Non-aggression politics plays a significant role in liberalism as a broad tradition. It appears to be central to the revival of Manchester School politics in the United States under the name "libertarianism."

Where and how did the concept of non-aggression emerge in liberalism and those thoughts widely acknowledged by scholars to be valid immediate precursors of liberalism?

Which schools and major thinkers in liberalism, particularly in pre-20th century liberalism, held to a non-aggression discourse?


2 Answers 2


I believe this is the answer to both questions:

"The law of nature ... teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions". (John Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government, ch. 2) This was published in 1690 and I likely the first widely read discourse on what is now considered the classic liberal philosophy and is considered the source of the liberalism movement.

  • This answer could be improved by demonstration that this is the first use, or the earliest widest referenced use: the citation alone isn't demonstrative. It could also be improved by demonstration that this quote is the origin of the current principle in liberalism, again the quote standing bare doesn't indicate this. (ie, "Fred Blogs, (1974) Liberalism, an intellectual history paints Locke's Second Treatise...) It perfectly partly answers the third part of the question. Jan 22, 2014 at 2:09
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    Fair questions. The influence of John Locke on liberalism is generally taken for granted. If you google "Father of Liberalism", the wikipedia entry for John Locke pops first. Is that the sort of citation you mean? As for "first use", I'm not sure that will ever be established, though in "Liberty and Property: the Levellers and Locke" by Murray Rothbard, he contends that the English Levelers were proto-liberals who had an indirect impact on Locke's thinking through a man named Lord Ashley Shaftesbury. Jan 22, 2014 at 8:15
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    I updated the answer with some links and added the context from your comment. Feel free to change or update if this is not what you intended. Jan 22, 2014 at 20:46
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    @SamuelRussell - What do you mean by first use? Do you mean the first use by a politician, or is the current answer sufficient? Jan 22, 2014 at 20:47

This Mises Daily article argues that the Levellers, who predated Locke by about a century, where the originators of classical liberalism.

It quotes Rothbard as saying:

[i]n a series of notable debates within the Republican Army — notably between the Cromwellians and the Levellers — the Levellers led by John Lilburne, Richard Overton and William Walwyn, worked out a remarkably consistent libertarian doctrine, upholding the rights of self-ownership, private property, religious freedom for the individual, and minimal government interference in society. The rights of each individual to his person and property, furthermore, were natural, that is, they were derived from the nature of man (1).

If they had developed the concept of self-ownership, this could be considered almost equivalent with having developed the NAP. To quote Wikipedia:

Specifically, any unsolicited actions of others that physically affect an individual’s property or person, no matter if the result of those actions is damaging, beneficial, or neutral to the owner, are considered violent or aggressive when they are against the owner's free will and interfere with his right to self-determination and the principle of self-ownership.

  1. M. N. Rothbard, An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar, 1995, vol. I, p. 313

Citation for Rothbard quote retrieved from this article with the same quote: https://mises.org/daily/6704/Englands-Levellers-The-Worlds-First-Libertarian-Movement (Yes, I'm citing the source of my citation. :)

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