TAMPA, December 20, 2013 – Immediately after A&E put Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson “on hiatus,” the blogosphere exploded with reactions. Liberals decry Robertson’s alleged bigotry. Conservatives defended his right to free speech and freedom of religion.
99% of the commentary is wrong, of course. First, Robertson’s comments were not bigoted. Robertson merely quotes the Bible on homosexuality. He then says that it is not for humans to judge anyone. That is reserved for God.
You can’t be prejudiced if you don’t judge. He believes homosexuality is a sin, but nowhere does he indicate that anyone should be treated differently, either by the law or by individuals, because they are homosexual.
This has nothing to do with freedom of speech or religion, either. Those principles relate to government suppression of speech and religion. The government hasn’t threatened Robertson.
In fact, A&E’s response was the textbook libertarian answer to this kind of dispute. A&E’s management, representing the stockholders, exercised their own right to freedom of association. They have a right to terminate their business relationship with Robertson for any reason, provided it does not violate the contract they signed with him.
The other cast members have now released a statement implying they won’t do the show without Phil. The statement indicates that they are negotiating with A&E on what the future of the show may be.
It’s possible that the show will be canceled. Or, A&E might back down. Most likely, a compromise will be reached where the show goes on, Phil Robertson makes a public statement expressing regret for offending anyone, but standing by his Christian faith, and A&E welcomes him back on condition he doesn’t make public statements on this subject in the future.
Does anyone notice anything missing from these scenarios?
If you said “the government,” you’re correct. If this little media drama has proven anything so far, it is how unnecessary government is in resolving issues of racism or bigotry. The market does just fine.
It would do better if Titles II and VII of the Civil Rights Act were repealed.
Most of the Act prohibited discrimination based upon race, color, religion or national origin in either state or federal governments. There are legitimate constitutional concerns about giving the federal government these powers over the states, but even most libertarians aren’t losing much sleep. If ever there was a place to compromise strict constitutional principles, prohibiting bigotry in government is it.
Titles II and VII of the Act are another story. In those, the federal government is given power over the personal choices of the individual. Title II prohibited private business owners from discriminating in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and “all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce.” Title VII prohibited employers from so discriminating.
This redefined the very idea of private property. No longer could individuals “dispose of their persons or possessions as they saw fit,” as Locke would put it. In effect, the government made itself part owner of all private property.
One does not have to be a racist or a bigot to be concerned. The response at the time was that American culture was so deeply ingrained with prejudice, especially towards blacks, that only the government’s heavy hand could solve the problem.
There are certainly cracks in that theory. For example, if there weren’t private business owners in the south who wanted to serve blacks, then why did they have to make it illegal to do so?
Questions only libertarians think to ask.
In any case, this is 2013, not 1964. The power given to the federal government isn’t necessary now, if it ever was. The Duck Dynasty incident proves that. Voluntary contracts will resolve that dispute and consumers will reward or punish that resolution with their decisions to watch or boycott.
Like all government solutions, the Civil Rights Act has largely achieved results opposite of its intentions. Affirmative Action spawns resentment against blacks when they get jobs because of their race over more qualified applicants. There is also resentment when the black is more qualified, because the white applicant quite reasonably suspects that race was a factor, even when it wasn’t.
Check black unemployment statistics during the fifty years before and after the Act was passed. The government has defeated black unemployment about as well as it’s made health care more affordable.
The market, if left free, would be an efficient dispatcher of racism. Employers who routinely hired less qualified employees based upon their race would soon find themselves outperformed by firms that hired purely based upon ability. In business terms, racism would be rendered extinct.
The same would hold for hotels, restaurants and other private firms that serve the public, in terms of their decisions of which customers to serve.
Not convinced? Here is a wager. Repeal Titles II and VII of the Civil Rights Act and allow individuals to make personal decisions based upon whatever values they hold. In the unlikely event that someone puts up a “Whites Only” sign on a restaurant, this writer – likely the worst restaurateur on the planet – will open for business across the street the very next week. My sign will say “Everybody Welcome.”
We’ll see who is still in business a month after that.
Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.