thoughts on politics

May 25, 2010

Freedom & Racism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matt @ 2:25 pm

The New York Times recently featured a blog post on their front page about Ron Paul’s son Rand Paul, and his views on civil rights law, specifically regarding the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A snip:

In an interview with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, Mr. Paul appeared uncertain about whether he would have supported forcing private businesses to desegregate in the 1960s, suggesting that might run afoul of his libertarian philosophy. His views emerged as Ms. Maddow asked Mr. Paul if he thought a private business had the right to refuse service to a patron who was black.

“I’m not in favor of any discrimination of any form,” he said. “ I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody for race. We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race.”

The New York Times is doing its college best to pillory him for his supposed beliefs about racism, and it pretty well succeeded by touching off a firestorm around this issue.  (It’s hard to tell what he actually believes, or even what his stated views are.  Though I have read people say that he does give “yes” answer to the private business question, I have watched the whole thing and I did not see where he does so.  Instead he equivocates and dodges every direct question Maddow asks, never states whether he’s for or against the Civil Rights Act, and often just goes into bits of historical anecdote.)  Rand for his part is doing his best to turn himself more mainstream, to compromise his views for the sake of electability, something his dad has never done, so that he ends up not seeming to have any values or firm beliefs at all except getting himself elected Senator.  This seems to show that while beliefs are transmitted easily from parent to child, moral courage is not.  This does not jeopardize my support of Rand Paul though because I am past the stage of seeing coercive democracy as a legitimate form of government.  Even if I agreed with 100% of what a candidate in my voting district said, I would not vote for them.  I no longer believe in the legitimacy of election to the offices of our government today, so it makes no difference to me whether Rand Paul loses because of this, or whether he completely disavows his presumably pro-freedom views, or whether he wins as a Dixiecrat in Kentucky.

However, the substance of the racism issue needs addressing.  It is important to say, the views here presented are mine — I eschew presuming to speak for other people by labelling this to be the “libertarian” response.  It is my own, with which people who call themselves libertarians might agree.

So I will take up Rachel Maddow’s question that Rand Paul would not.  Do private businesses, such as restaurants, have a right to refuse service to people because of their skin color?  Yes, they do.  Is this discrimination?  Of course.  Is this unfair to minorities?  Yes, if they want to eat in that restaurant.  Or go to that college.  Or ride that bus.  (I am only contemplating private companies and institutions here.)

What are the problems with this?  Well, racism is ugly.  It is backwards, it oppresses the minorities who are being discriminated against, and it hurts both parties involved, the discrimanator and the discriminated.

The government intervention solution to this problem is to force racist business owners not to discriminate along racist lines among their clientele.  By doing so, the “rights” of the person who was discriminated against are restored, and the hope is that in the long run, racism will be stamped out.

However, to say that the government has the right to force business owners to integrate is to say government has the right to correct our consciences or actions wherever it disagrees with them.  Assuming control of a man’s business and forcing him to run it a certain way is slavery.  It is not total slavery like the slavery of the blacks before the Civil War, but it is the same principle.  The denial of one man’s property rights by another, be it the property of his body, his money, or other goods he has acquired, constitutes slavery.  It is nothing but the doctrine that the “people in charge” have the right to tell others what to do, the same doctrine which supported slavery of the blacks before the Civil War.

It is also important to realize that this coercive solution can work both ways: as the government in a society which supports forced integration may force racists to cease discriminating, by the same token we may expect the government in a racist society to force non-racists to discriminate, which I imagine almost everyone would be against.

Still, the question remains, should we who are against racism not attempt to fight it by supporting government intervention against discrimination and opposing laws that are outright racist and discriminatory themselves?  Indeed that is at least a consistent position, but it is in conflict with the fundamental human right of property.  The right of property entails the right to dispose of one’s property however one wants.  Because a private business is indeed the sole property of its owner, the owner may operate their business in whatever way they desire.  This includes discrimination: there is no obligation to serve everyone who wants to be served, to hire everyone who wants to be hired.  Imagine a law that forbade discriminating based on a customer’s ability to pay.  Then business owners would be forced to serve everyone for free, which clearly would be recognized as slavery.  A man needs offer no explanation in why he disposes of his property as he does; if he does not want to commercially transact with another party, he does not have to, whatever the reason may be.  The negation of this idea is the real human rights violation.

I also question the efficacy of interventionist laws to effect the kind of change intended.  The advocates of corrective measures like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 believe that such laws will have the effect of ending racism by forcing racists to interact with other races and thereby realize their beliefs were wrong.  This is nothing but a dream.

The method of exterminating racism by forced integration is guaranteed to be fraught with conflict, no two ways about it.  Nothing less could be expected by forcing people into space with others they deeply dislike.  Racist elements will resist the imposition of outside mores, and, to judge from the American experience in the 1960’s, react violently.  Lastly, to the extent that the policies do end up changing the way some people think, believing that everyone’s mind will change in a positive way is unrealistic.  It is impossible to tell how any individual would react in a forced integration situation, but it is just as reasonable to assume that a borderline racist’s views may be polarized as to assume that they will become non-racist.

In the city I grew up in, another unintended consequence of a forced integration law was easy to observe in the phenomenon of “white flight.”  In the 1970’s, the federal government mandated municipal school districts across the country to start programs of busing students across town to force more racial intermixing at schools.  This caused many white families to move out to the suburbs to escape these policies, perhaps not because of outright racism but merely discomfort with the situation.  The end result, which clearly persists today, was the abandonment of many of the old parts of town and the growth of suburbs that are much richer and almost all white.  A rule intended to increase integration in schools ended up causing more economic stratification and geographical separation between the races.

Another problem that advocates of anti-racism laws overlook is that, in order for such laws to be passed, the society must already be broadly anti-racist.  In other words, in a deeply racist society like the United States was in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, there is no hope of anti-racist laws ever being passed.  The real danger is that positively racist laws instead will be passed that legalize and institutionalize discrimination, mandating separate facilities for different races, banning education for minorities, permitting slavery, and so on.  To be sure, these laws are pure evil, and American states all had plenty of laws like these.  (It should be noted, however, that if these laws are supported by a will of the majority of the population including the minorities, then they are fundamentally just in a democratic way.)

If racial discrimination is a problem in a democratic society, then anti-racist laws like the Civil Rights Act only have a chance of being passed when the problem is already receding.  To the extent to which they act to repeal actual racist laws, they are mostly superfluous, and in the extent to which they impose rules against discrimination on private citizens, they are tyrannical.

What is the way, then, to combat racism?  I believe what it takes is for people who disagree with hateful and ignorant doctrines such as racism (as well as religious superiority, homophobia, sexism, etc.) to stand up to intolerant people and disagree with them on their level.  It takes not only friends, but the victims of the discrimination themselves to stand up.

The lunch counter sit-ins of the 1960’s were so admirable and effective because they fundamentally challenged the culture of segregation in a peaceful form of protest.  As long as everyone observed the segregationist rules, the true ugliness of racial discrimination was hidden.  The protesters endured tremendous humiliation and risk of personal danger to unmask it.  By confronting the issue directly, entire communities of individuals were forced to decide whether they could really support such obvious, baseless hatred.  It takes a long time, but this is the only way change can happen.

There is plenty more I could write about this, but I will now conclude this post.  To summarize my views, though, I defend the right of anyone to believe what they want, which includes racism.  By the same principle with which I oppose the enslavement of blacks to whites, I oppose the coopting of property to force racists to enter into associations they do not want to.  I do not defend the right of anyone to harm anyone else.  I believe that when left free to associate, people will naturally overcome artificial and false prejudices about each other.

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