The Right to Discriminate

Posted on October 25, 2010 at 12.47 pm

Q. Hey there. I’m just writing to you because I’ve been reading about libertarian approaches to anti-discrimination laws, and I’m curious as to what you think about the subject. — halbtone, from tumblr.

A. Well, if you’ve been reading about what libertarians think of anti-discrimination laws, you’ve probably pretty much read my opinion.  In fact, I touched on this in another question I answered earlier today.

Basically, I think that anti-discrimination laws which apply to the government are completely appropriate.  I don’t support affirmative action, but the point of government is to be a neutral arbiter and defender of rights [for my anarchist friends out there who don't like that link:  I already have questions about this to answer.  You do not need to submit one].

In the private world, however, such laws should not exist.  Just as it is the customer’s right to decide where he’ll take his business, it is the business owner’s right to decide whom he’ll serve.  Similarly, just as it is the employee’s right to decide where he’ll submit resumes, so it is the employer’s right to decide whom he’ll hire:

Just as no one has a right to enter my home, so no one should have a right to stay at my inn, hotel, or motel; eat at my restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, or lunch counter; enjoy a beverage at my soda fountain; fill up at my gas station; view a movie at my theater; listen to a concert in my hall; or watch a sporting event at my arena or stadium.

There should be no distinction between a private home and a private business. In a free society, as Jacob Hornberger has recently pointed out, “a person has the fundamental right to associate with anyone he chooses and on any basis he chooses.” In a free society, business owners, like homeowners, would have the right to run their businesses as they choose, including the right of exclusion….

I prefer Wal-Mart to K-Mart, ketchup to mustard, blue to pink, Chevy to Ford, blonds to brunettes, and Coke to Pepsi. Pepsi may be cheaper, healthier, and better tasting, but I still prefer Coke. Perhaps I just like the color, the smell, or the Coke logo on the can. My preference for Coke over Pepsi may be completely irrational, but in a free society it is my choice to discriminate against Pepsi as long as I don’t violate the rights of Pepsi drinkers.

By the same token, if I prefer to rent my home to married couples instead of unmarried ones, serve in my restaurant Whites instead of Blacks, allow into my theater heterosexuals instead of homosexuals, put up in my hotel Democrats instead of Republicans, sell merchandise in my store to Christians instead of Jews, and permit to join my club men instead of women, then I have the natural and moral right to do so. The fact that I don’t have the legal right to do any of these things means that the state is violating my rights instead of protecting them.

To say that proponents of liberty and a free society long for the return of Jim Crow laws is a gross misrepresentation. Jim Crow laws, which banned White businessmen from serving Black customers, are just as wrong as anti-discrimination laws. These government-mandated and government-enforced laws denied the fundamental right of Whites to associate and conduct business with Blacks. The real problem with segregation and discrimination is that they were de jure, not de facto; mandatory, not voluntary; public, not private.

If you’re looking for yet more reading on the subject, try these articles:

Thanks for the question!

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