On Tuesday evening I attended a talk by Dr. Jan Lester entitled “A Critical Commentary on the Zwolinski 2013 ‘Libertarianism and Liberty’ Essays on libertarianism.org.” It was hosted by the Libertarian Alliance at the Institute of Education in London. In itself it was an interesting talk, although it was largely an argument by one self-declared libertarian that another self-declared libertarian does not have a theory of freedom or liberty. (This could be compared to a lecture by a member of Workers’ Power claiming that the Socialist Workers Party does not understand Marxism.) A video of the talk can be seen here.
Like many political meetings across the political spectrum – and I have attended many such gatherings – the evening ended with a visit to the bar. In the last year I have attended a few meetings by the Libertarian Alliance and the same faces turn up.
I was quite shocked by the brazenly racist comments made by some of the people in the bar.
As examples, I heard black people referred to as “macaroons” – where the term macaroons was explained as a derivative of “coons.” One of the attendees (who is white) mentioned that he was once, physically assaulted for no reason by a black man. He concluded from this that this was evidence of “a race war.”
Libertarians would view it as a violation of the liberty of a racist to prevent him from expressing racist views. People have the right, in libertarian theory, to be racist. Libertarians are in favour of free speech and would be against any laws that would make the expression of a racist view illegal. A libertarian would also permit a company to have a sign on its door saying “No black people admitted.” Likewise a company would be permitted to advertise for jobs saying “It is our company policy not to employ black people.”
This might be shocking to some but it is important to understand what libertarianism is about. And what it is about is liberty. According to the libertarian conception of justice, there is justice if everyone acts within his rights. As a black person has no right to be employed by a company, he has not been wronged if a company will not offer him a job. A black person might be offended if a company does not offer him a job – but he has no right not to be offended. This is what libertarians think.
But just because libertarians would permit racist views and racist employment practices in the private sector, it does not necessarily follow that they either approve of or encourage racism. As a comparison, libertarians are also in favour of repealing any laws that make drugs or guns illegal – but that does not mean to say that they wish to start injecting heroin or shooting people. In fact, racism as a concept would be an anathema to many libertarians qua libertarians for the following reason: libertarians champion the individual, not the collective. Ayn Rand (The Virtue of Selfishness, [Signet, 1964], pp.147-48) expressed it as follows:
Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to man’s genetic lineage – the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors…..
Just as there is no such thing as a collective or racial mind, so there is no such thing as a collective or racial achievement. There are only individual minds and individual achievements – and a culture is not the anonymous product of undifferentiated masses, but the sum of the intellectual achievements of individual men.
Tuesday night’s meeting was not the first Libertarian Alliance meeting I have attended where I joined people in the bar after the talk and heard racist views expressed. And quite frankly I find it disgusting.