Initiation of force

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The philosophy of Objectivism holds that the initiation of force is an evil violation of individual rights against which the government should protect its citizens. Here, "force" is defined as that which inhibits the proper functioning of a human mind as perpetrated by another human. For example, acquiring a brain tumor is not considered an initiation of force, while a person striking another with a club is so considered (provided that there was no prior application of force). The initiation of force is evil precisely because it prevents a person from using his mind to further his life on earth, and it is the proper role of government to protect its citizens from such evil.

It is critically important not to confuse the initiation of force with self-defense. While both employ force, the former is evil while the latter is good. Self-defense is good because it helps to eliminate the mind-arresting property of the initiation of force, thus making self-defense beneficial to human life.


The Initiation of Physical Force Is Evil

To be successful in his value-pursuits, each man must treat reality as his only absolute. He cannot allow his emotions or the conclusions of others, whatever their form, to substitute for his own rational judgment. For example, if an engineer wants to design a great new car, he must accept reality, including the nature of the material he works with as well as the laws of combustion and aerodynamics as his only absolutes, and design a vehicle that best exploits the properties of the materials he works with. Even though he relies heavily on the knowledge of others, he must first understand that knowledge within the context of his own understanding of reality to apply it successfully. He cannot let a fear of the unknown, the irrational demands of his boss, or the expectations of his peers to interference in his judgment – not if he wants to design the best car that he possibly can.

Achieving values requires both a dedication to reason and the freedom to act on one’s choices.

A restriction on freedom in any form forces man to focus not on the absolutes of reality, but on the arbitrary ideas of others. If the boss of the automotive engineer requires the new car model to use an engine made by his favorite contractor, the judgment of the engineer is rendered irrelevant. His means to achieving his value of a great design is no longer shaped by his grasp of reality, but by the arbitrary edicts of his boss. The kind of engine he deems best is now irrelevant, because he no longer has the ability to act on his judgments. Even he believes his choices to be superior, a man cannot do the thinking for another, since he cannot act as an intermediary to reality for anyone else.

In a free, capitalist society, any company characterized by managers who impose arbitrary decisions on their employees will quickly go out of business – their best minds, unable to apply their mind, will either quit, or produce mediocre work designed to match their bosses’ expectations rather than their own judgment of the facts. In a free society, a man can choose to not associate with those who do not respect his judgment – by finding a new job, new friends, or a new lover. Even if there is no one to share his ideas, every man is still free to present his own vision – by becoming an entrepreneur and launching a new product, or by writing a book with a revolutionary new philosophy, or by engaging in intellectual activism to convince others of his views. However, as soon as man faces the threat of physical force, the possibility of any such alternatives becomes irrelevant.

The opposite of freedom is the initiation of physical force, which renders man’s mind impotent as a means of survival. The initiation of force presents an impossible alternative: to abandon reason as a guide to action or to face physical harm. Whatever its form, the initiation of force destroys man’s ability to pursue values to the extent that overrides reason with the edicts of the aggressor. If the engineer from the previous example finds that some new environmentalist regulation has outlawed the type of engine he considered using, his own judgment becomes irrelevant –faced with an arbitrary decree, his mind is no longer a means to achieve his values in that area of his life. Likewise, the initiation of force in any form immobilizes man’s mind. A thug who robs a man at gunpoint or a politician who taxes away his victims legally take not only their victims property, but their ability to choose how to direct their productive activities to benefit their life. The greater the aggression, the more it destroys man’s ability to pursue his values. Slavery, whether in a primitive society in a totalitarian state, takes away almost all meaningful choices from men: their choice of vocation, family, or residence. By incapacitating its victim’s minds, a slave society ultimately destroys itself, since the enslaved are unable to pursue values, and their masters cannot act as an intermediary to reality for them. Murder is an especially evil form of force: it destroys man’s ability to pursue values totally and permanently. Likewise, even the very threat of destruction incapacitates man’s mind: the looming threat of another terrorist attacks means that all my plans for the future might be rendered futile by the actions of some crazed lunatic.

Man’s life requires a process of continuous action of pursuing the values necessary for his life. The means by which chooses which values to pursue and how to achieve them is reason. By using reason, he can process his perception of reality, decide which actions will further his values, and then act on those ideas. To sustain his life, man must have the freedom to act on his own judgment – the freedom of thought and freedom of action are corollaries for him, meaningless without the other. As long as he is free from force, he is able to succeed or fail in his value-pursuit. To the extent that he is faced with force, his intellect is rendered impotent. When man is unable to act on his judgment, his mind, the primary tool of his survival becomes useless. The great evil of the initiation of force is the fact that it destroys man’s ability to live by invalidating his primary means of doing so.