Libertarian Ideals and Racism

I am confused about what Will Wlikinson and Micha are actually saying. On the one hand I think they are saying that libertarians need to get away from the natural/negative rights and include some effort towards positive rights. On the other hand they seem to waffle enough to allow us to interpret their words as a call for better marketing, without changing the libertarian position. Let's see if I can both argue against the first interpretation while providing ammunition for the second.

Racism in the U.S. is historically a political phenomenon, not an economic one. The power of racists scales proportionately with the power of the state. After the Civil War and the end of slavery in the U.S., the former slaves started moving up the economic ladder - they were becoming educated, gaining valuable skills, and starting to move into the middle class. This scared many of the people who held political power. This political power was translated into the Jim Crow legislation. The Achille's heel of both federalism and democracy is that such injustices can and do occur.

It was the general laissez-faire attitude of the time that allowed the former slaves and their children to start moving up in society, to make a better world for themselves - and at the same time make everyone else better off. We can see from the nature of the legislation designed to keep the blacks "in their place" that it was libertarian laissez-faire economics that was decreasing the inequalities between the former slaves and their masters. The laws were not just seperate facilities, but licensing of trades and professions, gun control, and the enforcement of lesser facilities and services for blacks, in other words the denial of the very rights that libertarians espouse. Even today the systematic racism that still exists in many places is at the interface between a black person and the legal system - disparities between how blacks and whites are treated in the legal system and by law enforcement. Would the Duke students been exonerated if they were poor blacks from the local community college? Would we even know? Systematic racism requires political enforcement, either explicitly through Jim Crow legislation or implicitly by not enforcing the law and protecting the rights of the minority.

This is not to say that there are no problems in the purely laissez faire system. As one example, restaurants and clubs were not integrating nearly as fast in the post Civil war, pre Jim Crow era as other businesses, but I believe the evidence supports the view that those restaurants and clubs would have integrated faster than waiting around for the states to get rid of J Crow. Additionally, despite the positive right to be served at a restaurant, there are still restaurants and clubs that will treat customers of the wrong color so poorly as to dissuade them from returning - a certain Denny's comes to mind. Even with anti-racism laws, racism is still a problem because local bureaucrats and politicians may themselves be racist and fail to enforce the laws. Indeed the worst acts of racism were abetted by the knowledge that local law enforcement would selectively enforce laws - turning a blind eye to the lynchers and terrorists while noticing with an eagle eye any minor infraction on the part of the victim or his family and friends.

The natural rights/deontological libertarian has a very strong argument against both the state and racism, without supporting any positive rights.

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Will Wilkinson's peculiar blog post

I'm curious as to why Will named that particular blog post THIS:

Ron Paul: Good for “the Blacks”?

The passage he then cited didn't say "the blacks", so what gives? If he's afraid of associating libertarianism with racism then that surely didn't help!

And he wants to avoid associating OPPOSITION to the war on drugs with racism? Ha! For someone concerned with popular perception he seems out of touch here.

Although probably not Will's

Although probably not Will's intention, the title reminded me of the grammer many use in the Jewish community when talking about whether to support or vote for a given politician or policy, namely, "Is it good for the Jews?"

This sounds a bit

This sounds a bit jewtilitarian.

Why "the blacks"

Will did that because it was a phrase Paul used repeatedly in his CNN interview responding to the newsletters. Hence, Will's use of quotes around it.

Why only Blacks?

Why is it only the black community that has this problem? In Washington State one can't go 2 blocks in any business district without seeing a Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean . . . even a Mexican business, all patronized by white people. I can't think of three Black owned businesses in all of Snohomish County.

Thanks Steve.

Ok that explains it.

Although I think Will's reference to "the blacks" as necessarily an ill bit of phrasing is testimony to his age (and mine). I don't see how, in the abstract, it's racist wording. In the same way that "you people" ends all conversation, even though both sides can be well intentioned, and the use of "you people" not used in a derogatory manner.

Racial discrimination. Is it a crime.

So the question arises, in your ethical systems, and I'm speaking to everyone here, does a person have a right to exclude another person from buying property, joining a club, or patronizing a business on the basis of his race? I'm not asking you if in your ethical system you view racism as immoral. That's too easy. You might view it merely as a vice and not a crime. I'm asking you if in your moral calculus see it as a crime also, like you would murder.
Every libertarian I've run across says it's immoral but merely a vice. They can then back that up via negative rights theory and I understand the standard argument. However, as I have stated here in the past I think there are rights that go beyond the two categories of negative rights and positive rights. I think that's too simplistic. There is a chaotic boundary between the two, and I have argued for good Samaritan laws on that basis. I could make the same types of moral arguments for the criminality of individuals (not the state) excluding unfavored groups from buying a piece of property, renting, or entering a restaurant.
So what say you. Vice or crime. I say letting babies drown in buckets is a crime, as is racial covenants on deeds.

I for myself believe we

I for myself believe we should not treat racism as immoral. First of all, because I believe most people are intuitively racist, not being a racist is acquired through education or by the use of reason. Racism belongs to the realm of stupidity, not to the realm of crime, evil or even vice. Of course, racism sometimes inspire evil deeds, like murder, assault etc but these deeds are evil per se. And, by the way, love also inspires evil crime, yet no one jump to the conclusion that love is evil. Therefore, I believe racists are wrong, but not morally wrong.


1.of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong; ethical: moral attitudes.
2.expressing or conveying truths or counsel as to right conduct, as a speaker or a literary work; moralizing: a moral novel.
3.founded on the fundamental principles of right conduct rather than on legalities, enactment, or custom: moral obligations.
4.capable of conforming to the rules of right conduct: a moral being.

Mr. predictable

Disapproval yes, crime no. "I may not agree with what you do, but I will defend to the death your right to do it." Our love of freedom is tested only by actions that we disapprove of. Our support for the right to perform actions that we approve of is no test of our love of liberty.

"I say letting babies drown

"I say letting babies drown in buckets is a crime, as is racial covenants on deeds."

I'm guilty on the first count, and to a lesser degree on the second. I've certainly LET a baby drown somewhere, at some time, and as for racial covenants, my failure to be pro-active in stopping them must surely indict me to some degree.

Good Samaritan laws? Good god, sounds like a recipe for a truly Hobbesian war of all against all in the greatest battle over hypocrisy ever fought.

Social Duties

You have certain duties that arise socially in a reciprocal fashion, like the duty not to murder others, in a negative way. It's you leave me alone and I leave you alone. Thus, you don't owe someone who is trying to kill you the favor of not killing them.

Negative duties are associated with negative rights. These negative rights certainly seem more real because one can imagine being left alone when you are in fact alone. So the right doesn't seem to evaporate outside a social setting. Once you realise there is an associated duty it becomes clear that this negative right also evaporates. You can't refrain from killing someone when noone is around.

I wrote a very long comment once on catallarchy laying out my position on good Samaritain law that if you read it you never would have said that you were guilty of violating the associated duty. For one thing since you are not a member of any of those societies where those babies are drowning it hardly makes sense to believe you have a duty to them. Furthermore, how can you save a drowning baby if you don't even know about it?

Besides these duties arises because of forced reciprocity. You want me refrain from stealing your stuff or killing you then you need to refrain from doing the same to me. That is how negative rights are forced.

Some positive rights are forced and some are not. The forcing doesn't occur for the same reason as negative rights either. It does however happen because of human nature. I have no positive right to a yacht and a girlfriend because there is no morally reciprocal rule that would require you to provide it.

There are such forcing moves in situations where at low cost one person can save another persons life or protect them from serious harm. That however is a long topic because we are in the chaotic boundary I was talking about Any moral rule can be pushed towards this boundary by thinking up some conditions to turn it into a moral dilemma. However this subclass of positive rights are already at the boundary.

So when I have time. Perhaps this weekend I will post an article. In short, by living in society you can become a free rider on behavior other rational actors are forced to take without reciprocally returning the favor. Those other people are in fact being cheated if you don't reciprocate. It's analogous to the kind of insurance fraud where you try to collect the benefits without paying the premium.





Ok, I see that my response to your statement was only sensible if you were positing a kind of crude, cliche'd version of Godwinian utilitarianism (of the sort discussed by Roderick Long in You recognize that reciprocity is largely an interpersonal affair, so neglecting to "seek out monsters to destroy" (drowning babies) worldwide is not a violation of positive rights.

"In short, by living in society you can become a free rider on behavior other rational actors are forced to take without reciprocally returning the favor. Those other people are in fact being cheated if you don't reciprocate. It's analogous to the kind of insurance fraud where you try to collect the benefits without paying the premium."

I look forward to that posting of your old comments. I think the insurance fraud analogy is an example of theft, a criminal act.

If a rational actor is forced (only "forced" because she is indeed rational and not suicidal) to destroy a 100 foot monster that is on a rampage through my town - though nowhere near my house, yet - because he is about to step on her, I am certainly a free rider if she is successful in destroying it. But am I obliged to compensate her? For how much exactly? Seems partly analagous to accepting a gift you didn't request, using it, and then being expected to reciprocate. It's an ethical matter, no doubt. But in neither case is the "free rider" a criminal.

Sorry, Dain


Sorry I was too busy over the weekend doing other things to get around to posting that old comment. I decided a better use of my time was working on setting up my new aquarium. I did read your comment and your example doesn't fit the criteria I had in mind.

Just reciprocation is provided merely by the fact that I run the risk of a 100 foot monster attacking me and my being able to destroy it at no risk to myself. The odds of me being in the situation are the same, and if I were in the situation I would naturally destroy it also. So I am not freeloading on that activity in any true sense. It certainly is an example of an externality but this isn't a moral theory based on repaying externalities.

In the case where you let my baby drown there may be the same tiny odds that I will find myself in the same situation with regards to your baby, but in this case you acted irrationally and that I cannot reciprocate. Therefore there is no way to "balance the score" so to speak. In the meantime you benefit from the fact that I'm forced by not only my rationality, but my compassion to save you and yours in situations where the cost is minimal for me. You have truly freeloaded off of others in this case. You benefit in a way that is not repayable by identical behavior by others. In addition you have shown depraved indifference to the life of another. The hypothetical you, that is.

Individualist and coercion-battler first. Anti-racist second.

Libertarians attempting to place themselves on the front lines in the battle against racism - per se - will find their authenticity in question. Those dedicated exclusively to fighting racist sentiments simply have a different agenda, as anything that advances that cause is prioritized. Libertarians can wax eloquent all they want about how terrible racism is, but compared to non-libertarians dedicated solely to fighting bigotry, the libertarian perspective is weak in its inability to violate individual rights to achieve this.

Hate Speech laws? Libertarians look relatively weak, as they place the suppression of racist sentiments, above all else, to be less worthy than protection of individual speech. Am I wrong?

Affirmative Action? Same.

Here is a quote from Glen Greenwald, writing about the Hate Crimes Commission in Canada's dressing down of Mark Levant, Canadian publisher of blasphemous Mohammed cartoons:

"There are numerous ways to combat advocacy of rancid ideas. Using the power of the Government to force people to 'justify' their opinions to government tribunals and face punishment for them is, by far, the most malevolent -- far more dangerous than the expression of any particular idea could ever be."

Far more dangerous than the expression of any particular idea could EVER be? Here lies the tension between thick and thin libertarianism.

It seems all a matter of emphasis. Libertarians tend to believe that EVERYONE would be better off in a libertarian world, though the primary starting point is a defense of individual freedom and property in one's self and justly appropriated external objects, etc. Now this generally beneficial state of affairs, of course, includes the myriad of minority groups. (Though even here, "the ultimate minority is the individual", and "hardcore" libertarianism's yielding to that notion is at odds with group concerns and "situated selves".)

Thin types don't even want to go down the road of speaking to particular group benefits, per se, because it might imply that unless a group is successful at any given point in time, they need to account for it. But they can't. Thick types aren't so concerned about this, but find themselves in a conundrum when asked to justify why one group is doing better than another.

For instance, those concerned with achieving positive freedom - freedom from superstition, parochialism and sexism - in the middle east through war and occupaiton (because in their view coercion, often the quickest way to guarantee positive freedom on SOMEBODY'S behalf, is not de facto ruled out) have to justify why mass murder and imprisonment of family members of accused "terrorists" is legitimate. (The emancipated group, Hooray; the murdered group, Too Bad.) Indeed, it seems there is an emerging positive correlation on this blog between thicks and consequentialism on the one hand, and thins and deontological views on the other. Except for TGGP.

If Suppressing A Whole Population Isn't a Crime...

"Racism in the U.S. is historically a political phenomenon, not an economic one. The power of racists scales proportionately with the power of the state."

Lemme get this straight. A racist population votes for racist politicians and enacts racist laws, but when it comes to BUSINESS, they stop being racist?

How does a Black man, with no money, get a loan to buy property if no bank will take him?

How does he buy land when no one will sell it?

How does he buy a book, to learn to read?

How does he have a job, when a year ago his labor was free... Who will hire him?

EVERY ADVANCEMENT made in the Restoration Period came from Republican government intervention. Where is the laissez-faire paradise here?

It took a lot of whites to

It took a lot of whites to pass the civil rights agenda. Doesn't it follow that there were a lot of whites willing to do voluntary business with blacks?

Racism is irrational and it's a lot easier to indulge in irrationality on someone else's dime. Irrationality is tempered when individuals have to pay for it out of their own pocket.

So then where are they?

Thanks for the mythological Nice Whites who are willing to be socially excommunicated for the sake of negroes. Mind being more specific, though?

What banks didn't redline back in the day?

What companies have gone out of their ways to get the Black American population into ownership?

Where are they now?

Jim Crow laws would not have

Jim Crow laws would not have been ruled constitutional or enforced in the first place under a libertarian system, so the charge of racism is moot.

As for who would do business with blacks? Most everyone, since trade naturally happens unless something stops it.