20 votes

The Right to Be Racist?

With Ron Paul well positioned to win the Iowa Caucuses, the Republican establishment is in full panic mode. They are well aware that Paul actually means what he says about cutting $1 trillion from the federal budget during his first year in office, including removing U.S. troops from the active wars in the Middle East and from their decades-long deployments in Europe and elsewhere around the world. In other words, for the beneficiaries of big government, both liberal and conservative, the party will be over. Desperate to prevent this, they are looking for something, anything, that they can attack him on.

The trouble with attacking Paul is there is not much to attack. He has no closet full of ex-wives, tawdry affairs, or dirty political deals. More importantly, he has been a consistent conservative throughout his political career. He doesn't have to explain away a Romneycare or television ads promoting the liberal environmentalist agenda. He doesn't have to explain why he has changed his position on issues conservatives deem crucial to their ideology and platform. He can't be attacked for his economic plan because it is precisely what conservatives say they believe in, but never do. While his foreign policy is out of step with the current Republican establishment, it is consistent with that of conservative icons Ronald Reagan and Robert Taft, which Paul takes every opportunity to point out. It is also resonating with the American people, including active military personnel, who donate more to Paul's campaign than to all of the other Republican candidates combined.

So, in a desperate attempt to find something to attack, Republicans are resorting to the old, liberal trick of implying that he is a racist. They can't call him a racist outright because the allegation would be ludicrous. Paul and his positions have become too well-known, including his own denunciation of racism as "an ugly form of collectivism." Instead, the establishment seeks to associate Paul with racism indirectly, citing campaign contributions from white supremacists that Paul didn't return or the famous newsletters, an issue that was put to rest a decade ago.

However, the one question of substance that the establishment can raise and which Paul should expect to be heavily emphasized should he win the nomination is his stance on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Here, Paul's strict adherence to libertarian principles would seem to mean that Paul recognizes a right to be racist, regardless of how distasteful he may find racism personally. If that's true, then it is going to hurt Paul politically, especially in the general election when the full power of the liberal media is aligned against him. Paul should expect to be questioned on this in every interview. The strategy was effective against Barry Goldwater, who also opposed the Civil Rights Act, and will be effective against Paul if he cannot answer it more effectively.

It is a testament to the character of the American people that any association with racism immediately elicits aversion and disgust. The idea that a human being might somehow be inferior because of a superficial genetic variation like skin pigmentation, which is about as significant as attached ear lobes, is the height of ignorance, leftover from a more barbaric past. The majority of Americans have decided long ago that this is something that they want no part of and ought to be banished from civil society. But what about the minority who do not agree? Does Ron Paul or the libertarian philosophy in general recognize a right to be racist?

The short answer is no. The whole line of reasoning comes out of a misunderstanding of libertarianism and, more fundamentally, rights. Libertarianism does not recognize the existence of "positive rights." To libertarians, all rights are negative. Thus there is no right to be racist, just as there is no right to be charitable, tolerant, or honest. There is only the right not to have force used against you unless you have previously initiated force against someone else. This is the essence of liberty and libertarianism. It is the only theory of rights that can be reconciled with reason.

Consider the right to life. Regardless of how they feel about the supposed right to healthcare, a living wage, or other controversial "rights," everyone recognizes the right to life. But what is this right? Is it a right to live under all circumstances? No. When someone dies of natural causes, no one alleges that their right to life has been violated. Similarly, if one dies of a fatal disease or is killed by a flood or eaten by a lion, no one would allege that their right to life was infringed, however tragic their death may have been. The right to life is specifically the right not to be killed by another human being. Even this definition of the right to life has a limit. Your right to life does not protect you from being killed by another human being if he is defending himself against you while you are trying to kill him.

This reasoning applies to all rights. The right to liberty is the right not to have another human being forcefully inhibit your actions if they do not harm another person. The right to property is the right not to have another human being take your justly acquired possessions away from you against your will.

Thus, libertarianism does not defend the right of an employer to discriminate based upon race, it defends his right not have violence initiated against him if he does. Understanding this point requires a recognition of reality - that every law is backed up by the threat of violence if it is not obeyed. While the vast majority of libertarians - in fact, the vast majority of all people - find racial discrimination distateful, libertarians recognize that it does not constitute violence against other people and therefore its practitioners have a right not to have violence used against them. Thus, there can be no just law against racism or racial discrimination. That is not an endorsement of bigotry. It is merely a consistent application of the principle of liberty.

So would a libertarian society include signs on restaurants saying "No Blacks Allowed" or vast inequities in employment opportunities for racial minorities, women, or the disabled? No. Why not? Because a libertarian society would include an unregulated free market, with no privileges or artificial advantages for connected corporations, which means unlimited competition among firms selling similar products and services. As I've said before, the racist employer loses in such a market economy. Any employer that consistently chooses to hire less talented employees based upon their race will, by definition, have a less talented workforce than its non-racist competitor. This does not rely upon altruism, boycotts, or any other sacrifice of individual self-interest. The employer that hires the most talented people, regardless of race, sex, or other non-essential characteristics does so because it is in his economic best interests to do so. A more talented workforce increases his profits and allows him to gain market share, eventually putting the racist out of business.

Similarly, the restaurant or movie theater that turns away customers based upon race (or other non-economic factors) puts itself at a fatal disadvantage against the restaurant or movie theater that sells to all consumers willing to buy its products. This doesn't even account for the societal aversion that would result from anyone putting up a sign saying "Whites Only" or "No Blacks Allowed." Even discounting the fact that most Americans would boycott such an establishment merely on principle, the racist restaurateur or movie theater owner loses, for purely economic reasons. In other words, even assuming that all economic players act only in their own self-interest and no one makes any decisions based upon moral aversion to racism, the market will still defeat racism, every time.

The only other solution is totalitarianism. If government regulation is really the answer, then the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not nearly go far enough in fighting racism. Regarding employment, the legislation is arbitrarily selective in the racism that it prohibits. As I've said before, the employment contract is merely a buyer-seller arrangement. Employers are buyers of a product (labor) from sellers of that product (employees). Why should this buyer-seller contract be treated any differently from any other buyer-seller arrangement? Why should the government not be regulating every purchase we make, ensuring that we buy approximately 12.5% of our food, gasoline, or toilet paper from black-owned firms, or approximately 50% of those products from women-owned firms? While that might seem ludicrous, it is not substantively different in principle from the idea that the government can prohibit racism when employers purchase labor. Neither is the prospect of punishing black or female consumers for not buying enough products from white-owned or male-owned firms.

If Americans take the time to think these issues through, they will continue to abhor racism but will join Paul and libertarians in their opposition to those sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that deal with private property and personal decisions. Liberty does mean that some people will do things that we don't like, but it affords us the ability not to associate with those people, to disapprove of their actions, to voice that opposition openly, and to persuade others to condemn it as we do. It gives us the ability to make our own decisions about who we associate with, who we do business with, including who we buy from and who we sell to, and forces us to live with the consequences of those decisions. By prohibiting racism under the threat of violence, the government actually gives racists cover. If given the freedom to hire, buy, and sell based upon race, as they wish to, the market will more quickly put them where they belong - out of business.

So how does Ron Paul handle this deeply divisive philosophical issue without compromising his principles, and do so during the average one-minute soundbyte during an interview? While I would not presume to be able to articulate the principles of liberty better than Ron Paul, who has been doing so for over 30 years, I humbly suggest the following:

"Personally, I agree with the vast majority of Americans that abhor racism and other forms of discrimination against people based upon superficial characteristics that have nothing to do with the content of their character. However, we have to find a way to fight this problem without trampling the rights to liberty and property that are the bedrock of a free society. So, I'll make you a deal. You give me an unregulated free market where everyone is free to dispose of their person and property as they see fit, as long as they do not invade the person or property of others. If, under those circumstances, someone actually puts up a sign that says "Whites Only" or "No Blacks Allowed," I'll be open for business the very next day, right across the street. My sign will say "Everybody Welcome." We'll see who's still in business a month after that."

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Trending on the Web

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
northstar's picture

People can be whatever they want to be

But, there may be serious consequences to ones choice. I find racism to be repulsive and hurtful in so many ways. It hurts society as a whole. It only causes society to be divided and constantly fighting. I was born in a small town that liked to call black people the N word. I am so thankful for my mom taking us kids away and moving to the city and exposing us to all the wonderful cultures and people. Racism is everywhere in one form or another, it really hurts me to know it's thriving.

Real eyes realize real lies

We want our country back

Every year is a year for Ron Paul!

Agree to Disagree, partially

While I agree with 90% of the good Doctors positions, this one is a slipper slope for me.

I completely understand the point you are trying to get across here, that force should not be used against a person, reguardless of their position if they are not using force first. However, a racist store owner might not be physically abusing a person, but would this not be verbal abuse? Would spewing racist remarks and not allowing a person specifically because their religion or color in or to be hired not be a complete defamation of character or slanderous? For, as a person, any individual that is black or muslim or jewish clearly is not the evil terrible person that this owner/employer is making them out to be. While I may feel that affirmative action is not an appropriate measure because it has the opposite effect of forcing an employer to look at someone only because of the color of their skin, I do strongly feel that an employer cannot turn away a perfectly good candidate or fire someone specifically because of that color.

Further more, the free market aspect of your argument only holds up to a certain extent. Yes if I opened up a gas station or fast food restaurant, where there is one of every corner, I will most likely lose business. But in many stores, the fact that they have a niche is what keeps them in business. I can go to a sex shop and buy anal beads if I'd like. This may make the majority uncomfortable and not want to go near this shop but they still thrive based on their niche market. Same with a head shop where drug paraphanalia can be purchased or a strip club, or even a store that sells high-end camera equipemnt. All these places may thrive while many people arent interested or would shun them. The difference is I have the option to shun them or take part. What if there was a famous restaurant in a location. What if your restaurant is famous for their delicious unique food. Your naive if you think people will not still want to check it out despite their racist sentiments. (at least the ones that are allowed).

While you may believe that the free market is a better outlet to handle situations about civil rights, (and I agree to some extent), I think you are being completely naive if you think any establishment that doesn't allow a group of people in will be shuttered immediately. Furthermore, I believe it also says in the Declaration of Independence, 'the pursuit of happiness'. This is not something obtainable when you are not given an opportunity before you even walk through the door.

reedr3v's picture

You make valid points. But the question is

whether federal involvement in "unfairness" that is not coercive is the best approach. The internet shows us that all sorts of unsavory folk are out there in niche markets, and a huge number of mean people spewing horrible, cruel comments. But few of us would want the internet policed for civility, forcing all users to "play nice."

What is the difference in the real world? Is it because the virtual world is simply speech? No, internet businesses thrive by attracting general and niche customers. Internet hate groups probably plot rallies and such. But if those haters do not plot coercion against others, should they be shut down by federal force? Who decides the borderline cases? Can we trust the feds to be objective and not use their own biases and self interest as guidelines?

the real answer is a r3VOLution in philosophy, not just politics. When people value individuals based on virtues and mutual cooperation, humanity will have evolved toward its destiny. Until then the seemingly slow, non-coercive
approach most likely will promote true peace and freedom than any other.

Im sure this wont get looked

Im sure this wont get looked at because its been a couple days now, but I just had to respond. There is a huge difference in the racism and bigotry found on the internet, and the real world implications, and I think this difference perfectly makes my point. On the internet, its freedom of speech and that is all. people can say as hurtful or terrible things as they like and no, I do not want it to be regulated. But on the internet, anyone no matter who they are, can go to that site and read those things. I would not condone anyone doing this, and would hope these people would dissapear into the abyss of the web, but the fact still remains that even the descriminated against can still go to a site if they chose, and have other options if they dont. On the other hand... the opposite is true in the real world. In the real world, those same people making the site that anyone can go to might own a store in a small town. now that same black or muslim person that had the option of reading or ignoring that site, is refused entry to that store. no choice there. Also Im sick and tired of people making the argument that these laws hurt people being treated unfairly more than they help because now they shop in a store that has a racist giving them money and their none the wiser. This is simply lucidris. What if you live in a small town and theres only one of every shop. Lets say the pharmacy has a scum bag bigot that wont allow blacks in. So now some poor person cant get their medicine or has to drive some far distance to obtain it, and thats more fair to the minority? Rediculous.

reedr3v's picture

Your first point spoke to my statement,

though IMO yours is still a weak stance. And your second point does not speak to my comment, but it illustrates some of the weakness of your view.

Like those who see redistribution as desirable or viable in the economy, you do not see society as a dynamic engine of creative productivity and open sourced improvements. that's true of racists and other 'phobes too of course. Those who would exclude good people for biased reasons, those who think force is necessary to redress inequities of all types, lack trust in the predominant goodness and rationality of most people.

The game changer we enjoy today is the free internet. We can communicate at last without the ruling class gate keepers -- of either church or state. All people can be visible now, we can see their humanity without the intercession of those who would keep us divided and fighting.

It is true that if a family were in a community of bigots, they might lack various levels of support. The world even under BigGov control is deeply unfair and even getting worse; more militarism, corruption, murder, plundering of all people.

So count me among those who will take our chances on scattered pockets of local corruption or bigotry than the systematic, mass violence and predation of centralized Authority.

As for the Civil Rights Act,

As for the Civil Rights Act, the government protected the profits of racist businesses by forcing them to hide their racism which leads to minorities being unable to avoid doing business with the racists! This allows racists to profit off minorities! Why is it good to prevent minorities from being able to avoid taking their money to racist businesses? This forced racism underground and that is why it is still with us today, it never would have survived the light of day if left exposed. Every problem has a "knee-jerk" reaction type of solution AND a thoughtful, long term, REAL, solution. If the act in question was never passed, almost all racist businesses would have eventually bankrupted themselves, not only that, but minorities could have started businesses that competed with the racists, and would have put them out of business and would now be the business people of town. Instead this act protected the racists by not allowing the minorities, and equal rights promoting whites, the right to avoid doing business with them. Now, please tell me why having the government protect the profits of racists, and taking away the minorities rights not to do business with a racist, and keeping racists in the business world is a good thing?

Walter Block

Check out chapter 7 of Defending the Undefendable regarding slander, verbal abuse and defamation.

I do strongly feel that an employer cannot turn away a perfectly good candidate or fire someone specifically because of that color.

So an employer has to allow a 'perfectly good candidate' onto their property even if they don't want to?

Isn't this called trespassing?

I think freedom of all speech

I think freedom of all speech is important. Yes, words can "hurt". but there should be no laws against them. Some people are still drawn by "hate speech", others repelled--that is no reason to outlaw it. I know things change on their own. I used to call Homos "queers". I had friends that were, it was just a word I used for them. Then it changed to "gay", somehow. Both are truly equally pejorative. I remember once I went to a party a girlfriend had (she was black). When I came in she told everyone to please not use the term "nigger" because I did not like it. I was the only white person at the party, and, at the time, they always called each other "nigger", and I had told her off about it before. LOL Anyway, you can like or dislike what someone says about others. Probably one of the worst things anyone can ever hear is "I don't love you, anymore". Words can never hurt? Sure they can, but they are ONLY words, and should always be defended as the right to speak them.


You are for freedom....but only for those who think the way you feel is "acceptable". Nothing free about that my friend. If a restaurant doesn't want to serve white people, I'd be fine with that. If a restaurant didn't want to serve black people, then I'd be fine with that too...however I wouldn't eat there. In a truly free society we can make our own choices, but we also have to live with the outcome.

If a "racist" restaurant was to stay in business then it would be kept going by the "racist" regulars and those who agree with the owner. Would you want to eat in a restaurant like that? I wouldn't. The Civil Rights Act should be about government..and government should be blind to color, race, creed, religion. Because Government is about all of us..but what I do with my PRIVATE business is just that...my private business. If you don't want to do business with me...then so be it.

I understand your private

I understand your private property argument, which is why I didn't say that I outright disagree with RP but that its a slippery slope. However, in such a case, doesn't your right to private property infringe on someone else freedom and pursuit of happiness? It's just like you have a right to free speech, but you do not have a right to slander/libel someone and you dont have a right to yell fire in a crowded movie theater. You have a right to own a gun, but local/state laws make it illegal for you to shoot someone. Similarly, there is no law against just being a racist, but you dont have a right to use that racism against someone to hurt them mentally or physically or infringe on their rights. It's debatable if federal government should enforce this, but at a local level, if my town votes not to allow a store to open in my town square that intentionally segregates a group of people, I have no qualms with that.

reedr3v's picture

There is no doubt that some local communities

might suppress individual choice. The far bigger problem, IMO, is federal enforcement of aggression against peaceable, unpopular people.

Tom Mullen's picture

do you believe that I have a right

The true message

RP's message focuses on "individuals" not groups. Racism focuses on "groups" not individuals. Do you not see the irony in this? Defending this makes some of you look like hypocrites.

You're mistaken

Libertarianism defends the 'right' for someone to focus on groups and be a collectivist if he so chooses.

Laws against racism are initiations of threats of violence against non-aggressors, and are therefore criminal according to libertarian code.

In addition, laws against racism are ineffective and counterproductive and lead to unintended consequences.

Not so

Laws in favor of racism are initiations of threats against non-aggressors, ineffective, and as we've previously witnessed, counterproductive that lead to many INTENDED consequences.

You defend collectivist mob rule in the same breath as individual rights and freedoms, which seem hypocritical to many attempting to learn your "protect the rights of individuals not groups" mantra.


I defend individuals who believe in collectivism to not be aggressed against when they express their opinion on their own property or the property of others when they have obtained consent.

And I defend their right to exclude anyone from their justly acquired property for any reason whatsoever.

Anyone who enforces any laws to the contrary is a criminal according to libertarian code because they have initiated aggression against a peaceful non-aggressor.

In what way?

You believe in mob rule, not individual rights. To be a racist you must first be a collectivist, my group vs. your group.

Please, elaborate on how you defend these bigots rights???

On a side note, last time I checked, private clubs still exsist in this country. You know the ones where you must submit an application, fee, and interview to be allowed the opportunity to buy a coke... If these closet bigots really don't want to serve those they feel are unworthy of their presence, pass out membership cards to all the boys and your problem is solved!

I really would like to get a list of all these angry business owners who are forced to serve underlings. I believe if its that serious of an issue, its been taken care of via the private club.

Your rant is the reason many will turn their noses to the best candidate I've seen, ever! RP 2012


I've stated very clearly that I believe in the non-aggression principle.

Are you advocating the initiation of violence or threats against racists and bigots?

If not, then you agree with me and Ron Paul.

I wouldn't go so far

I wouldn't go so far as to say that I agree with you. I do NOT agree that group A should be granted rights and privileges, as a group, over group B. If you have private property that you wish to keep private, only accessible to certain individuals, then keep it private by creating a membership based entity. However, if you open your private property to the general public, you should not be allowed to use any specially granted group status as a basis to exlude any member of a "perceived" group.

How could you justifiably state that a bigot is non-agressive? How many wars have been waged rooted in bigotry? How would you determine who is or isn't part of your group? Got your dna kit ready?