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Posts tagged Civil Rights Act

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.

See also:

In a freed market, with no government anti-discrimination laws, what will stop bigoted business owners from resegregating America?

A. We will.

Context-Keeping and Community Organizing. Cato Unbound (2010-06-18):

David Bernstein makes the strongest libertarian case I can imagine for Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. His key point—which I fully embrace—is that the Southern states operated the equivalent of a "white supremacist cartel" in public accommodations….

But as Sheldon ultimately argues, there’s more than one way to break a cartel, and starting out with the notion that the *only* options are one kind of federal law or another kind of federal law, is simply to beg the question. We can't dismiss [direct action by nonviolent social movements] as impractical because it had been working several years before Title II was enacted. … Title II, in other words, was unnecessary. But worse, it was detrimental…. [W]hat is given like a gift can be more easily taken away, while what one secures for oneself by facing down power is less easily lost. … The libertarian answer to bigotry is community organizing.

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.
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