More Thoughts on Property Rights and Sit-Ins

In one of my blog posts; I discussed property rights and the Civil Rights era sit-ins. This post is a further exploration of the subject. I said the following in the previous post:

These bills make an Orwellian use of terms like freedom. The ability to exclude people for irrational and arbitrary reasons is not an instance of liberty. Libertarians will earn the wrath of decent LGBT people everywhere without offering a solution other than state force to the problem of discrimination. We have a chance to show that our individualist principles apply to persecuted minorities as much as non-minorities. It’s not something to botch.

Thomas L. Knapp responded with:

Not sure what you mean by “exclude.”

If I don’t want to bake a cake for you, it doesn’t matter what my reasons are. You don’t own me. I own me. I get to decide whether or not I bake a cake for you — and that decision IS an instance of liberty.

Knapp and I don’t disagree about the importance of personal freedom. I tend not to couch it in terms of ownership, but I understand the gist of it. I do however disagree with him on this one. Power is still being exercised when you deny someone a service for irrational bigoted reasons. It’s not a form of power based on physical violence, but it still counts as such. It represents social ostracism and economic reward/punishment. The latter involves the control of economic resources and selective distribution of them to effect changes in the character or behavior of another. Does this mean we should combat it with physical force? Not at all. There is still the principle of proportionality to consider. Non-violent controlling behavior is ethically met with non-violent means. Of course, if people violently assault peaceful sit in protesters they are entitled to use violence in self-defense.

Another point I made worth revisiting was:

What about the issues of private property rights and trespass? One way to approach that question is through contextual or dialectical libertarian methodology. Private property rights are contextual and relate to occupancy or use. They are one value among others to consider in assessing the morality of an action. In the context of bigots irrationally excluding people from spaces otherwise open to the public, the value of private property rights is trumped by the need for social inclusion.

Why does one have to choose between these two particular values? The sit-iners are not engaged in any aggressively violent actions, so they aren’t violating libertarian principle. As far as private property rights go, there isn’t any violent destruction of property involved. Social inclusion can be fought for through non-violent social activism. The practicality of which was shown by the Civil Rights Movement. In other words: these values are not mutually exclusive. They both serve as supports for genuine freedom.

If someone did destroy property during the course of a sit-down protest, we could still show sympathy and forgive them. This is dictated by the context of their actions. We could even socially pressure the property owner to do the same. A court could refuse to hear a restitution claim. It would be cruel to target the racially oppressed for prosecution in this context.

One final thing is left to address. Does this mean that all uses of coercion to defend property are unjust? Not at all. If a criminal gang tries to take your food, it’s perfectly acceptable for you to use force to defend it. This is due to the rationality of the action. As Ayn Rand could tell you, ethics and rationality run together. Let us work to make ethical rationality a reality.

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