The libertarian movement and the Civil Rights Act are contentious bedfellows and the spark of much controversy. Rand Paul’s admitting in 2010 of being against the provisions that specifically prevent businesses from participating in discrimination between their customers brought this criticism to the forefront of contemporary political discourse and has been a stain since then.
Stephen Menedian of the Huffington Post writes in response to this line of reasoning “[Libertarians] are wrong, first and foremost, because they miss the point. Discrimination isn’t about economic efficiency; it’s about morality, fairness, and a basic conception of equality; it’s about justice.”
Alone, this would be an honest debate over the best way to combat discrimination, but more frequently, I see libertarians dismiss discrimination simply to be anti-left wing or against supposed social justice warriors. What I feel many fail to realize is that the libertarian philosophy cannot be just about government interfering in business or other people’s lives, but that a libertarian must be actively against collectivism even if it technically falls under the philosophy.
The typical arguments against discrimination laws in libertarian circles either fall under the previous mention freedom of association of business owners, or as being a boon on free speech. Murray Rothbard wrote in his later writings for the Rothbard-Rockwell Report on a Brown University student who was expelled for yelling racial slurs. In defense of the student’s “free speech” Rothbard wrote:
“Doug Hann’s freedom of speech was dearly trampled; in its usual “on the one hand, on the other hand,” way, the good grey New York Times reported that while some people have “praised the action as a strong message against racism,” others, wonder of wonders! “fear that such extreme actions, when combined with new campus codes against hate speech, will inhibit the free exchange of ideas that is the essential commerce of a university.” These critics don’t seem to realize that, in the last few years, the ideal of free exchange of ideas has been swept aside in most universities, to be replaced by the importance of toeing the monolithic Politically Correct left-liberal line.”
It could easily be understood why typical citizens might view this as a defense of the racist rhetoric because of a supposed leftist enemy and not because of a principled view. These words ignore the larger issue of a student feeling empowered to deny a group of people their individuality and how that can be just as large a damper on the “free exchange of ideas.”
Authority isn’t something unique to government or the State and can happen between consenting individuals with as much ease. Liberty doesn’t stop once the State reaches one’s desired size, and pointing out collectivist citizens is just as important as advocating for freedom from government tyranny.
In his article on racisms ability to tank the liberty movement, Fabio Rojas writes about this passivity towards collectivist thought within libertarian circles and explains:
“Imagine a world with minimal state interference and everybody has extreme hatred toward people from other ethnic groups. Mind you, they don’t resort to violence and the state remains small and unobtrusive. Rather, whenever you go to work, you will be loudly insulted for having the wrong skin color. You turn on the TV and people are constantly airing shows that revel in the most outrageous stereotypes. When you walk your dog, your neighbors gleefully place Nazi-themed signs on their lawns. They never touch a hair on your head, but they do make it clear that they will always hate people like you and wish you never existed.”
One cannot be truly free if they’re constantly reminded that those around them believe they are second-class and they do not have the same ability to access services as everyone else. The hard part about being libertarian is that one won’t just push for new laws to combat this, a libertarian has to do the hard work of organizing and making racists, misogynists and homophobes unwelcome, either making them accept everyone or risk no longer having a business.
What libertarians have to begin doing is focusing more so on the collectivism in current society and begin now in eliminating it. It doesn’t matter that right now discrimination laws are in place, as that is not the important point. What matters more is that discrimination is an affront to liberty and should be combatted as much as the Patriot Act, the War on Drugs or the regulatory burden on consumers.
When libertarian’s shut down a discussion on whether or not a Christian baker should be able to refuse service to gay couples, it comes across as supporting the discrimination because the explanation of its appalling nature is added as a “but.” It implies that the concern lies more in allowing discrimination and less in the principle of decreased regulation.
The Civil Rights Acts’ section on discriminatory business practices should in no way be a priority for libertarian discourse, and one does not have to make caveats for collectivism because of a principle. If one’s end goal to have a free society with only voluntary forms of collectivism, then the circus act of argumentation and explanation isn’t required. Truthfully, the best to eliminate any part of the Act that involves business to combat collectivism alongside government overreach until the act is no longer necessary.
You can read more from Luke Henderson on Think Liberty here.