|Stephen Boydstun wrote, |
In 1976 at The Philosophy of Objectivism lectures, Rand was asked what she regarded as her most important philosophical discoveries. She said her ethics, her theory of concepts, and her identification of the non-initiation of force principle as the objective mark by which individual rights can be determined. (She made some sort of caveat about realizing that some might wonder whether she was the first on that last one, but anyway, it was one of her most important finds.) My memory of this needs to be verified by a transcript of the tapes. I believe the following are exact quotes as provided by Roger Bissell in a post to the Atlantis forum on February 28th of 2001: "In Leonard Peikoff's 1975-76 lectures on Objectivism, Ayn Rand took part in some of the question-answer sessions, and in Lecture 8, she corrected a questioner about what were the 'important' concepts of her philosophy, and she said:
"'I would say the most important parts of my philosophy are my definition of concepts, of concept-formation, my ethics, and MY DISCOVERY OR DEFINITION IN POLITICS THAT THE VIOLATION OF RIGHTS CONSISTS OF THE INITIATION OF FORCE.'" [My emphasis]
Roger continued: "Peikoff underscores this point in lecture 9, where he says:
'Now, how can rights, speaking of proper, individual, political rights, be violated? In essence, by one method only, by compulsion, by the involuntary -- in other words, by physical force, directly or indirectly. THIS IS ONE OF AYN RAND'S MOST IMPORTANT DISCOVERIES IN THE FIELD OF POLITICS. THE ISSUE OF INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS WAS GRASPED IN THE 17TH AND 18TH CENTURIES, BUT EARLIER THINKERS LEFT OPEN THE ISSUE: HOW DO YOU KNOW OBJECTIVELY WHEN A RIGHT HAS BEEN VIOLATED?'
However, it should be recognized that although Rand claimed to have “discovered” the principle that the violation of rights consists of the initiation of force, that principle was not in fact original with her. The 19th Century individualists were already aware of it. For example, in 1897, Auburon Herbert wrote:
"[S]o long as [the individual] lives within the sphere of his own RIGHTS, so long as he respects these RIGHTS in others, NOT AGGRESSING BY FORCE OR FRAUD upon the person or property of his neighbors, he cannot be made subject, apart from his own consent, to the control and direction of others, and he cannot be rightfully compelled under any public pretext, by the force of others, to perform any services, to pay any contributions, or to act in any manner contrary to his own desires or to his own sense of right....[My emphasis]
"The moral RIGHTS of a delegated body, such as a government, can never be greater than the moral RIGHTS of the individuals who delegated to it its power. FORCE can only be used (whether by an individual or by a government makes no difference) for DEFENSIVE purposes -- never for AGGRESSIVE purposes...." [My emphasis]
In a footnote, Herbert added: "The ordinary coarse forms of fraud are the moral equivalents of force...."
He continued: "...Against whom, then, you will ask, may force be used? Simply against users of force (and fraud) as the murderer, the thief, the common swindler, and the aggressive foreign enemy."
[From The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State and Other Essays by Auberon Herbert (Liberty Classics, Indianapolis, 1978), pp. 370-373.]
It is clear from these passages that the non-aggression principle is not one that Rand originated. Indeed, her formulation of it so closely matches Herbert's even down to his explicit identification of fraud as a form of force that it is difficult to believe she didn't read him or someone very close to his views.
Accepting Rand's word on the subject, Objectivists (at ARI) claim that the non-aggression principle was discovered by her, and even go so far as to accuse the libertarians of "plagiarizing" it. In fact, it appears that Rand herself plagiarized it -- if not from Herbert then from some other 19th Century individualist or libertarian. Since Rand made such a point of condemning second-handers, it is ironic to see her claiming "discovery" of a principle that she had evidently learned from her predecessors.