Objectivism philosophically respects property rights, including, as I understand it, the right to exclude whomever one pleases from one's property. My question is whether racist policies by property owners are OK with Objectivists and if there are to be any limits on such behavior? Are there, for example, any differences between shops/hotels (i.e. places that serve the public) versus private homes?
Given the recent furore in Arizona over a legislated right to gay-exclusion by religious people, I wondered what would have happened without any civil rights legislation in the USA.
Clearly the United States' South in the 1960s and earlier was a hotbed of deeply entrenched racism with separate bathrooms, separate water fountains, separate schools for blacks and whites to say nothing of lynchings and murders. Many private businesses would not serve black people and many hotels would not house black people.
Civil rights legislation made such open racist discrimination illegal. Do Objectivists see this legislation as a great injustice against property owners --preferring a world where property owners can exclude whomever they like? Do Objectivists see the return to a South where a black person had to carefully read whether he was welcome at a hotel as a sort of "progress" towards the respect of property and freedom? Do Objectivists think that the society that existed prior to civil rights laws was a better one since property owners had broader rights to do whatever they pleased (after all there is no "right to service")? What's to prevent "Asians only" colonies and "Blacks only" colonies from sprouting up ? Is that a better society to live in?
asked Feb 27 '14 at 11:30
The questioner asks whether private racism is “acceptable” from an objectivist viewpoint. This appears to conflate at least two separate issues: (1) whether private racism is morally wrong from an objectivist viewpoint, and (2) whether it is proper for a government to outlaw private racism from an objectivist viewpoint.
From an objectivist viewpoint, not everything that is morally wrong can properly be outlawed by a government. According to Objectivism, a proper government can only act to protect individual rights, and some actions that are morally wrong do not violate anyone’s individual rights.
Private racism is clearly morally wrong from an objectivist viewpoint, as the quotations provided in Ideas’ answer clearly indicate. However, private racism per se does not necessarily violate anyone’s individual rights, and thus cannot be outlawed by a proper government.
The questioner’s follow-up questions and comments indicate that the questioner is concerned that a society in which private racism is not outlawed would be intolerable. The questioner projects various ills that would result if the laws banning private racism were abolished and asks “Is that a better society to live in?” A few observations with regard to these concerns are warranted:
First, to ask whether a society would be “better off”, one must consider the entire context. It is indubitably true that private racism tends to make a society worse—the more private racism in a society, all other things being equal, the worse off the society is. However, it is also indubitably true that governmental rights violations tend to make a society worse—the more governmental rights violations in a society, all other things being equal, the worse off the society is. When one attempts to abolish private racism by means of laws that violate rights, one is simply substituting one evil for another evil. Moreover, once one has conceded the principle that it is okay for the government to violate rights in some instances, it is inevitable that the governmental rights violations will expand. Thus, it is clear that the evil of the rights-violating laws is much worse than the evil of private racism that the laws are meant to replace. Moreover, it is simply not true that we have to accept either private racism or governmental rights violations—it is possible to remove both of these evils from our society. Private racism can be combated by means that do not violate rights—it’s called changing people’s minds—and thus if one truly wants to make the society better one would not advocate rights violating laws, but instead would advocate both abolishing of private racism through cultural change and the upholding of individual rights.
Second, the questioner’s projections of what society would be like without laws banning private racism are based on a society that is thoroughly irrational. However, no society that is as irrational as the one that the questioner is projecting from would ever institute a proper government in the first place. To put the point conversely, if a society is rational enough to institute a proper government, then private racism—which is thoroughly irrational—would not be a widespread phenomenon. Thus, for example, by the time the US has culturally progressed to the point that there is enough political support to actually abolish those portions of the civil rights laws that violate rights, private racism would not be a widespread problem. (
Third, the questioner relies upon the historical context of the pre-civil rights era US South in projecting what society would be like if private racism were not outlawed. This context, however, is a poor choice, since the pre-civil rights era US South was a mixture of private racism and rights violating governmental action. Some of the worst examples of racism the questioner cites were legally sanctioned atrocities, not private racism. Moreover, it is difficult to separate the private racism from the governmental actions in the era. Those cases of purely private racism occurring in the era were made possible by the backdrop of rights violating governmental action. Thus, one simply cannot point to the pre-civil rights era US South and say “that is what it will be like” if rights violating anti-racism laws are abolished, since much of what constituted the horror of the pre-civil rights era US South was inextricably tied to the governmental racism of the era.
As examples of the aforementioned governmental action that caused and perpetuated the private racism of the era consider the following. It was governments (local and national) that failed to protect the individual rights of slaves by sanctioning slavery and enforcing pro-slavery laws such as the Fugitive Slave Act. Moreover, in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, it was governments that failed to protect the individual rights of both Freedmen and Whites who sympathized with the Freedmen, allowing them to be robbed, assaulted, murdered, and in some cases forced back into de facto slavery despite de jure slavery being abolished. There was literally a campaign of terrorism waged against the Freedmen and their White allies in the decades that followed the Civil War, and in the name of “reconciliation” the Reconstruction-Era federal government turned a blind eye to the horrors that were committed. Further, it was the rights violating Jim Crow laws established by governments that legally enforced discrimination following the Reconstruction Era—the segregated drinking fountains, restrooms, railcars, etc. that the questioner cites were all mandated by law. None of the foregoing atrocities are examples of the “private racism” that is the subject of this question. Moreover, the instance of private racism that were not mandated by law were only possible because of the backdrop of legal racism. In a free society, if a person encounters private racism—say they are refused service in a restaurant—they are free to combat the racism by any number of actions, such as publicly decrying the restaurateur’s racism, organizing a boycott of the restaurant, picketing outside the restaurant, and so on. On the other hand, in the historical era in question, if a person (White or Black) wanted to expose instances of private racism by any of the aforementioned actions the person would be prevented from doing so by the knowledge that if they did so they and/or their families would be beaten or killed and/or their homes or businesses would be destroyed, and the government would do nothing to protect them. Thus, the rights violating governments prevented the means whereby private racism might have been combated. It is therefore no surprise that private racism continued to flourish in the South for many years; however, contrary to the questioner’s conclusion, this does not mean that the flourishing of private racism is inevitable in any society. The flourishing of private racism in the US South had complex historical causes--including governmental racism--that would not be in play in every society (and certainly are no longer in play in the US today).
It is also worth noting that even in the horrible environment of the pre-civil rights era South, and despite the enormous disincentive to change that was imposed by governmental action, the culture eventually did change, even without the civil rights laws. Merely as one example, in the infamous case of Plessey v. Ferguson, a private company (the East Louisiana Rail Co) wanted to desegregate their rail cars, and it was the state government that prevented them by law from doing so. Thus, even in the South people slowly were shedding their racism despite the legal impediments to doing so. This certainly reveals the falsity of any claim that people could never shed their racism without being forced to do so by a law—if people in the pre-civil rights era South could do so, people in an even somewhat healthy society certainly could do so. It can only be imagined how much faster private racism would have withered away in the US South if it had not been propped up by the rights violating governmental actions of the era.
The whole emphasis of this question is on race discrimination and segregation in the U.S. as a characteristic of private businesses:
Is open racism by private businesses acceptable under Objectivism?
(Underline emphasis added.)
The attempt to blame capitalism, i.e., private businesses and property owners, for racial discrimination and segregation is a classic example of the massive error and distortion of history, philosophy and economics that Ayn Rand was talking about in the following passage from FNI (p. 53):
Let them both [businessmen and intellectuals] discover the nature, the theory and the actual history of capitalism; both groups are equally ignorant of it. No other subject is hidden by so many distortions, misconceptions, misrepresentations and falsifications. Let them study the historical facts and discover that all the evils popularly ascribed to capitalism were caused, necessitated and made possible only by government controls imposed on the economy. Whenever they hear capitalism being denounced, let them check the facts and discover which of the two opposite political principles -- free trade or government controls -- was responsible for the alleged iniquities. When they hear it said that capitalism has had its chance and has failed, let them remember that what ultimately failed was a "mixed economy," that the controls were the cause of the failure, and that the way to save a country is not by making it swallow a full, "unmixed" glass of the poison which is killing it.
This FNI discussion goes on for many paragraphs explaining the importance of New Intellectuals committed to two fundamental principles (p. 55):
[These principles] are not axioms, but until a man has proved them to himself and has accepted them, he is not fit for an intellectual discussion. These two principles are: a. that emotions are not tools of cognition; b. that no man has the right to initiate the use of physical force against others.
After further elaboration of these two principles in some detail, Ayn Rand concludes (p. 58):
Those who will accept the "basic minimum" of civilization, the two principles stated above, will have made the first step toward the building of a new culture in the wide-open spaces of today's intellectual vacuum.
Another article by Ayn Rand titled, "Racism" (VOS Chap. 17), discusses racism and racial discrimination in depth. The article first denounces racism itself as "the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism," and explains why. The article then describes the actual history of racism, showing that:
Historically, racism has always risen or fallen with the rise or fall of collectivism. Collectivism holds that the individual has no rights, that his life and work belong to the group (to "society," to the tribe, the state, the nation) and that the group may sacrifice him at its own whim to its own interests. The only way to implement a doctrine of that kind is by means of brute force -- and statism has always been the political corollary of collectivism.
As examples, the article describes the racism of Nazi Germany and the persecution of racial minorities in Soviet Russia. The article then names the antidote:
There is only one antidote to racism: the philosophy of individualism and its politico-economic corollary, laissez-faire capitalism.
Capitalists seeking to profit from their business activities can do far better by trading with others without regard for irrelevant factors such as race, and the great majority of them will do so if allowed to do it. It is only government controls, such as segregation laws imposed by government (perhaps prompted in part by racist businessmen seeking to restrain racially blind competitors). The problem is the racist laws, which do not belong in a civilized society and ought to be abolished wherever they might still exist. Leave capitalists free to engage in production and trade, and the most successful ones will benefit the most by trading without regard for race.
The article describes the actual historical record in the semifree economies of the nineteenth century, where the freest countries weakened racism the most, and the more controlled economies fostered it. Where racist policies existed, they were sustained by law, by governmental force, not primarily by voluntary choices of private businessmen and property owners.
It is capitalism that gave mankind its first steps toward freedom and a rational way of life. It is capitalism that broke through national and racial barriers, by means of free trade. It is capitalism that abolished serfdom and slavery in all the civilized countries of the world. It is the capitalist North that destroyed the slavery of the agrarian-feudal South in the United States.
The article then explains how the rise of collectivism reversed that trend, and how the reversed trend has accelerated. The article highlights the Negroes (Blacks) as major victims of racial prejudice:
The persecution of Negroes in the South was and is truly disgraceful. But in the rest of the country, so long as men were free, even that problem was slowly giving way under the pressure of enlightenment and of the white men's own economic interests.
The article explains how this works in a mixed economy:
A "mixed economy" [mixture of freedom and controls] disintegrates a country into an institutionalized civil war of pressure groups, each fighting for legislative favors and special privileges at the expense of one another.
People are driven to seek protection by joining a group of some kind, the most concretely easiest of which to identify is race. The article describes the current policies of both businessmen (seeking government favors) and Negro leaders (seeking reverse discrimination and racial quotas that favor Blacks). In 1963, a major piece of legislation under consideration in Congress (passed in 1964) was the Civil Rights Act:
The "civil rights" bill, now under consideration in Congress, is another example of a gross infringement of individual rights. It is proper to forbid all discrimination in all government-owned facilities and establishments: the government has no right to discriminate against any citizens. And, by the very same principle, the government has no right to discriminate for some citizens at the expense of others. It has no right to violate the right of private property by forbidding discrimination in privately owned establishments.
The article describes that "civil rights" bill as "the worst breach of property rights in the sorry record of American history in respect to that subject" (as of 1964).
To reiterate: as evil as racism is, the initiation of physical force against others is a far worse evil -- and laissez-faire capitalism (protection of individual rights equally for all) is the only social and economic system that inherently penalizes and discourages all forms of irrationality, including racism.
answered Mar 01 '14 at 21:05
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