Bytemaster's Blog

The Golden Principle (aka The Silver Rule)

The Golden Principle (aka The Silver Rule)

Posted by Daniel Larimer on .

The Golden Principle (aka The Silver Rule)

Posted by Daniel Larimer on .

Principles are the bedrock upon which the foundation of society are built. Without principles there is no guide or consistency nor measure of success or failure. If we are to create a libertarian utopia it must be engineered from the ground up to comply with a set of universal principles without compromise.

Update 1/15/2015: I have since learned that The Golden Principle is already known as the Silver Rule.

Libertarians generally hold one principle as the cornerstone of their philosophy, the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). Stated simply, one should not initiate or threaten violence or fraud against another or their property. From this principle the logical conclusion is that governments as we know them cannot exist without violating this principle because they depend upon the threat of violence to compel the payment of taxes which are required to fund their very existence.

Many people go to great lengths to talk about how society could be organized in the absence of government. Everything from roads, to schools, pollution, murder and child abuse has been discussed in detail for a theoretical society where everyone believed in the non-aggression principle.

Perhaps one of the most challenging questions facing libertarianism is how do we cross the chasm from a world full of statists willing to violate the non-aggression principle to a world where everyone is a libertarian. This blog will attempt to take on that challenge in a very practical guide that if adopted by libertarians could see a Libertarian Utopia in our life time.

Beyond the Non Aggression Principle

I have been a student of libertarianism for a long time and have come to the conclusion that the Non-Aggression Principle is too ambiguous to serve as a proper foundation. It is insufficient because it fails to address what should happen after an aggression has been made. In fact most common phrasings of the principle specially use the word initiate to qualify the disallowed aggression. This implies that aggression may be permissible in retaliation. There are several views here, but it usually boils down to the agreement that force or fraud may be used against the aggressor in equal proportion to that used by the aggressor. This assumes that aggression can be objectively quantified and compared, which as we will see later, it cannot.

With this mindset a libertarian would conclude that it is morally justifiable to use violence to overthrow government in the quest to create a libertarian utopia. This is the crux of the matter. A violent overthrow of government will never bring lasting peace because it was born of violence and aggression. If we cannot apply the retaliation principle on a grand scale against the most outrageous violator of the Non-Aggression Principle, then why should we expect it to apply on a micro scale against the most innocuous violation or anywhere in-between?

If we are to engineer a libertarian utopia it must be done in such a way that law, order, and justice can be created and maintained without depending upon violence. It must be done in such a way that it can evolve and grow to replace existing governments without resorting to violence. In other words we need a new principle that goes beyond the Non-Aggression Principle.

The Golden Principle

The principle upon which all the ideas in this blog are based is what I call The Golden Principle:

“Do not do unto others what you do not want others doing to you”.

You may recognize this principle as a variation of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. The Golden Rule is generally accepted and promoted by most individuals and religions, but if you attempt to implement the Golden Rule in your life you will quickly discover that what you want others to do unto you is unbounded. It is an impossible rule to live by and thus quietly abandoned to the realm of unlimited rationalizations used to justify unending exceptions to the rule.

The Golden Principle is much stronger than the Non-Aggression Principle when it comes to matters of justice and law enforcement. Lets apply it to some very basic cases: do you want someone throwing you in prison for any reason, guilty or not? Do you want someone physically hurting you even if you are guilty of physically hurting another? Do you want someone stealing from you in the event of a disagreement over a contract? Even after arbitration?

As you can see the golden principle doesn’t leave much room for aggression at all. It is almost pacifist. About the only place where violence may be permitted is for immediate physical self defense. Even here your goal should be to avoid harm and not to harm the attacker. Do you want to be punched even if you are in the process of attempting to punch another? In fact, you never want to be punched. So the proper response to immediate violence is to avoid or redirect the attack while minimizing harm to the attacker.

At this point you are probably thinking that this is entirely too radical a principle and that if building a society on the Non Aggression Principle was utopian, then doing the same under The Golden Principle is beyond utopian.

I hope to show you that not only is the Golden Principle a practical principle upon which to engineer a libertarian utopia, but it is a necessary principle. A true free market solution for securing life, liberty, and property must be effective against all aggressors, including todays totalitarian governments. The free market solution must be so powerful that it can be implemented today and be effective at combating government aggression. This means that a free market solution must be fundamentally legal and beyond reproach.

Limits of the Golden Principle

Some people have made the critique that the Golden Principle is too subjective and could be used to rationalize any kind of behavior. Some people like to be abused, enslaved, and to pay taxes. From the perspective of these people the Golden Principle could legitimize their violation of the Non Aggression Principle. This is where the debate between objective reality and subjective reality gets real. Without an objective rule sophisticated propagandists can bend the Golden Principle in the minds of the masses to support all manner of violence and aggression. I take a subjective view of reality that doesn’t need to worry about other parties abusing the interpretation; however, those that take a more objective view may worry that the Golden Principle isn’t strong enough or tight enough. I would like to offer the following objective clarification:

Actions permitted by the Non-Aggression Principle are a necessary superset of actions permitted under the Golden Principle.

In other words, adopting the Golden Principle would not invalidate the Non Aggression Principle, it would merely help add further restrictions on how one may respond to aggression. For example, how we communicate is not normally considered aggression for the purposes of the Non Aggression Principle, but it would fall under the Golden Principle. “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life” is an excellent book about nonviolent communication.

In other words, at all times the Golden Principle is compatible with the Non-Aggression Principle even though the Non-Aggression Principle isn’t at all times compatible with the Golden Principle.

Recommended by Bytemaster

      (see more...)



My name is Daniel Larimer and I am the founder of BitShares. My mission in life is to find free market solutions to secure life, liberty, and property for all.

The purpose of this blog is to help create a free society by encouraging people to join our community which is centered around Bitshares, a next generation fully decentralized crypto-currency exchange. I use Austrian Economics to engineer the economic incentives which make freedom and non-violence profitable.

Help spread the word.

Featured posts

Recent Articles