Posts tagged Jim Crow

The Age of Bronze

As we approach the New Year, we naturally think of ends, and of beginnings; what has changed, and what we have lost. So hey, libertarians, let’s all get together and feel sorry about the golden age of Limited Government and Individual Liberty we have lost. Remember the ancient liberties that we all enjoyed only 60 years ago, back in the 1950s? Back when all military-age men were subject to the draft, people were being interrogated before a permanent committee of Congress over their political beliefs, the FBI was conducting massive illegal wiretapping, surveillance and disruption against nonviolent civil rights activists, the National Security Agency was established as a completely secret surveillance arm of the federal government, it was illegal for married or unmarried women to buy basic birth control, it was made illegal for anyone to buy any scheduled drug without a doctor’s prescription, government was conducting medical experiments on unwilling human subjects[1], Urban Renewal was demolishing the core of every major U.S. city to build government highways and housing projects, and massive community-wide immigration raids were terrorizing undocumented migrants throughout the Southwest.

Or like back in the 1940s when government spending was over 50% of GDP, nearly the entire consumer economy was subject to government rationing, Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps, and a secret government conspiracy was building an entire network of secret cities in order to build atomic bombs to drop on civilian centers.

Or like back in the 1930s when the entire institutional groundwork of the New Deal was being implemented, Roosevelt was making himself president-for-life, government attempted to seize all gold or silver bullion in private hands, the federal government first instituted the Drug War, Jim Crow was the law of the land, Congress created the INS, Jews fleeing the incipient Holocaust in Europe were being turned away by immigration authorities, and psychiatrists were using massive electric shocks or literally mutilating the brains of women and men confined to asylums.

Or like the 1920s when it was illegal to buy alcoholic drinks anywhere in the United States, tariff rates were nearly 40% on dutiable imports, Sacco and Vanzetti were murdered by the state of Massachusetts, the Invisible Empire Second Era Klan effectively took over the state governments of Colorado, Indiana, and Alabama, hundreds of black victims were massacred in race riots in Tulsa and Rosewood, when Congress created the Federal Radio Commission[2], the US Border Patrol, passed the Emergency [sic] Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924, and the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the authority of the state to forcibly sterilize women deemed “feeble-minded” or “promiscuous” for eugenic purposes.

Or the 1910s, when the federal government seized control of foreign-owned companies to facilitate production of chemical weapons, imposed the first-ever use of federal conscription to fight an overseas war, invaded Haiti, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico[3], Russia, and Europe, passed criminal anarchy and criminal syndicalism statutes, tried and convicted hundreds of people for belonging to radical unions, imprisoned hundreds of people for protesting the draft during World War I (ordered by the President of the United States and upheld by the Supreme Court in one of its most radical anti-free-speech decisions), deported hundreds of people solely for holding anti-state political beliefs, the Mann Act made it illegal to “transport women across statelines for immoral purposes” [sic], the Colorado National Guard machine-gunned and burned alive striking miners and their families in order to break a UMWA organizing campaign, and Congress created the Federal Reserve, the Income Tax, the Espionage Act, and the Sedition Act.

Or maybe like the 1900s. … .

  1. [1] See also the biological and radiological experiments documented here, and the Guatemala syphilis experiment conducted from 1946-1948.
  2. [2] Created in 1926; later converted into the Federal Communications Commission in 1934.
  3. [3] In 1914, and then again in 1916-1917

I oppose civil rights acts because I support civil rights movements

Appearing this month in The Freeman (60.7, September 2010):

Opposing the Civil Rights Act Means Opposing Civil Rights? It Just Ain’t So!

Charles Johnson, September 2010 • Volume: 60 • Issue: 7

Just after winning his Republican primary in May, Rand Paul got himself into a political pickle over his views on property rights and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Having reluctantly discussed concerns about antidiscrimination laws with the Louisville Courier-Journal and NPR, Paul made his now-notorious appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show, where Maddow grilled him for 15 minutes on whether he opposed government intervention to stop racial discrimination. After saying he favored overturning government-mandated discrimination, Paul finally admitted that he opposes Title II, which forbids private owners from discriminating in their own businesses.

As he told the Courier-Journal: I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners—I abhor racism; I think it’s a bad business decision to ever exclude anybody from your restaurant; but at the same time, I do believe in private ownership… .

Maddow responded: I think wanting to allow private businesses to discriminate on the basis of race, because of property rights, is an extreme view. Within a day Progressives were touting the interview as proof of a deep conflict between libertarian defenses of private property and struggles for racial equality. Meanwhile, compromising libertarians like Brink Lindsey reacted by discovering exceptions to libertarian principles—to make room, again, for federal antidiscrimination laws. The entire debate has played out as an argument over libertarianism and extremism, with Progressives and many nominal libertarians both condemning Rand Paul’s simplistic extremism about private property and libertarian rights.

I have little interest in defending Paul but it’s strange to treat him like some case study in the dangers of libertarian extremism. Rand Paul is a conservative, not a libertarian—let alone an extreme one. He’s said as much, in so many words, in repeated interviews. Now, you could simply say, He may be no libertarian, but never mind Rand Paul—what about the issue? Libertarianism opposes government control of private business decisions; taken to extremes, doesn’t that include laws against racist business practices—the civil rights movement’s crowning achievement?

Well, I do have something to say on behalf of extremism. Not on behalf of sacrificing the civil rights movement’s achievements to extreme stands on antistatist principle. Rather, extreme stands on antistatist principle show what the civil rights movement did right, and what it really achieved, without the aid of federal laws.

. . .

[I]f libertarianism has anything to teach about politics, it’s that politics goes beyond politicians; social problems demand social solutions. Discriminatory businesses should be free from legal retaliation—not insulated from the social and economic consequences of their bigotry. What consequences? Whatever consequences you want, so long as they’re peaceful—agitation, confrontation, boycotts, strikes, nonviolent protests.

So when Maddow asks, Should Woolworth’s lunch counters have been allowed to stay segregated? neither she nor Paul seemed to realize that her attempted coup de grace—invoking the sit-in movement’s student martyrs, facing down beatings to desegregate lunch counters—actually offers a perfect libertarian response to her own question.

Because, actually, Woolworth’s lunch counters weren’t desegregated by Title II. The sit-in movement did that. From the Montgomery Bus Boycott onward, the Freedom Movement had won victories, town by town, building movements, holding racist institutions socially and economically accountable. The sit-ins proved the real-world power of the strategy: In Greensboro, N.C., nonviolent sit-in protests drove Woolworth’s to abandon its whites-only policy by July 1960. The Nashville Student Movement, through three months of sit-ins and boycotts, convinced merchants to open all downtown lunch counters in May the same year. Creative protests and grassroots pressure campaigns across the South changed local cultures and dismantled private segregation without legal backing.

Should lunch counters have been allowed to stay segregated? No—but the question is how to disallow it. Bigoted businesses shouldn’t face threats of legal force for their racism. They should face a force much fiercer and more meaningful—the full force of voluntary social organization and a culture of equality. What’s to stop resegregation in a libertarian society? We are. Using the same social power that was dismantling Jim Crow years before legal desegregation.

I oppose civil rights acts because I support civil rights movements—because the forms of social protest they pioneered proved far more courageous, positive, and effective than the litigious quagmires and pale bureaucratic substitutes governments offer.

— Charles Johnson, The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty (September 2010): Opposing the Civil Rights Act Means Opposing Civil Rights? It Just Ain’t So!

You can read the whole thing at The Freeman Online, or in the forthcoming print issue.

Many thanks as always to Sheldon Richman and FEE.

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Ridiculous Strawman Watch (Part 4 of ???)

It’s R.S.W. time again, which puts me in a bit of a quandary. Not about who to recognize in the Watch: Bruce Bartlett’s recent column on libertarianism and Jim Crow obviously deserves a place in the R.S.W. far more than any lesser imitator. But Bartlett’s post does raise a very serious problem: the problem of how I’m supposed to decide which pull-quote from the post actually represents the most ridiculous Ridiculous Strawman that Bartlett has to offer?

Is it Ridiculous Strawman A (of the free market):

The Court’s philosophy in these cases led logically to Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, which essentially gave constitutional protection to legal segregation enforced by state and local governments throughout the U.S.

As we know from history, the free market did not lead to a breakdown of segregation.[1]

Or is it Ridiculous Strawman B (of the libertarian philosophy and freedom):

In short, the libertarian philosophy of Rand Paul and the Supreme Court of the 1880s and 1890s [?! sic — Ed.] gave us almost 100 years of segregation, white supremacy, lynchings, chain gangs, the KKK, and discrimination of African Americans for no other reason except their skin color. … Thus we have a perfect test of the libertarian philosophy and an indisputable conclusion: it didn’t work. Freedom did not lead to a decline in racism; it only got worse.

Long-time readers may remember that Bartlett was already named as an R.S.W. laureate a little more than a year ago (in which he decided that the problem with American libertarians is that they never talk about interventionist foreign policy or the War on Drugs). But such a man of action is not content to rest on his laurels, and he has certainly outdone himself this year.

As usual, of course, I have little interest in defending a weaselly conservative statist like Rand Paul; and none at all in defending the Supreme Court of the 1880s and 1890s. But I do have some passing familiarity with the libertarian philosophy, and with the meaning of the term free market; and I think that if you consider almost a century of legal segregation enforced by state and local governments to be the right setting for a historical on free market outcomes; or looking at what happened under politically-enforced white supremacy, lynchings, chain gangs and the KKK to be a perfect test of the libertarian philosophy — apparently on the notion that libertarian anti-statism is identical with a doctrine of unlimited States Rights, and the free market is identical with the market outcomes that you get when pervasive racism and segregation are explicitly required by an extensive system of government economic regulation — well, then, you, sir, are eminently qualified for the R.S.W.

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  1. [1] Of course, to be fair to Bartlett here, it is true that the free market did not lead to a breakdown of segregation in the American South. Neither did a Communist invasion of the United States, or a visitation by space aliens. Guess what all of these things have in common? —R.G.

Shameless Self-promotion Sunday

Happy Sunday y’all. Time to get down, get down, get down, get Shameless.

This week I’ve mainly been working, and gardening[1] and writing, and, lately, spending a lot of time arguing elsewhere about Rand Paul. Not because I like Rand Paul — I think in the interview he proved himself to be both mendacious and ignorant; I have other, preexisting reasons for thinking of him as a ridiculous conservative tool. I’m arguing about it, rather, because I do like the sit-in movement, and the rigged debate between Paul’s side and Maddow’s has completely obliterated what that movement actually did, by means of grassroots direct action, without the assistance of federal antidiscrimination laws, Equal Opportunity bureaucracies, or Title II lawsuits.

Here as elsewhere, both conservatives and progressives have shitty arguments that presuppose that free markets mean only stereotypical forms of commerce and cash exchange, while politics means only organized attempts to achieve goals through government lawsuits or government legislation; but if those are the options, where does that leave grassroots social movements? Thus we are given the counterfactual and patronizing claim that without white Democratic politicians handing down a federal Civil Rights Act, the grassroots social movement to dismantle Jim Crow could not have gotten anywhere—in spite of 6 years of repeated grassroots victories for the sit-in movement before the Civil Rights Act even existed. If so profound a transformation cannot easily fit into traditional categories of thought, e.g. market or political, it is not because these categories do not apply but because they are not big enough: the Freedom Movement bursts through them.

And you? What have you been up to this week? Write anything? Leave a link and a short description for your post in the comments. Or fire away about anything else you might want to talk about.

  1. [1] We just picked our first vine-ripened tomato—a nice, midsized Roma from a volunteer plant that grew up after I mashed a few too-mushy Food Not Bombs tomatoes into the ground.