No Bigots, No Christians, No Dogs

Libertarians are an argumentative bunch, so I shall await possible contradiction to this statement: there is only one libertarian position to take with regard a particular, high-profile legal battle, and that is to support the right of the Christian B&B owners to turn away the custom of the gay couple, due to the fact that it is their business and their private property. As such, the law which has been used to punish them is unjust and contrary to liberty.

In a free society, business transactions take place voluntarily between two parties. If one party does not wish to undertake business with the other, they have every right to abstain from the transaction.  As customers, we do this all the time by frequenting the businesses which have treated us well in the past and avoiding those which have not.  Businesses also – in a free society – are within their rights to abstain from serving potential customers for whatever reason they choose.  The laws which violate this principle, by prohibiting some grounds for discrimination are an attack on fundamental property rights, notwithstanding the good intentions which inspired them, nor the fact that most reasonable people would not seek to discriminate in such ways that fall foul of the law.

As usual, such laws are selectively enforced. This is partly due to the fact that they do not rest on clear principles, but rather the necessarily-vague notion of ‘reasonableness’, as interpreted by our somewhat inconsistent judiciary. Therefore, the women-only establishment, or indeed the exclusively-gay hotel, escape legal action, even though the exact same arguments which have been used against the Christian B&B owners can be made.

The notion that a law should be respected even when it is contrary to justice is not one that a moral individual can subscribe to. Accepting that there may be consequences for breaking an unjust law is one thing. This is merely facing reality, but, if we are moral individuals, we may be obliged by our conscience to defy an unjust law. I am sure that my dear readers are able to furnish their own examples of unjust laws from the past if not the present, but let us consider a particular one which is somewhat germane to the discussion: the prohibition of homosexual acts between consenting adults.  Are there any amongst the gay rights lobby, who have attacked the Christian couple, who would agree that that old law should have been obeyed without question whilst it was in operation? In fact there are many countries where such a law is still in operation today, and I very much doubt that Stonewall is exhorting homosexuals in those countries to obey.

The old principle of the Common Law was that the law is discovered, not legislated into existence. It was also said that the law is just, and if it aint just, then it aint the law. Such high-minded principles will not protect you from the prosecution of unjust laws, but it should serve to remind us that the law is only a means to an end, and that end is justice.

If you are going to defend private property rights, it is likely that you will be confronted with something along the lines of: “I suppose you think that people should be able to put signs up saying; ‘No Irish, no Blacks, no dogs’, just like in the bad old days?”

© Daniel X. O’Neil

The honest, consistent answer is of course; Yes. No doubt, you will then need to run through various clarifying statements, expressing your personal disapproval of such exclusions, your belief that such exclusions would be very rare in this day and age, and that the businesses which applied such exclusions would be punished in the market place, by the loss of trade, not only from the potential customers explicitly excluded, but by many more people who would choose to boycott the business. The loss which such a business would sustain would be matched by a gain by other, more inclusive businesses. This is certainly the case with the gay couple, with rival businesses coming forward to offer the gay couple accommodation.

However, the confusion between those two distinct entities, society and state, is such that many people cannot conceive that it is enough for society to punish such a business, through boycotting and stigmatisation, both of which are non-violent, so the call goes up for the force of the state to be brought to bear on such transgressors.

  27 comments for “No Bigots, No Christians, No Dogs

  1. Paul Marks
    Oct 21, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    There is a basic principle here – is property used for a business purpose “public” (in the sense of “state”) or private?

    Our society appears to be heading the way of the late Roman Empire (although with a weird Frankfurt School of “cultural” Marxism “Political Correctness” twist) – where any property used for a business purpose became subject to state regulation (hence such doctrines as “Common Carrier” and inn keepers not being allowed to turn anyone away).

    Modern “anti discrimination” doctrine (oddly enough) depends on this doctrine of late Roman law – which has gone into non Roman law systems also.

    I agree with the post – a libertarian most oppose this doctrine.

    If “liberty” does not apply to property used for a business purpose then liberty (civil society) will wither and die.

  2. Oct 21, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    I’ve bumped you to the features slot and added an apropos image.

    The point here is surely that people who have an issue with another group of people – for any reason – are surely best off staying away anyway. If there are good reasons they should not have a problem then the majority will work that out and self-imposed financial destitution will resolve the problem over the course of a lifetime. Minorities comissioning the force of law to help them out are playing it short-range.

  3. Richard Carey
    Oct 21, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    Ta for the promotion, Simon.

    “Minorities comissioning the force of law to help them out are playing it short-range.”

    What is worse is when majorities commission the force of law to impose conformity. As I noted above, the oft-repeated view is thus (from the Guardian CiF):

    “If the B&B owners Susanne and Mike Wilkinson are so appalled by the implications of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, then perhaps they should reconsider their future in the hospitality industry.”

    • Oct 22, 2012 at 8:22 am

      Interesting how the Act (force of law) is playing the same role as boycott in our view. Do the CiF people not know the difference between force and persuasion? Oh…

  4. Paul Marks
    Oct 21, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    I do not go on to the Guardian site (any increase in traffic, even a message saying what idiots they are, is commercially useful to them).

    As for their position.

    I see, so a business should not be allowed to refuse any customer?

    So the Guardian newspaper should not be be allowed to refuse to carry paid advertisements (paid for at their standard rate) in support of the idea all black human beings be gassed to death?

  5. Richard Carey
    Oct 21, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    I think they may be able to evade that particular reductio ad absurdum!

  6. Paul Marks
    Oct 21, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    Only by saying “we do not do business with racists”.

    Which is just the same as the Christian couple saying “we do not business with homosexualists – i.e. people who engage in homosexual acts”.

    “But expressing racist opinions is illegal”.

    And homosexual acts used to be illegal.

    Both statures are clearly absurd.

    As for the Guardian and Guardian folk…

    They do not believe in private property – at least not for “the rich”.

    They (the editor and Polly T. and so on) are rich.

    Therefore, by their own arguments, they should be robbed – and, if they resist robbery, they should be murdered (Social Justice).

    One day their own “Occupy” friends will turn on them.

  7. Paul Marks
    Oct 21, 2012 at 7:25 pm


  8. Richard Carey
    Oct 21, 2012 at 8:12 pm


    OT, but I read this the other day and thought of you:

    ‘In 1913 we really believed that honesty was the best policy, felt a certain pride in the village blacksmith who looked the whole world in the face, and repeated with conviction the injunction “neither a borrower nor a lender be.” By 1936 we have atrophied honesty with a moral narcotic labelled “social justice,” we decline to look into any face unless it is made up with legislative lipstick, and all, being both borrowers and lenders, have forgotten the meaning and the obligations of debt.”

    Sir Ernest Benn – ‘Modern Government’; 1936; p 163

  9. Paul Marks
    Oct 21, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    One can argue over details but, yes, Sir Ernest Benn (one the greats) was correct.

    P.E. Moore (T.S. Eliot’s tutor – although they did not agree artistically) visited Britain in teh 1930s.

    At first he loved it here – it was so restful, rather than the brutal ideological struggle of New Dealers versus Liberty League types back home.

    But then it hit him – even the people who were supposed to believe in liberty in Britain (the anti socialists) did not really believe it.

    It was as if every Republican back home was a “Me To” Republican – all supporting every sort of “social reform”. If there had been no pro freedom Republicans at all (and no pro freedom Democrats – such as Al Smith) then American politics would have been restfull also.

    Of course the above is over egging the pudding – there were some Conservatives and Liberals who actually wanted lower taxes (not ever higher taxes) and so on. But the leading lights were university trained “social reformers” – taught to see history as a sort of …..

    “At first there was darkness – and then government said LET THERE BE LIGHT”.

    Only a few years later F.A. Hayek was to dedicate his book the “Road To Serfdom” to the “Socialists of all parties”.

    Remember that – when someone says “we should all work together” or “there should be cross party coperation” they are talking about the destruction of liberty.

    And also – once the left has a stranglehold on education, with every advance of statism being presented as a “social reform”, then eventually they get policy by the throat also.

    • Richard Carey
      Oct 22, 2012 at 12:16 am

      Well, they’ve had policy by the throat for 100 years, and people like Lloyd George and Churchill deserve a large measure of blame for embracing large sections of the socialist agenda.

      • Paul Marks
        Oct 22, 2012 at 4:30 pm

        D.L.G. certainly – he was terrible his entire life.

        And the young Churchill was rather bad also – welfare, eugenics and so on.

        After the First World War he seemed to grow up and give up a lot of fashionable notions. Although he never freed himself from them entirely.

  10. Tim Carpenter
    Oct 22, 2012 at 12:55 am

    There is one small dimension – the operators should be clear about who they will turn away at the time of booking, not when people front up and then have to find alternatives.

    It is a minor point, however.

  11. Sam Swann
    Oct 22, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    Richard, thank you for your refreshing clarity over this troublesome legal development.

    I fully agree that the only consistent libertarian position is to oppose any attempts by external force to interfere in the natural rights of contract and private property.

    Sadly, Its another one of those areas the mainstream won’t touch with a barge pole.

    A few years ago, Rand Paul was voicing his (rightful) opposition to Section 10 of the Civil Rights Act 1964, i.e. on the so-called “public accommodation” clauses. All it took was a shallow interview from Rachel Maddow to shut him up.

    • Richard Carey
      Oct 22, 2012 at 3:46 pm

      Thanks. Maybe you should cover the issue in your book 🙂

  12. Paul Marks
    Oct 22, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    It was not just Rachel Maddow – it was the entire media who tried to twist Rand Paul’s words out of context. Indeed twist his words 180 degrees to pretend that Rand Paul was a racist.

    Sadly this stuff is not confined to racism or to the msm – I have been hit by this “take words out context and twist the meaning 180 degrees” stuff on another site (and a supposdely “libertarian” one at that).

    Rand Paul did indeed retreat and I did not – but then Rand Paul wanted to be a United States Senator (not really on the cards for me).

    It is a calculation someone in his position has to make. “Do I spend my time explaining myself – and lose the election. Or do I say 1964-Act-is-wonderful and win – and then fight for less government spending and so on”.

    In his place I might have made the same choice.

    A private citizen can say anything we like (the worst that can happen to me is that I go to prison on some trumped up charge). Loose words from Rand Paul could cost the Republic a chance to avoid bankruptcy – and total breakdown.

    Like Pope Pius during World War II (who idiots attack for not making speeches denouncing the National Socialists – which would have given them a perfect excuse to march into Church property where Pius was hiding thousands of Jews) public figures do not have the same “tell the truth and f…. the consequences” freedom that we have.

    • Sam Swann
      Oct 22, 2012 at 8:00 pm

      Fair comments Paul.

      It wasn’t so much Rand Paul I was denouncing as the unthinking and reactionary political culture libertarians such as us occupy (which you eloquently allude to). As you say, Paul had little choice but to back down on his previous statements to stand any chance of political office.

      Perhaps the lesson here is to be courageous in our convictions. To state the case against any form of private anti-discrimination laws openly, rationally and most of all calmly, hoping to appeal to people’s innate sense of reason (rather than ignite their emotions). The only exception being when to do so would obviously be foolish or unlikely to advance the cause.

      Ultimately, we have the invisible forces of natural law and morality on our side.

      • Richard Carey
        Oct 22, 2012 at 10:46 pm

        I think you have to stick to your guns on controversial issues. You probably get more respect for that than equivocating. A lot of people don’t think deeply about what is being said, but pay attention to the honesty and forthrightness of the speaker.

        For a good example of truth struggling to make itself heard in the face of studied, established ignorance, check out Ron Paul trying to deal with a point about the Civil War (or should I say the War To Prevent Southern Independence?):

        • Sam Swann
          Oct 22, 2012 at 11:10 pm

          Agreed. Thanks, I’ll enjoy watching this.

        • Paul Marks
          Oct 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm

          Richard – I manage to anger both sides on the American Civil War matter. In that I dislike Lincoln (a Henry Clay Whig – who seems to have had little interest in the slavery issue till 1854, although his mother was from a strongly anti slavery church), but I dislike Jefferson Davis (and the Conferates) even more. What a lot of people miss (especially if their historical sources trace back to that sack of sh.. Woodrow Wilson, or to Jefferson Davis’ self serving biography which is a total lie fest) is that the Confederates were NOT fighting for limited government (not even a limited Federal government).

          In most major policies Jefferson Davis and co were more (yes more) statist than Lincoln was – they really were vile. And Davis and co intended that the new Confederate government be more centralised than the United States government had been.

          Of course my man at the Republican Convention of 1860, Salmon P. Chase, got totally defeated by Lincoln. Salmon P. Chase was hardly perfect either – but he was a lot better than Lincoln (let alone Jefferson Davis and co).

          As for sticking to one’s guns.

          Horses for courses Richard.

          I am a nobody – I can say anything that I feel like (the worst that can happen is that I get sent to prison).

          But Rand Paul can damage the Republic – he can undermine any chance of reduceing govenment spending if he shot his mouth off (like errr…. ME).

          So Rand Paul has the legal right to speak his mind – but not the moral mind. Not if he wants to do good.

          The rules of Calvin Coolidge spring to mind.

          Speak only when you need to speak, and say only what you need to say – on the specific matter you wish to influence.

          Contrary to the myth “silent Cal” could speak and did speak (he made speeches and so on). But every word was thought about in advance.

          “Engage brain – before opening mouth”.

          • Richard Carey
            Oct 24, 2012 at 1:04 am

            ” I manage to anger both sides on the American Civil War matter.”

            Through necromancy? Stonewall Jackson’s the man..

            The thing about that Ron Paul clip above, is that he is actually in agreement with the questioners, in that Lincoln fought the war to preserve the union, not to free the slaves.

  13. Lucian
    Oct 23, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Good article. I agree that libertarians should clearly speak up for the right of business owners to decide who to sell to without being subjected to violence if an unpopular decision is made. (I think whites in the US South were beaten up if they dared to sell to ex-slaves.) We should also highlight the right of consumers to peacefully publicise and boycott business owners when the consumers disagree with those decisions.

    • Paul Marks
      Oct 23, 2012 at 3:55 pm

      And worse than that Lucian. And it was not just selling to ex slaves. The KKK might kill you if you sold to northern “Big Business”. The KKK were also strongly into “gun control” (for free blacks).

      Firearms were vital – for example Condi Rice would not be in this world (no attacks on neocons please people – I do not agree with them either, but there is a time and a place) had her father (with his rifle) not scared away some Klan people who came to burn down the house. And some of her childhood friends were murdered in the Birmingham Alabama church bombing (the Klan did not even respect Church property).

      Even in the 20th century the KKK were a strongly Progressive movement (which is why Woodrow Wilson and co suppported them – and were supported by them). This has all gone down the Memory Hole. In spite of the efforts of Jonah Goldberg (“Liberal Fascism”) to bring it to public attention.

      Government spending?

      Democrat segregationists such as Governor Wallace in Alabama and Lestor Maddox in Georgia (supported in 1966 by a young James Earl Carter) were the wildest big spending, anti big business, populists you could think of.

      Yet the official history books present the Klan (and so on) as “conservative” limited govenment types.

      It is all a wild lie.

      Even the President of the United States Senate a couple of years ago was the ex head of the West Virginia Klan.

      But he was a wild spending Democrat (who attacked fiscal conservatives as “white niggers”) so the media did not care.

  14. Paul Marks
    Oct 24, 2012 at 9:48 am

    Good point Richard – I do tend to speak about the past in the present tense. For once it is not my lack of knowledge of grammar that is at fault – I tend to think about the past in the present tense.

    As for the American Civil War – I believe that it really started in “Bleeding Kansas” long before Lincoln, And had Lincoln not been elected the war would have become general anyway.

    The Southern political elite (not men like General “Stonewall” Jackson – who, in some ways, had more in common with his foes than with his own political masters) were determined to expand into the West – not that this can be seen in that tissue of lies that is the autobiography by Jefferson Davis.

    So even if the States who wanted to leave the Union had been allowed to do so – war (total war) would have happened in any case.

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