Yet More on the Book of Errors Titled “Democracy in Chains”

by Don Boudreaux on August 2, 2017

in Legal Issues, Myths and Fallacies, Philosophy of Freedom, Virginia Political Economy

In a follow-up to his devastating review of Democracy in Chains, Brian Doherty further reveals just how stuffed that book is with inexcusable factual errors, unjustified leaps of logic, and baseless innuendo. A slice:

That strong free-market policies don’t currently reign in the American public is exactly why an intellectual movement she considers sneaky and evil arose to try to convince Americans both public and elite that liberty is the path to prosperity and peace. It is not destroying democracy to try to shape public discourse, even if MacLean doesn’t like the way libertarians are trying to shape it.

And what’s with Brad DeLong?  He infers – as does MacLean, without evidence – that Jim Buchanan’s and Warren Nutter’s late-1950s opposition to forced school integration in Virginia means that Buchanan and Nutter were racists (and that Nancy MacLean is therefore correct to insist that racism lies at the core of libertarianism).  In the comments, George Selgin and David Bernstein do a stand-up job standing up to DeLong’s poor logic.

Relying in part on the flawed Washington Post op-ed by Michael Chwe (who himself doesn’t wish to be obliged to associate with certain kinds of people!), DeLong relays this quotation from Buchanan and Nutter:

We believe every individual should be free to associate with persons of his own choosing. We therefore disapprove of both involuntary (or coercive) segregation and involuntary integration.

From this quotation, DeLong pretends to divine the knowledge that Buchanan and Nutter were racists.

So I’ve a question for Brad DeLong and others who believe that racism necessarily, or likely, motivates the libertarian’s wish that the state play no role in forcing people to associate with each other or in forcibly preventing people from associating with each other: Are my many openly gay libertarian friends who oppose state efforts to force bakers to bake wedding cakes for same-sex marriages homophobic?

I share with nearly all libertarians what I understand to be Richard Epstein’s view, which is this: government institutions must be color-blind (and sexual-preference blind, and gender blind), but the state has no business interfering with any individual’s private choices – including commercial choices – of those with whom that individual will and will not associate.  I believe, for example, that privately owned restaurants should have the legal right to exclude whomever they wish from their premises and for whatever reasons they choose.  That is, I believe that a racist restaurant owner ought to be free to admit into his restaurant – as customers or as workers or as both – only whites (or only blacks, or only Norwegians).  I would ethically disapprove of any such restaurant and I’d never think to work or to dine at such a place.  But I’m not so arrogant as to elevate all of my ethical principles into legislation that is enforced at gunpoint.

Freedom is meaningless if it means the freedom to do only that which is ethically approved by a majority or by those who currently hold government power.  In my view – which, I believe, is pretty close to the view of most libertarians (including libertarians who are black, female, gay, handicapped, old, or foreign) – all peaceful activities among consenting adults should be accorded a very high presumption of legal legitimacy if not ethical legitimacy.  Initiating coercion against others is what should trigger the use of retaliatory force; being a peaceful ass or buffoon – however objectionable – ought not trigger retaliatory force.  One may legitimately disagree with this libertarian position, but it is a mistake to thereby conclude that those of us who hold this position do so because we’re racists.  In fact, we hold this position because we’re libertarian.


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