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Libertarianism, property, and choice

Tom has another discussion wondering why the Libertarian position on property rights trumps the civil rights act:

So why do libertarians (Paul is only the most recent, but far from alone in doing so) pick on something as taboo as the Civil Rights Act? Because its an anathema to their political philosophy.

Simple: because property rights are core to the philosophy. And they are important. But if you’re running for office, it’s kinda dumb to come out against it because people aren’t generally smart enough to see past the icky part about allowing or disallowing folks in a business. And it’s just not popular.

The obvious comparison is the whole pragmatic gun rights folks vs. the SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED crowd. Sure, in theory, I agree with the latter but, politically, it’s not going to happen that way. And the coming Libertarian revolution (which, despite predictions it’s been coming for years, has never showed up) is not going to come along by coming out and saying that you don’t dig the civil rights act, no matter how noble your intentions.

It’s a marketing problem.

Then Tom pulls this boner:

But according to libertarianism (sic), such problems arent supposed to exist. According to them, all such problems can and will be resolved by market forces, not by the heavy hand of the government, and these problems will actually be resolved in a better way by those market forces.

This brings us to the other issue with Libertarianism. Where does Libertarianism state problems won’t exist? Or that the market is a cure all? The gist of Libertarianism is let the market do what it does. And therein is the rub for a lot of folks. It’s difficult for folks to accept that a political philosophy does not claim, nor necessarily want, to cure all the ills in the world. And that’s also why Libertarianism doesn’t rally catch on. You meet someone, discuss Libertarianism with them and they’re all cool with the end the drug war and lower taxes stuff. But when you tell them that you’d end Social Security and Medicare, that you’d let gay dudes get married, people should own machine guns, and let the banks run amok, then you lose them. People like the cool parts of Libertarianism but not that other icky stuff that goes with it.

Short version: people agree with Libertarianism on paper. But not as a practical application.

27 Responses to “Libertarianism, property, and choice”

  1. Paul Says:

    I remember a study from back in the 70’s where a researcher discovered that *gasp* most people tended to group together naturally based on physiological basis.

    people identify on tribe and every one in your tribe will look a lot like you.

    Did not go far since way to much common sense was involved.

  2. Sebastiantheguywithnoblog Says:

    People like the cool parts of Libertarianism but not that other stuff that goes with it.

    I’d been trying to find a way to phrase that and couldn’t come up with it…but I think that pretty much nails it.

    I don’t see the Bill of Rights as an a la carte menu, but I do treat my take on libertarianism that way :).

  3. Nathaniel Says:

    Simple formula:

    Liberty isn’t pretty, and libertarianism doesn’t promise to be pretty.

    Statism has a pretty veneer.

    Result? Libertarians are whackos and statists wins elections.

  4. Stormy Dragon Says:

    Most people want more freedom for themselves. Very few people want more freedom for others.

  5. oldsmobile98 Says:

    Hold the phone. People owning machine guns IS one of the cool parts of libertarianism.

    Nathaniel nailed it, except that most libertarians aren’t whackos. Some are different, yes. But variety is the spice of life, or something like that.

    What I take away from your post, Uncle, is that people like the sound of freedom, but they decide to reject it because of one thing: fear.

    If Bob down the street adds a selective fire FAL to his arsenal of 8 semi-auto FALs, maybe he’ll snap and go insane and kill everybody.

    The answer to fear is education. So we got some schoolin’ to do.

  6. Nathaniel Says:

    I stand corrected–should have said “are considered whackos”. I’m one of those libertarians, after all, and I’m no whacko! 🙂

  7. oldsmobile98 Says:

    Cool. I thought you might have meant that, but I wasn’t sure.

  8. GD Says:

    Great post. It reminds me of the moment I became a true libertarian, thanks to Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller fame). I saw him give an interview where he said that the one thing keeping libertarians from becoming a viable party was getting the “drug folks” (e.g.: legalize drugs, end the war on drugs, etc.) to embrace the “gun folks” (e.g.: gun rights, property rights, etc.) and vice-versa. At that moment I saw the wisdom and decided as a “gun person” to embrace the “drug people” as much I personally dislike their choices. It is a hard pill to swallow, and I fear most people will not.

  9. Phelps Says:

    The problem that libertarians have with the CRA of 67 is that it is a government-centered solution to a government-created problem. The problem wasn’t as much attitudes as it was Jim Crow LAWS. If the CRA had just banned the Jim Crow Laws and not affirmatively swung the pendulum the other way, I think there would be virtually no libertarians against it.

    It’s like someone told you, “you can’t have cake.” F you, I want some cake. “Fine, you convinced me. Everyone has to eat cake!”

  10. Steven Says:

    Spelling “libertarianism” lower-cased is correct. Libertarianism is a political theory and isn’t a proper noun. The Libertarian Party, on the other hand, is a proper noun and is capitalized. Saying “I’m a Libertarian” means you’re a member of the party, saying “I’m a libertarian” means you have libertarian values, just as if you say “I’m a socialist” or “I’m a conservative.”

    Caught my eye since you put a “(sic)” in there and I spent a good 10 seconds making sure the word was spelled correctly.

  11. SayUncle Says:

    i’m intentionally differentiating between the l & L.

  12. RC Says:

    Similar to Stormy Dragon…people don’t like to be controlled but sure love them some control of others, never noticing that that power they want to exist for them to control others will always fall into the hands of those that want to control them.

  13. tgirsch Says:


    I actually mostly agree with you. But with respect to my “boner,” it may be a bit of an overstatement, but not much of one. Perhaps libertarians don’t argue that all such problems would magically go away, but they do argue (and Rand Paul did argue, at least initially) that the free market would do a better job of resolving them than the state could. And that’s just demonstrably untrue in a lot of cases. Now you may be of the opinion that we shouldn’t even try to solve such problems, as they’re essentially insoluble, but that’s not what most libertarians I encounter tend to argue.

    Which brings us to:

    Its difficult for folks to accept that a political philosophy does not claim, nor necessarily want, to cure all the ills in the world.

    The problem with even little-l libertarianism, as I see it, is that it doesn’t seem to want to cure any of the ills of the world. If one believes that all or most social problems can be resolved solely via the profit motive, then I suppose economic libertarianism might be attractive. But the real world is a lot more complicated than that.

    Also, as I mentioned in another thread somewhere, it’s wholly unconcerned about what happens in the aggregate. If lots and lots of people voluntarily exercise their individual liberties in a way that effectively restricts the liberties of others, libertarianism simply has no answer for that.

    Recall that I flirted with libertarianism in the late 90s. And what I found generally lines up with what you’re saying: libertarianism is superficially appealing, but when you start getting into the details, it loses its luster. That’s why I still self-identify as a civil libertarian: to the extent that your behavior doesn’t affect anyone else, knock yourself out. To the extent that it does, rules start to apply. Just because that balancing act isn’t easy doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.


    Well put, and all too true.


    I don’t think it’s just fear, although that certainly factors in. People generally like a certain amount of order — some much more than others — and for many, “libertarianism” starts to sound an awful lot like anarchy. Even among self-described libertarians, I’ve encountered a great deal of disagreement over just how much of a role the state should play.


    As discussed in prior threads, nice try, but no. First of all, the Civil Rights Act passed in ’64, not ’67. But that’s a nit. More importantly, segregation was pervasive even where Jim Crow laws didn’t exist. Such laws were a symptom of the problem, not the cause. Thus, if the Act had simply banned Jim Crow laws, de facto segregation would have continued unabated, and the problem wouldn’t have been solved. (As it is, even with the Act, it took a long time for enforcement to reach the more rural parts of the country.)


    Exactly! I was wondering about the “sic” as well. The big L generally refers to the official positions of the Libertarian Party, and nobody, not even libertarians, pays any attention to those. 🙂

  14. tgirsch Says:


    To be more explicit, I agree with Stephen, in that I think you’re using the big L incorrectly.

  15. Nathaniel Says:

    “If lots and lots of people voluntarily exercise their individual liberties in a way that effectively restricts the liberties of others, libertarianism simply has no answer for that.”

    The answer, while not a quick fix “just make it illegal” answer, is that such people will lose business and/or lose friends.

    Why is it that many people say “You can’t legislate morality!” but turn around and support laws to end racism?

  16. Rivrdog Says:

    What I take from this VERY good discussion is that politics, American-type, Mark One, Mod Zero, is as much style as substance.

    THAT goes back to Jackson and the early Democrats.

    All that’s happened to politics over the past 40 years is evolution, and a displacement of some substance by some more style.

    Republicans and Libertarians aren’t into the style of it, but if they ever want to take the governance of this Nation back from the mostly-style Democrats, they’d better get to stylin’ along with their substantive messages.

    Reagan had style, but was the last leader from the Right who did, and we miss him, don’t we?

  17. Lyle Says:

    Unc; I disagree somewhat with your sumary. This is purely a marketing issue, and Paul was disgustingly ill prepared.

    Here’s the argument; freedom of association. Is it OK that a black business owner hires only black people? For any reason? Is it OK that you marry a white woman, at the expense of all the black women who might be interested in you as a husband? Is it OK that you choose to shop at ABC Mart at the expense of the XYZ Mart? It is OK that indian tribal businesses hire only indians? Nearly all Lefties would answer in the affirmative. OK then, if it’s good for the goose…and besides, anyone who openly discriminates against whole classes of potential customers in their business will lose sales to those who don’t.

    Why, after all, were there any Jim Crow laws at all, for example? Why would anyone feel the need to make such a law? Walter Williams covered this yesterday on the air. Jim Crow laws were “needed” because there weren’t enough white-owned businesses creating separate sections for blacks– there wasn’t enough racial discrimination, even in the post Civil War South, to satisfy the separatists, so Jim Crow laws were put in place. Think about that for a bit.

    And lastly; it is the very essence of liberty that people will be doing things a lot of us find very offensive. Learn it, love it, live it. The alternatives to liberty are always far worse.

    But little Baby Paul didn’t say any of that, did he?

  18. Lyle Says:

    Free Markets: Pro-Rich or Pro-Poor. ‘Nuf said?

    How ’bout lets say you own a restaurant. You allow any and all into your establishment. The restaurant across the street only allows whites, or maybe it allows only lesbians or blacks. All else being roughly equal, who has more customers? Which restaurant owner will call for laws that attempt to control what a private property owner may do with his/her property– the one who does not restrict the customer base according to some prejudice, or the one who does restrict? If you guessed the one who restricts, move to the head of the class. Laws restricting what a property owner may or may not do with that private property are always proposed by those with prejudices or by those who are otherwise looking for some special, exclusive advantage in the market.

  19. Lyle Says:

    Unless he pulls his head out of his ass, you won’t find Baby Paul saying anything like this either. (damn– that’s good stuff!)

  20. Jerry Says:

    As a fan of Mr. Williams, I must say this. I am a caucasion. Still a fan, but one of those. The one thing I have against the libertarians, is the same thing I have against the liberals. They can’t hear me. No matter what I say, ………………..nothing. If I am wrong, tell me. Nope, just ignore him. Still a fan of Mr. Williams, BTW.

  21. tgirsch Says:

    The answer, while not a quick fix just make it illegal answer, is that such people will lose business and/or lose friends.

    Well, that’s how we hope it would work, but history has shown again and again that it doesn’t actually work that way. In the 1940s and 1950s, even where Jim Crow laws didn’t exist, you’d lose business and/or friends if you willingly associated with black people. So it actually worked in precisely the opposite way in practice as what we’d hope.

    No, you can’t legislate morality, but you can legislate some modicum of fairness in the public sphere. Maybe you think we shouldn’t, but we clearly can.


    Umm, with the exception of a couple of very recent elections, the Republicans have been kicking the shit out of the Democrats on style and messaging for the better part of three decades.


    As so many libertarians do, you’re conflating personal relationships and personal behavior with commerce. The former cannot be regulated, but the later explicitly can be.

    If I’m selling my personal car, I can refuse to sell it to anybody for any reason. If I open a dealership that sells cars, I can’t. Operating an open-to-the-public business is not the same thing as going about living my personal life. Why is that so hard to understand?

    In your restaurant hypothetical, the “who has more customers” question isn’t easily answered. It depends where the restaurant is, and upon a whole host of other factors. What libertarians seem to love to ignore is the fact that segregation was pervasive even where Jim Crow laws didn’t exist. Contrary to their post hoc rationalization, it wasn’t the laws that caused the segregation. It was more the other way around. As I pointed out to Nathaniel, there was a time when choosing to serve minorities would lose you friends & business, and it was recent enough that several of my friends lived through it.

    Like it or not, without the passage of the Civil Rights Act, racial integration would have taken decades longer. And it’s easy to argue that it should have been allowed to happen more organically when you weren’t one of the millions on the wrong end of that bargain.

  22. Nate Says:

    But where do you draw the line between a personal transaction and an open-to-the-public business? What if I have ten cars and I want to sell them all but one? Am I a public business yet? What if I personally really like knitting and I sell a couple of blankets a week to my friends, co-workers, and neighbors? Am I a public business yet? Do you see where I’m going with this? You claim that the government can regulate commerce but not personal relationships, but what is commerce than another type of personal relationship?

  23. Kim du Toit Says:

    The prblem with libertarians is that they’re always afraid of ideological impurity — the hallmark of the politically-naive — and if Rand Paul hadn’t screwed up on the CRA, he cou;d just as easily have screwed up by claiming that the 2A doesn’t just allow us the right to own guns, but hand grenades and tactical nukes as well.

    And would have lost the argument, just like with the CRA.

    There’s a good reason why only about 2% of the population are libertarians: the doctrine is completely unworkable in the real world. It’s an IDEAL, not a sound basis for a system of government.

  24. Bill Says:

    I read an article essay a while ago on what it would be like to live in a true BOR culture, (cant remember the name or who wrote it) Anyone remember? Summed up it stated; that true freedom is when a 16 can walk into the local hardware or whatever store and put his/her money down on the counter for a machine gun, the rounds for same, and an ounce of pot, no gov. questions, that is true freedom. Most cant handle that situation.

  25. Bill Says:

    I forgot to add, this is my belief as to what it is to be a “true” libertarian.

  26. Guav Says:


    lets say you own a restaurant. You allow any and all into your establishment. The restaurant across the street only allows whites … All else being roughly equal, who has more customers?

    You say the restaurant that serves both, but that’s not necessarily the case. Since blacks are like, what, only 13% of the population, It’s entirely conceivable that the restaurant that allows only whites gets much more business if the whites in that area would rather not eat with black people.

  27. tgirsch Says:

    But where do you draw the line between a personal transaction and an open-to-the-public business?

    Just because there’s no bulletproof way to draw the line doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t draw a line at all. But in the case of cars, it seems pretty simple. If you’re buying a car for personal use, and selling that car after you’ve used it for a while (invariably for less than what you paid for it), it’s personal life stuff. If you’re buying cars with the explicit purpose of re-selling them for a profit, that’s commerce. Doesn’t seem to difficult to me. There will always be some questionable stuff around the edges, but most cases are pretty cut-and-dry.

    In other news, I find myself in the extremely uncomfortable position of being in rough agreement with Kim du Toit. First time for everything, I guess. 😉

    Also, what Guav said.

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