sports or business — just don’t attack people, or ask politicians to do that for you.
This means pacifists can still be libertarians; they simply can’t impose their dislike of defensive force on others. Of course, imposing anything on anyone would contradict the whole idea of pacifism, so there’s no concern there. In short…

Pacifists must be libertarians, to avoid contradiction, but libertarianism itself is not pacifist. To avoid confusion distinguish between initiated force and defensive force.

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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.

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Show Comments 26


  1. In trying to understand the ZAP philosophy I pose this question: when Al-Queda attacked and took down our twin towers and we responded by invading their stronghold in Afghanistan would that be considered defensive, aggressive or assertive? In my mind it is defensive and assertive. But where do you draw the line? We destroyed their HQ but then went on to depose the Taliban government that supported them and gave them aid. We then engaged in nation building and tried to impose our political views and organization on a tribal people who did not share them. In my opinion we were right to attack the HQ but should have left afterwards with the promise to return if any further aggression is perceived. No nation building, no reparations and certainly no imposing our political system. I believe our country is great but we are also arrogant to believe that our way is the best way or only way for people to live and rule. That is not for us to decide. We should champion freedom and encourage it where it is absent but people should be free to chose how they live and how they rule and are ruled….just as we did.

    1. Hi Dicalvert. I think you understand the Zero Aggression Principle quite well. It WAS a defensive use of force to invade Afghanistan and destroy the “government” that sheltered Al-Qaeda. We would also agree that everything we did after that constitutes initiated force, and was therefore inappropriate.

  2. Is it moral to take a neutral stand on morals? Are all moral codes valid? Is ZAP a moral axiom? No, no, and yes. Given these facts, does pacifism take a neutral stand on violence? Aggression is forbidden, but so is self defense. It is wrong to do both. Why? No distinction between the two is allowed. Can this position be defended? Is self defense an expansion of violence, an escalation? Or does it stop and deter violence? Put the other way, is a bully encouraged by pacifism or discouraged? Does a well armed, peaceful populace deter or temp invasion? In practice pacifism leads to more violence, e.g., governments first disarm their citizens, psychologically and physically, then slaughter. Mass murder is made possible by pacifism.
    Sometimes, the only way to stop aggression is to nip it in the bud. For example, a group marooned on a desert island may attempt to establish an authoritarian system by appealing to the faith in democracy or faith in some other superstition. The libertarian approach might be to attempt to change their mind, but it would be correct to inform them that they cannot trump rights by vote, and establishing institutionalized force is doing just that, therefore, their premise is not shared, and will be resisted with force. It might also be advisable to inform them that appeals to any superstition as justification for social interaction is futile as far as a you are concerned.

    1. voluntaryist: I am not sure how your premise that self defense is somehow wrong fits into this discussion. Perhaps I misunderstand what point you were attempting to make. Where you attempting to describe why pacifism is wrong, or are you arguing against the Libertarian principal? To me, it seems, what you are describing was previously addressed when defining pacifism. Pacifism is not the Zero Aggression Project or Libertarian.
      “Pacifists must be libertarians, to avoid contradiction, but libertarianism itself is not pacifist. To avoid confusion distinguish between initiated force and defensive force.”
      Did I misunderstand some part or point, of your post?

      1. Hi David. I’m not sure why you concluded that we think defensive force is somehow wrong. The whole point of the article you’re commenting on is the exact opposite of that. In fact, the summary of the article reads “Zero Aggression permits defensive force. You might want to read it again. If you could let us know at what point you concluded that we think defensive force is wrong, we might be able to edit the article to remove that confusion. Thanks for your interest in our work.

      2. My point was that it is moral to distinguish between the two types of force: 1. Defensive force. 2. Initiated force. Pacifists do not distinguish. Both are considered immoral. That conclusion is neither practical nor moral.
        It is for this reason I believe the libertarian axiom of ZAP implies a rejection of pacifism. The fact that pacifists may consider themselves libertarians is testimony to their moral confusion.

        1. We see your point voluntaryist (nice handle, btw). However, I happen to know a prominent libertarian activist who, just this morning, was described by a close friend as a “pacifist” — and I believe it, from what I know of him. I am not ready to rule out someone who agrees with us that initiation of force is immoral. I want pacifists, who embrace The State, to see that they’re still committing the greater evil. But if they don’t want to throw a punch back, nor pay for the military, that’s their own business. Listen, these people already think in categorical, moral terms — remarkably similar to the type of thinking we want to instill (as you can see, reading this website). A significant segment of them are natural allies or top prospects to be so.

      3. Yes you did misunderstand. Read it again. “In practice pacifism leads to more violence.” What could be more clear? I could have said: “Self defense deters violence.” That is implied by what I said before, because pacifism does not allow any violence, even in defense.

  3. I consider myself a Christian pacifist.
    There are two issues on 9/11 and “defense.”
    First, as a “conspiracy theorist,” I’m inclined to believe that “insiders” (e.g., Dick Cheney) wanted to attack Iraq. The “insiders” chose not to defend America against the 9/11 hijackers as a means to their end. Attacking Iraq was not part of a program of “defense.” Nothing the U.S. did after 9/11 can be considered “defense.” 9/11 had already happened, and America was not defended. Whether that was an intentional conspiracy or evidence of the failure of hundreds of billions of dollars expended on “national defense,” America was not defended, and nothing that happened after that was “defense.” “Defense” is *preventing* an attack, not turning around after the attack is finished and attacking the attacker’s neighbors.
    Second, on “self-defense” in general, most of what is called “self-defense” is actually vengeance. As a Christian pacifist, I oppose vengeance. I’ve never met a pacifist who opposes self-defense. I’ve never met a pacifist who says you cannot use a shield to defend yourself against an attacker with a sword. But if you fail to use your shield effectively, and your attacker cuts off your foot, then says “Now we’re even” and starts walking away, you do not have the right to pursue your former attacker and use your shield to bash the post-attacker’s brains out. That’s just vengeance, not “defense.”

    1. Hi Kevin. We would disagree on the extent to which violent retaliation is morally permissible. We think it is morally permissible as long as it’s proportional. In general we would like to see juries determine such things. In international relations we simply want to avoid foreign meddling entirely. We appreciate having your input.

      1. Restitution? Okay.
        “Violent retaliation?” Ick!
        I’m sure you’ve heard the argument that “violent retaliation” is not “self-defense” and is in fact a new initiation of force and therefore a violation of the ZAP. I won’t repeat those arguments.
        The U.S. Federal Government says, “You blew up my building so I’m going to blow up your building.” That might be “proportional,” but it is not “zero” aggression, it is *escalated* aggression. And the possessive pronouns are troublesome. The World Trade Center did not belong to the U.S. gov’t, and the homes and schools and hospitals that the U.S. blew up in Afghanistan did not belong to Osama bin Laden or any of the hijackers (most of whom came from Saudi Arabia, none of whom came from Iraq or Afghanistan). Osama’s mountain hiding places in Afghanistan were built by the U.S. to help the Mujaheddin fight the Soviets.
        Like “patriotism,” the confidence which adherents of “self-defense” have in their doctrine exceeds rational warrant.
        But maybe I didn’t understand what you meant by “violent retaliation.”

        1. Kevin, If a person has a concealed carry license and actually carries their gun in public places, would you consider them a pacifist by your definition? If so, would they still be one if they drew their weapon and used it to warn someone of the danger of continuing to violently harm another person? If still a pacifist, if they shot and killed someone who was engaged in criminal violence, thereby sparing the life of another, would they then also fit the label?

          1. I would define a “pacifist” as an “opponent” of violence. Someone who *advocates* violence would not be an *opponent* of violence, even if he never actually commits a violent act. I would say concealed carry is a kind of advocacy of violence, inconsistent with being a pacifist.
            Likewise with brandishing a weapon. Advocacy of violence, not opposition.
            If you shoot and kill someone, you do not get to “erase” that violence by claiming to have “prevented” the killing of someone else and then claim to be a pacifist. Borrow Capt. Kirk’s phaser and set it to “stun.” You still can’t claim to have prevented a killing (with absolutely certain foreknowledge), but you might have a good argument justifying putting the enemy to sleep, should he sue you for that. Putting someone to sleep who appears (to “the reasonable man”) to be ready to commit violence seems consistent with pacifism IMHO.

        2. Hi Kevin. I agree with a lot of what you say here. But there do seem to be edge cases. A person like Ted Bundy can never compensate his victims and would kill others if not confined. Restitution should be the default approach, but it will not work in all cases.

          1. Restitution in murder cases is clearly problematic. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows for slavery in such cases, and a murderer could at least work for the rest of his life for the benefit of the victim’s estate.
            The cost of confinement arguably exceeds the cost of monitoring. “Neighborhood Watch” obviously was not implemented in Bundy’s case. The parents of the victims were arguably unwatchful. Prevention is better than vengeance.
            The fact that a “good” solution will not be “effective” does not justify an immoral “solution.” In a fallen world, sometimes all we can do is “Trust in the Lord and do good” (Psalm 37). Vengeance belongs to God (Romans 12:19).

    2. In response to Kevin Craig’s post, In the case of ILLEGAL immigration, it is our border that is supposed to be our shield, and therefore self defense to keep ‘illegal’ aliens out.
      Also, we have an enemy that the libertarian organization (based on a recent email from the libertarian party) refuses to learn about. The Muslim, Islam Doctrine is not attacking Paris and the US because of our actions, (Not saying the US acted appropriately) but because they are intent on taking over the world. They are very patient and it has been going on for more than a century. Their own writings state their agenda. It is not islam-phobia to be defensive when your enemy has outlined their intent. Islam is not a religion. It is a doctrine designed to take advantage of our freedom of religion laws. It is a doctrine that is designed to use the golden rule against us. This is not opinion. This is fact and is written in Sharia law. Those who think this is opinion have not read any parts of the Quran ( or think it is like the Bible) . They have not read any of the book of Muhammed. They “Feel” like it is the right thing to treat others as you would have them treat you. How would/does, that “Feeling” work out for you if you are standing in a battle field? see and here:, for some insight. Too many people hear a portion of what is said and since they already have their own thoughts, just turn off their listening. Facts are facts, and feelings are feelings. Which would the libertarian party like to be accused of stating?
      Just to be clear, none of this is in contrast to what Perry states below.

      1. The LP calls itself libertarian. I joined in 1973 and quit in 1980. I saw it was not libertarian in practice. Now I can explain why it is not libertarian in theory. Political parties vie for power; they vie for the public approval to initiate force, except the LP claims to be different. It claims it wants to use the ability to initiate force to change people’s minds about the morality or practicality of doing so. This is a contradiction. One cannot lobby for ZAP or sell ZAP by doing the opposite. It is hypocritical. The LP claims it must initiate force until it is the most powerful, then it can stop and be truly libertarian. And most probably believe their own lie; they are lying to themselves. But it doesn’t fool anyone, and it makes them impotent, even as society is desperate for change and is therefore ripe for the libertarian message.
        Note: To be a Libertarian is to be a party member. A libertarian (small l) is not.

      2. “Our border” is another phrase with troublesome possessive pronouns. They are not *my* borders. They are imposed on me by force without my consent.
        “We have an enemy.” Another such phrase. Even if I might agree in some sense that X is not my friend, there is no “we” that agrees on a response to this “enemy.” Jesus said “Love your enemies,” not bomb their neighbors, or drone-strike people who do not consent to X’s claim of “jurisdiction” over them.
        I cannot even define X in the statement “X is our enemy.” Is “X” a specific individual (Osama bin laden) , or a political fiction (“Islamic State”)? If ISIS takes over your city government, are you therefore a member of ISIS? Is it OK for some other national-fiction to drop a bomb on you? Is it OK for some other national-fiction to say I cannot hire you as an employee, based solely on the fact that some terrorist group (like ISIS or US or USSR) claims “jurisdiction” over you?
        “Our border” means some theft-funded national fiction claims the right to initiate force against a human being who crosses some arbitrary line, and aggress against me for hiring someone who inadvertently or unconsentually lives in an area claimed by some other theft-funded political fiction. This is not a recipe for “zero aggression.”

    3. If you are for violent self defense, you are not a pacifist. Pacifists are against all violence, no excuses.
      As for 911 being an attack by a foreign group as advertised, how do you explain building 7 collapsing in its footprint just like a demolition? Remember, no plane hit it and no skyscraper has ever collapsed from fire alone, before or after, and some have burned for 24 hours. Also, no explanation has ever been given.
      Hundreds of structural engineers have signed a statement saying the collapse of the twin towers could not be explained by aviation fuel burning, as was the official reason.

  4. I think you (authors) are almost on the right track. I think your explanations are incomplete and not thorough.
    What about the “Natural Law” of self-defense? You did not mention it. Even all the lower animals invole self-defense (or possibly die).
    How about “provocation”? You did not mention it.
    If you are going to attempt philosophizing, be thorough.

    1. Hi David. There’s always a trade-off between being concise and being thorough. In the case of our Mental Lever mini-articles the goal is to be concise — thus the term mini-article. We attempt to be thorough by having lots of these small articles. We will be adding more. Thanks for your interest and suggestions.

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