Monday, July 9, 2018

Jim Crow and Property Rights

Adam Bates recently asked his libertarian Facebook followers (like me!) this series of questions:

Here was my response:

“No; it does not compel me to believe that the whites battering them were "the good guys," for just the reason you mentioned: we can't evaluate individual rights transgressions in isolation from their broader historical context.

But, in our defense, this question makes for a poor referendum on how "well-suited" libertarianism is to actual society for the same reason: we can't evaluate ideologies by the outcome they produce if applied *only to one isolated fragment* of the broader historical context, either.

We feel strongly that the sit-ins were justified in this case because we sympathize with the victims of the Jim Crow South generally - and as you surely know, Jim Crow was an institution created, entrenched, and exacerbated by an overactive state. The STATE mandated segregation in all schools and public places, often including restaurants (such that some store owners lacked the option to integrate if they even wanted to); the STATE denied blacks the right to vote with poll taxes and quizzes and intimidation; the STATE banned blacks from attending college or marrying who they pleased; the STATE declined to prosecute the roving mobs of Klansmen who lynched blacks with impunity (and sometimes sent their policemen to participate in the mobs directly).

I get why you asked this, because it's important to shake inflexible AnCaps out of their theoretical bubble. But wondering why leftists don’t “beat us over the head with this” implies that Jim Crow persisted because of an enfeebled, passive state hamstrung in it's ability to check the racist excesses of private property owners - which is simply a revisionist fairy tale. You can't romanticize and exaggerate the state's role in ending it, without acknowledging the state's role in causing it. We might also side with a Jew refusing to be evicted from a German's private business in 1936 - but no sensible person would conclude that the overarching lesson from Nazi Germany is that we need a more powerful government to stop private citizens from discriminating!

The bottom line is that had the governments of the American south adhered to a consistent libertarian ideology from 1865-1965, black southerners would have been treated WAY better than they actually wound up being treated. They would not have been equals, because libertarianism is not a panacea for all social ailments and doesn't pretend to be. But if you're trying to refute libertarianism, it's not enough to point out that some injustice would persist in a libertarian world (absent concurrent and complementary social movements); you also have to demonstrate that the cops and officials comprising your proposed governing body would be driven by a nobler moral makeup than the people they governed. Historically speaking, those occasions are few and far between.

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