Civil disobedience on private property: You Make The Call

Rand Paul’s recent electoral success has brought new attention to the state’s role in remedying discrimination by punishing private actors that discriminate on the basis of race in the provision of public accommodations, employment and housing. In short, Paul (coyly) opposes these policies. And this prompts questions about what alternative policies he might support. What should be the libertarian position about civil disobedience on private property?

Prior to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, for example, when a lunch counter refused to serve black people some people protested this practice by holding a sit-in at the counter and refused to leave. The owner called the police, who forcibly removed the protesters. This practice brought attention to the black people’s plight, some measure of public opprobrium on the owner of the lunch counter, and ultimately government prohibition on discrimination in businesses of public accommodation. What do you think of these events?

1. May the state sanction people who discriminate on the basis of race in the conduct of their private business? Does your answer change with respect to people engaged in businesses that do not require a prolonged interaction with any specific customer? (E.g., Once you sell your house, you typically will not have further interaction with the buyer.) Does your answer change with respect to people who hold themselves out as providers of public accommodations?

2. May Joe seek to influence the behavior of Bill by orchestrating negative (albeit accurate) publicity about Bill, thereby attracting public opprobrium? May Joe seek to influence Bill through threatening to orchestrate negative (but accurate) publicity?

3. May Joe temporarily intrude upon Bill’s autonomy as a means to achieving some other objective, provided Joe agree to bear whatever sanction results from Joe’s conduct? May Joe permanently intrude upon Bill’s autonomy as a means to achieving this objective?

4. May Bill ask the state to forcibly extract compensation from Joe for trespassing on Bill’s autonomy?

5. May Bill employ force to defend his autonomy? May Bill employ lethal force if non-lethal force proves inadequate to defend his autonomy (e.g., the protesters are really good at hanging onto lunch counter stools)? May Bill ask the state to employ force on his behalf? Does your answer to these questions change if Bill has access to after-the-fact compensation for the trespass?

(“May…” here means “Do you regard it as consistent with your understanding of libertarian beliefs that….”)

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Shaming is a powerful weapon

I think there are two strategies I'd pursue:

1) Non-violent civil disobedience. This is to shame my opponent in the eyes of society at large.

2) Show my opponent that he loses money by not engaging with me. Start a competing business, or convince someone else to.


The Irish found a "work around" without any civil rights legislation. So has every other group except one. That group as an economic unit has a higher GDP than most countries in the world. That group prefers to deal economically with the national majority than to deal with each other for their mutual benefit. Malcolm X was their best hope to date and they gunned him down,