Richard Ebeling has written a piece, “Classical Liberalism and the Problem of “Race” in America.” Because it seems obligatory to preface any statement on this topic with one’s own personal view, I offer this; I feel it is direct enough. Suffice it to say, I agree with much of what Ebeling writes – as any libertarian would. It’s what Ebeling doesn’t say that presents the conundrum.
Friends of freedom, therefore, in my view, must develop ways of breathing life into the philosophy and politics of individual liberty that takes back the moral passion and principled defense of freedom of association on racial issues with the same sense of right and justice with which the classical liberal enemies of slavery brought down that earlier institutionalized system of human bondage.
As a libertarian, we cannot escape a “principled defense of freedom of association on racial issues.” This means we cannot escape the unsaid: that liberty also requires a principled defense of freedom of non-association on racial issues.
Very few people can understand the distinction between private actions and government actions: if it is wrong for the government to enforce discrimination via its laws (as the USG did for much of history in the United States), then it must be wrong for private individuals to enforce personal discrimination in their own life and property. So they say.
But this is most certainly not true in libertarian theory due to the foundational principle of full private property rights; a libertarian must defend private discrimination. Even private discrimination based on race. Of course, there are many libertarians who are not comfortable with this; of this subset, many reduce private property rights to a secondary position behind “all must be embraced – always” (and I do NOT suggest that Ebeling is among these; I don’t really know either way).
Oh…let me allow a more prominent libertarian theorist to explain this:
J: The pro side says that, as long as it is on a completely voluntary basis, covenant communities exercising their right of association could exclude, for example, other races from entering the community.
Walter Block: …yes, covenant communities, in which people of one race, or sexual preference, or anything else under the sun, are excluded, is compatible with libertarianism. Remember, our philosophy is predicated upon the non-aggression principle, private property rights based on homesteading and voluntary trade, and the law of free association. No one should be forced to associate, live next to, trade with, anyone else.
Many people – including many libertarians – would say that this sounds callous. Well, Walter recognizes this:
This sounds callous, in that minority groups might suffer. For an antidote to this objection, read pretty much anything on discrimination written by Thomas Sowell and Walter E. Williams.
Block offers more on this topic here.
The conundrum of liberty is to be found in the foundational principle of private property rights. As there are even libertarians who struggle with understanding the connection of private property rights and discrimination, why on earth would we expect non-libertarians to understand this reality?
Libertarians who are honest about private property rights will never be able to dance around what this implies regarding private discrimination – private discrimination in the covenant community, private discrimination at the lunch counter, private discrimination on the privately operated bus or airline.
Private discrimination on any basis and for any reason chosen by the property owner.
I’m just sayin’.