What is the libertarian position on discrimination?

From Libertarian FAQ

Table of contents

Conceptual clarification

According to Dictionary.com (http://dictionary.com) there are two main uses of the term 'discrimination':

1) The ability or power to see or make fine distinctions; discernment.

2) Treatment or consideration based on class or category rather than individual merit; partiality or prejudice: racial discrimination; discrimination against foreigners.

The first meaning hardly provokes any controversy: when I discrminate between Persian and Chinese rugs, it just means that I have a well developed taste in rugs and am able to see subtle differences between the two types and prefer one over the other.

But when I say that I trust Chinese people whereas I don't trust Persian people (inhabitants of Iran) or muslims or Arabs or blacks or women and so on, then things are different: I treat individual people based on the ethnic/racial/religious class of people they belong to. This many people find troubling and this is how we understand 'discrimination' in the remainder of this article.


The morality of discrimination and anti-discrimination

Discrimination is generally seen as a bad thing: you don't look at the individual person, but at the class or category he belongs to and the prejudices you have against that group. But there are millions of bad things, so there is no a priori reason for any government to make laws against discrimination.

The question is: should it be forbidden? Should force be used to stop it? Here libertarians using the non-aggression principle say no: I am not initiating physical aggression against a person's life, property or liberty when I discriminate them.

This does not mean that libertarians endorse discrimination: many will find people who discriminate against blacks/women/whites and so on morally reprehensible, and libertarians may try to persuade the person who is discriminating to see things differently, or when that fails to shun him and persuade others to shun him. So while physical punishment against discrimination is not allowed according to libertarians, social punishment is allowed.

When a government does use (the threat of) force against discriminating people, businesses and so on, libertarians disapprove of this. Not only because governments use force against people who have not initiated aggression against others, but also because there are serious side-effects of such a policy: racial tensions may grow because people are forced to live with each other for example.

Moreover, when governments start to use so-called positive discrimination, denying the rights of some people because they belong to some politically unpopular group to the benefit of people from politically popular groups, libertarians are up in arms. This is so because while according to many libertarians private individuals and businesses may do with their body and property as they like and thus may discriminate against others, governments are not allowed to discriminate: everybody should have the same basic rights and should be treated equally by governments.

What is the situation like now?



What would the libertarian alternative look like

The key element is that no man, organisation or government can force you to interact with people you don't like. So, most Libertarians I know don't like discrimination, there's no use in banning it.

In a free world there is freedom of association. This means you are free to interact with any human being you might like. For instance, you can choose to marry a woman, or a man. Being free to choose wich people you'd like to have arround you also creates the possibility of choosing which people you don't like in your surroundings. Young people probably prefer to stay away from senile elderly people, and vice versa. Is this discrimination of age? And should it be illegal? Of course not.

In a Libertarian world there's one thing assured: you can do with your belongings whatever you want. So if you don't allow Black people on your land, that's your decision. Just like you don't tolerate drunk people, nasty kids or stepmothers on your property. (KW)