**The following analysis is made for understanding only. Action requires much more consideration. I do not recommend the lie. But I can recommend its analysis.
What has been traditionally condemned in every decent society, and even among rogues and criminals when they are in league with each other is the principle that lying is wrong. It has been reiterated throughout the ages. The often unspoken but intuitive condition is one of voluntary cooperation. In that condition lying and intentional untruth are to be condemned. It has been held by every sage worth his salt. And this puritanical libertarian agrees. But he seeks understanding. Sometimes the principle is articulated as a promise-keeping principle. Sometimes it is treated as a principle for judicial proceedings such as in bearing false witness. Sometimes it is simply held that untruth should never be spoken.
But, what about all of the strategic lying in a state of war? And, the war examples can be reduced to a condition of conflict where one is aggressing against the person or property of others. This puritanical libertarian would like to treat each of the above and leave room for what is ordinarily thought of as a lie. He will split the term “lie” into “lie1” (in context of voluntary cooperation) and “lie2” (in context of coercion, forced labor (slavery), under attack (defense)). He would be fine leaving the prohibitions against lying with lie1. In fact he sings their praises. But often the prohibition is said to include lie2. This he no longer can see justification for. The argument is clear. The implications are significant.
How about the making of lying promises? Well, if I and another are engaging in a kind of trade one side of which involves a promise about a future good and both of us are free to abstain from the trade or to commit to it, then NO LYING PROMISES. But what of the altered situation? If I am kidnapped by marauders and held in captivity until I promise to serve them by giving over 30% of my labor production (taxation) am I to be judged wrong for having defended by life by writing my name on the line and then seeking escape? By no means. In the latter case I did not make a promise. I gave the appearance of a promise to save my life under conditions of forced labor. Take the analogy with shooting in self-defense.
Is murder with a gun wrong? Yes. Is stopping a murderer by shooting him wrong? By no means. It is not murder. The causal movement is the same–pulling the trigger. But the intent is different. In one case I seek to destroy life (murder) in another case I seek to protect life from attack (self-defense). So in utterances. Where the conditions are voluntary it cannot ever be justified to lie. But where I am threatened with aggression may I not defend myself with my sounds from my mouth or the movements of my pen on paper? Surely I may. To call the latter a lie and ignore the screaming difference of context is itself condemnable. What matters whether I choose defense by sounds or steel?
How about the bearing of false witness? It is wrong to be called to provide evidence, to go willingly under voluntary commitment to provide such, and to provide false witness. And say I am threatened with the loss of a job for truth-telling. May I then bear false witness? By no means. An employer (in the private law society of free contract) may disassociate from me for any reason at any time just as I may so disassociate (leave my job). This is a threat of disassociation not a threat of attack. It does not justify lying. But say marauders have kidnapped by daughter or confiscated my life savings and claim they will only release upon my lying. May I not then act in self-defense or the defense of my property? Surely. Must I? nay. May I? Certainly. Is it complicated by the fact that it is evil doers I am responding to? Surely? Can lie2 be condemned universally under circumstances of attack? Only if defense can be condemned.
Defense of life and body and property is sacred. It is the first inclination that supports the natural law–the preservation of life. That I find myself aggressed against and defending life, to the degree I am not at fault for the conditions (in league with the marauders), justifies my doing what is normally bearing false witness but in this case is a form of self-defense.
Finally, I am to never to speak untruth. Yes. When speaking I am not to speak untruth. But what is speaking and what are the conditions for speaking. Surely it is the free expression of my perception of reality. To the degree that it is coerced by threats of or acts of violence against myself or others it is no longer speaking in the sense intended, no longer free. The speech has already been distorted by he who threatens violence. It is he that causes the untruth. When the sage recommends letting your yes be yes (Jesus) or keep you commitments (Socrates) he articulates the way in which two innocent human animals voluntarily interacting in communication negotiating their interaction through speech should go about their business. It is universal in this condition.
What is always aimed at by the sage is action in the ideal. When two innocent individuals meet each other and begin to interact they are to keep promises, bear truthful witness and testimony, and shortly, to speak truth. Truthfulness is the condition for their interaction. It is presupposed. When one encounters an aggressor who seeks to take by force without contract and ignoring the rights of he who he attacks self-defense is justified. The only way to maintain, absolutely, no lying in any situation, is to deny the right to self-defense. This is contrary to natural law.
The most difficult objections, to my mind, is the one generated by he who sees the possibility of “anything goes” in self-defense. So, it must be dealt with. May I assault or steal from he who is not attacking? No. Not morally. This cannot be defense. I must always respect the property rights of others and the right to bodily autonomy in those with whom I am in voluntary league. And so this may complicate details. But details are for books and this is a mere little essay of sorts. I cannot aggress against others with whom I could merely disassociate with. I may, when in defense, lie. That is, in analogy with killing by shooting, the condition in which I act must be defined for the permissibility of the act.
So, let us push a hard case. A thuggish band of criminals sets up a show trial by which they wish to convict an innocent individual and sentence to death. They control the accused, the judiciary, the security. The whole apparatus is a noncontractual farce. My child is kidnapped by these brigands. I am threatened with her death unless I bear false witness against the man on trial. My evidence will be proclaimed by the thugs as justification for conviction. I see no way out for my daughter. So, on the day of the trial I do it. Have I sinned? I cannot see how. The horror of the conditions for all are such that to isolate this single desperate attempt to preserve the daughters life for whom I have given unwavering promises of defense to place a small roadblock in the efforts of the thugs cannot be condemned. “But your speech is causally linked up with the man’s death”. I accept. So is my action or inaction causally linked up with a much greater set of effects the world over. Am I to be condemned every time my choices are causally linked with the trouble of another somewhere and somehow? No. Absurd. If so (per impossible), we are all condemned and there will be none left to execute punishment. Note, if I do not lie I am causally linked up with my daughters death! I have not created the facade on which this farce is enacted. I am but a slave seeking freedom under horrific conditions created by thugs. It is the threatening one, the one who invades, who coerces, who creates the tangled web of deceit and violence that bears the responsibility.
May I proclaim truth and testify to the evil all around? Surely. This is the martyr. Must I? Surely not. May I attempt defense of she who I am in league with (the daughter)? I may. In fact, per contract (of a good father), my aim must be directed toward her.
So the state forces victims to pay for the care of those who do them violence (“criminal justice”). So the state forces some men to pay for the care of the children of other men who have foregone the care of their own (“welfare”). So the state prevents competition in a thousand areas altering and distorting prices and distributing spoils to its loyal members (regulation and subsidy). So the state sends men to war for unholy reasons (historically by conscription). So the state condemns savers by devaluing the currency (quantitative easing). So the state creates conditions of oppression, slavery, theft, assault, distortion.
Is he to be condemned who lies to the state? Not morally. May he stay alive best by playing along and paying what is demanded? Certainly in many cases. But may he be condemned when he sees an opportunity to keep more of what is rightfully his to the detriment of the state? He may be condemned legally (the state owns the courts and pays the judges and provides licenses to the attorneys). Morally? The answer is too easy dear reader.
In summary: the major question that must be asked here about the morality of pulling a trigger or expressing sounds interpreted as untruth is–“Is he who acts under aggression or the threat of it?” It is from the answer to that question that the action must be judged.
Before anyone takes this distinction as the justification for all manner of evil it might be worth making sure we understand what is meant by under aggression or not. It was alluded to in the above example when choosing between disassociation and defense. That distinction next.
Finally, if I have right to lie to aggressors, it does not follow that I should. I have right to many things that it is not in my longterm interest or that of my league to enact. The establishment of right is not the establishment of policy.