Home » Political Theory » Are Civil Rights the Achilles Heel of Libertarianism?

Are Civil Rights the Achilles Heel of Libertarianism?

People are stupid. This observation is neither new nor groundbreaking, but it bears remembering. In a series of interactions with different people, I have come to realize that many people cannot get on board with libertarianism or cannot accept it because they think libertarianism does not protect people’s civil rights. Bah humbug, this frustrates me greatly.

Expectations are a powerful thing, and in this case people have been led to expect too much. They confuse civil rights for rights. Civil rights are rights that protect you from government (and let us not forget that government exists to secure our rights, rights like life, liberty, and property). The right to liberty means that we have the right to do whatever we like, but with the proviso that we cannot use our liberty to violate someone else’s rights. So we do have the right to be bigots, we do have the right to be terrible people, just as we have the right to ignore the bigots or try to change their behavior or exclude them from our lives. Like I said, we all have the right to life, liberty, and property. The right to never be inconvenienced or encounter contemptible people is not among our rights.

We have the right to swing our fists, but anti-discrimination legislation is saying that others have no right to swing their fists for fear of potentially hitting someone’s nose.

As a side note: discrimination purely on racial or gender grounds is wrong and I abhor it and would admonish anyone who supports it, but discrimination in general is not wrong. It is wrong to assume that all discrimination is motivated by prejudice when in fact most discrimination (which we exercise every day) is simply an expression of our values. We value our safety, so we lock our doors at night; that is discrimination (except, for some reason, no one minds when we discriminate against criminals). It is for this very reason that government legislating against discrimination is wrong; because it is an expression of our values which should be sacrosanct (from government at least, society is always free to ridicule, challenge, or disagree over values).

I will readily admit that in the past, America came nowhere close to honoring the civil rights of minorities. The key words there are in the past. Those days are over. Today, the remedies taken by government (necessary at the time though they were) have evolved from righting wrongs to creating wrongs by, in essence, creating preferential treatment for minorities and women. True equality means no special treatment, neither good nor bad.

Liberals irritate me greatly me for many reasons, but one of the reasons is that they never seem to be able to come to terms with the fact that they fought the battle against injustice, and they won! The battle is over, people by and large do not discriminate on race or gender anymore, but yet liberals continue to want to fight the battle, convinced that the moment government protections are removed, people will revert to their old ways and minorities will yet again be plunged into the dark pit from which they have been lifted over the past half century.  They are like the communist revolutionaries who, despite having overthrown the old orders, insist on “we must continue the revolution comrade!”

What people are asking for is government intervention to protect them from the assholes in the world. While dealing with assholes is never pleasant, is it worth creating the precedent of curbing the rights of some for the benefit of others? Libertarians respond with a firm “no”. For while the objectives of government intervention are today noble and desired, there is no reason to believe that will be the case tomorrow.

-SL

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1 Comment

  1. Ray Plenty says:

    People don’t realize that discrimination is the core of liberty. Those who bemoan about discrimination would revolt if they were forced to never be able to discriminate again. Think of all the things that we choose while rejecting other choices. We choose our friends, spouse, car, neighborhood, music, clothing, food, occupation, etc. If I’m eating steak tonight it’s because I discriminated against chicken. If I choose to wear a black shirt I discriminated against the white. It’s amazing that some people want government to do the choosing.

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