A Conversation With Cantwell: The Use Of Force

This past year I have made the acquaintance of Free State Project darling Christopher Cantwell.  You know: “Anarchist, Atheist, Asshole.”  No beating around the bush with this fellow.

As most anarchists tend to be overly pedantic and/or petulant, I can put away my biases on matters of governance long enough to appreciate Cantwell’s acerbic and sometimes over-the-top rhetoric.  Blunt assertions about killing cops and soldiers, while perhaps triggering, is a hell of a lot more compelling than trying to pretend you are a  Vulcan while discussing very human matters.

The answer to human problems is not being human at all.
The answer to human problems is not being human at all.
Yesterday Chris posted an article questioning his position on the use of force, offering new perspectives on the matter.  Though I find myself disagreeing with a goodly number of points in this article, I am encouraged by his frankness regarding uncertainty on some very fundamental matters.  While he attempts to limit his focus to use of force, I’m certain he recognizes that this matter has implications for perhaps the entirety of his thinking.

Hence the title: I seek a conversation, and look forward to any response Chris may have in the future.

Cantwell begins with an explanation of his adherence to the Non-Aggression Principle.  Being in essence the Golden Rule, it is certainly a sound enough morality or philosophy for one to adhere to.

Of course NAP-ists have a very nasty habit of overcomplicating matters, which leads to profound tension in one’s thinking.  In the case of Cantwell’s article, the complication and tension begins here:

[…]The initiation of force is impermissible, and may be responded to with force. All else is permissible, and may not have force levied against it.

I remember enough of my atheist/ancap years to know that “force” in the NAPist sense is the act of a human actor exerting his will over another human actor either directly or indirectly.  While not explicitly stated, NAP hinges on the idea that all humans have natural rights that should be defended should they be encroached or aggressed upon.

While a beautiful notion, Man’s actions are not magically protected by an outside force (I write this honestly as a Christian, that can certainly be a conversation for another day).  Nature doesn’t care one whit for your perceived natural rights.  We must first accept that what one really argues for when they assert “natural rights” is a set of perceived privileges or permissions.

Cantwell suggests that every human action outside of initiating force is permissible.  While this may seem a consistent demarcation to some, I would ask one to actually apply this to a human world.  Try and consider the perception of other human actors.

Consider association or disassociation, could that not be perceived as an initiation of force? Standards and punishments are certainly not the same thing as natural rights. The Free State Project exiling Cantwell and the actions and behaviors that led to the exile could be seen as aggression or force by either side.

Think of a merchant fleecing a customer or a leader misleading his followers.  Consider a parent or adult being harsh to a misbehaving child, or a man being a tad too forward in his advances to a woman.  This could certainly be argued as examples of initiating force, but does this always lead to negative outcomes? The woman could talk down the man or may actually wind up not regretting going along with his demands (ugh, shitlord)  The child could learn valuable socialization skills.  The leader’s lies could serve a greater goal that benefits all.  What of the merchant and customer? Trade has always been unequal, and we enjoy immense comforts because of it.

Taking an extreme example from recent memory, even the perceived snubbing of desired sexual partners could be seen as preemptive force or aggression.


While Supreme Gentleman-guy is an extreme example, recognize that even in the case of the mentally incompetent or unhinged, all action ultimately comes from something psychological or physiological.  Being creatures of free will, driven by passion and reason to wildly-varying degrees, one could argue that all human action is more accurately described as a reaction.

Fact of the matter is, something always initiates the initiation of force, which perhaps leads one to question if NAP is seeking to fight the smoke or the fire?

Moving on, Cantwell mentions “abusive parenting.”  What constitutes “abuse” is a matter for another topic; I wish to focus on the act of parenting in general.  Some of the more extreme followers of Non-Aggression decry spanking or any physical punishment of children.  This stance assuages anuses, certainly, but it’s also not enough.  How are you not initiating force when you physically prevent your infant child from staying up late, not bathing, touching a hot stove, or wandering into the woods or traffic? The child doesn’t know that his or her actions will likely have bad consequences, but how can the parent be absolutely certain the actions won’t have a good outcome?

Whether or not you are correct in your protection, whether or not you are altruistic in motive, the child will feel you have prevented an action, that you have encroached upon his or her rights.  No matter how you slice it, NAP-ist parents cannot avoid issues with their beliefs without committing criminal negligence…  Which itself could be considered an initiation of force.  Damn.

Finally and most importantly, consider that some humans never grow out of infancy.  The underman can, has, and will likely always consider the overman’s actions as oppressive or forceful.  One such underclass ideology is feminism.

Patriarchy beware: the revolution can bleed for seven days without dying.
True story: the revolution can bleed for seven days without dying.  True story: the revolution is too busy bleeding for seven days to fucking revolt.
Cantwell’s interaction with feminism seems to have been the catalyst for his current ideological situation.  It must be bizarre to meet someone who sees you like you see something else (Manand State, respectively).  Feminism’s circular reasoning and insane conclusions make for very uncomfortable reflection on similarities.  Chris is correct in seeing feminism as completely misguided, and he is also correct in seeing something disquieting in his own stance on the initiation of force.

What I suggest Cantwell consider is that ideals have to coexist with with a pragmatic recognition of the world we live in.  We are unequal, things are unequal, they always have and always will be.  What is peaceful to one person is violence to another.  You can be as consistent a follower of Non-Aggression as you could possibly be, yet still find someone who considers you an aggressor.  Maybe it’s a police officer and maybe it’s also a snotty, saggy feminist blogger.

We can go more in-depth if Cantwell wishes to continue the conversation, but I will conclude with the following assertion: that you will have a better time of things if you temper your ideal with the world and people you deal with.  Amend you philosophy as follows: *The initiation of force may be impermissible… but sometimes it just might be really permissible as well.  *

That amendment would likely do wonders for you at this point in your journey.


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Bulbasaur is a blue collar worker and part-time polemicist from the Southern U.S.