When I use the word violence in the context of discussing theories of property, I mean a specific thing by it: acting upon the bodies of others without their consent. This is as neutral a definition of “violence” as you will find. It is the definition of violence implied by the concept of self-ownership. It is the definition of violence implied by the concept of negative liberty, which is defined as freedom from external restraint.
When libertarians happen upon my writing, one of two related confusions about violence tends to take place.
In the first of these confusions, they remark that acting upon some non-human piece of the world can also be violence. But it clearly cannot. Violence is when you act upon the bodies of others without their consent. Walking about the world, grabbing up non-human pieces of the world, and so on does not act upon the bodies of others.
In the second confusion, libertarians remark that if you can act upon pieces of the non-human world freely without it being violence, then that must mean you can act upon the bodies of others without it being violence. This is meant to be some kind of reductio. But it clearly fails. Acting upon pieces of the non-human world does not act upon the bodies of others. Acting upon the bodies of others does act upon the bodies of others. This is what distinguishes the two things: the latter is violence while the former is not.
What’s so curious about many libertarians is that they take as their starting point that acting against the bodies of others without their consent is violence and should not be done. And then, in the very next move, they seek to install a system to allocate to people the right to do precisely that. As I explained in my prior post, the functional content of “property ownership” is nothing more than the threat to use force against the bodies of others even though they have not used force against your own body. This is usually carried out through the redemption of a violence voucher with a state or state-like entity who actually carries out the violence.
This is an especially curious move for many libertarians because they generally recognize (as must be the case) that at some initial point nobody “owns” anything. Any movement from the world in which nothing is “owned” to a world in which things are “owned” is clearly impermissible to those who believe it is wrong to act upon the bodies of others. Whereas prior to “ownership” there is no basis on which one can claim a right to act upon the bodies of others who have not acted upon your own body, after “ownership” there is.
As I have explained before, the non-violent libertarian world is the grab-what-you-can world. In this world “nobody initiates force directly against another person’s body, but subject to that constraint, people regularly grab any external resource they can get their hands on, regardless of who has made or been using the resource.” This is the only world that is actually consistent with the rule that people may not act upon the bodies of others without their consent. All other worlds fall short. All other worlds introduce violence and aggression. All other worlds destroy negative liberty and self-ownership.