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In the essay on racism in VOS rand mentions that public institutions and government agencies should not discriminate against or on behalf of individuals. In her talk of private property however she says that government should not attempt to prevent private racism on private establishments and that a man’s rights are not violated by a private individual’s refusal to deal with him. My question is how are his rights not violated if the owner discriminates against him?

asked Dec 27 '10 at 01:15

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edited Dec 27 '10 at 19:10

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Greg Perkins ♦♦

Yes, discrimination in private establishments is often immoral. It is immoral when it is irrational and unjust, attributing character qualities and awarding esteem or condemnation based on unchosen, superficial characteristics such as skin color or sex, rather than what the individuals being evaluated are responsible for choosing and doing. But note that while certainly immoral in such cases, this is not a matter of a rights violation, as implied when you ask how someone's "rights [are] not violated if the owner discriminates against him." Discrimination in nongovernmental affairs is a matter of virtue, not a matter of rights, and these must not be confused: all rights violations are deeply immoral, but not all immoral actions are rights violations -- these are qualitatively different, and consequently the proper response to each is qualitatively different.

Suppose you discover Joe told a baldfaced lie to impress you or hide his being a louse -- he is clearly immoral but has not violated your rights because he hasn't initiated the use of physical force against you, coercing you to act against your will, like in a holdup or a case of fraud. Your proper response -- the one which is an expression of the virtue of justice -- is to shun him, and to maybe even advertise why you are shunning him if he is vile enough to warrant it. It would be wrong to, say, haul off and slug him in retribution, as that response would be qualitatively worse than his "mere" immorality: that would be an initiation of physical force, a violation of rights. Passing a law to jail liars would be the rights-violating equivalent of punching Joe in the face for telling a whopper.

In general, any law against "mere" immorality would itself constitute a systematic, institutionalized violation of rights, something which turns the entire purpose of government on its head. That has to be absolutely avoided if we are to have a rights-respecting society, the sort of society conducive to human flourishing. The principle to keep in mind is: A proper government is the guardian of rights -- not of truth and virtue. In protecting rights, it preserves the conditions required for the pursuit of truth and virtue, of life and happiness.

answered Dec 29 '10 at 15:49

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Greg Perkins ♦♦

edited Dec 29 '10 at 19:49

The question asks, regarding a victim of racial discrimination, "My question is how are his rights not violated if the owner [of a private establishment] discriminates against him?"

The victim's rights are not violated in that case because he has no right (speaking legally, not morally) to participate in a trade with anyone who is not willing to trade with him, regardless of the reasons for refusing to trade. He has no right to have physical force initiated against others for his benefit. The initiation of physical force against others is morally evil, in the Objectivist view, and retaliatory physical force is morally justified only in response to the initiation of physical force. Mere refusal to trade does not constitute an initiation of physical force, no matter how otherwise irrational the refusal to trade might be.

One cannot violate a right that doesn't exist.

Over time, a free market will penalize racists economically; capitalism gradually cures racism. Compounding the immorality of racism by adding the worse immorality of initiatory physical force solves nothing.

answered Dec 27 '10 at 04:04

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Ideas for Life ♦

I'm confused by "because he has no 'right' (speaking legally, not morally)". It seems he has no right (speaking morally); he could have some might in some jurisdictions (speaking legally).

(Dec 28 '10 at 12:09) sector7agent ♦ sector7agent's gravatar image

Two questions: "Is discrimination in private establishments immoral?" and "... how are his rights not violated if the owner [of a private establishment] discriminates against him?" In violating rights (in this case none are) someone acts immorally and--in a rights-respecting society--criminally. The first question asks about morality; the second about criminality.

Discrimination is essential to life. We must discriminate between food and poison to live. Discrimination based upon nonessentials does not support life; it is noise. Selecting food and rejecting poison based upon color could leave one starving with a supply of ripe tomatoes or satied in a field of poison ivy. Should a shop owner be free to discriminate as he sees fit with his property? Of course, to force him otherwise would be criminal (in a rights respecting society). If he discriminates in a way that damages his chances for survival, he is immoral.

answered Dec 28 '10 at 12:31

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sector7agent ♦

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Asked: Dec 27 '10 at 01:15

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Last updated: Dec 29 '10 at 19:49