Dissecting Hobby Lobby

I’m neither a Christian, nor religious in any of the other ways that one might be. I find contraception, abortion and all kinds of sexual activities between consenting adults to be completely unobjectionable and well within the rights of any individual who chooses one or all of these things.

Nevertheless, as a free market anarchist opposed in principle to aggressive interference with nonviolent, personal decisions, I can’t find a justification for the state to force an employer to foot the bill for contraception (or for anything at all). It matters not what the text of the Affordable Care Act dictates, nor what constitutional precedent seems to demand of that Act. Using the arbitrary force of a government edict to prescribe the terms of agreements between individuals is never legitimate or conscionable.

Arguably, however, state intervention has both limited access to contraception and consolidated market power in fewer hands, precluding opportunities for self-employment and driving people into a coerced dependence on large corporations — whether “closely held” or not. Perhaps, given such economic conditions, we as anarchists ought to see mandates such as the one at issue in Hobby Lobby as a move in the right direction, correcting an injustice created by conditions of corporate dominance in the American economy. But to the extent that this is how we contemplate such mandates, we are forced to grapple with the question of where to draw the line, determining just when we find it permissible to sanction government coercion in this way. And this, it turns out, is not such an easy question.

Unless as libertarians we continue to default to opposition in the face of new coercive mandates, regulations, and other controls, we find ourselves adrift in the muddle of balancing calculations for which we are constantly arraigning statist planners, attempting the impossible task of creating a more free society through statutory reforms and legal adjustments. Our focus must always be on opposing economic intervention, not concocting clever apologias for the kinds of interventions we feel might be less repellent or even potentially advantageous to the victims of primary interventions.

For someone with liberal, tolerant social values, defending Hobby Lobby is an odious and unpalatable position. Anything approximating the society that libertarians envision would find mere employees transformed into truly free individuals, autonomous sovereigns who could tell companies like Hobby Lobby to take a hike, who wouldn’t have to grovel for the scraps that large corporations toss their way. As Voltairine de Cleyre wrote, in a freed market, “exchange would take place freely, commodities would circulate, business of all kinds would be stimulated, and, the government privilege being taken away from inventions, industries would spring up at every turn, bosses would be hunting men rather than men bosses .  . . .” The products and services associated with healthcare would cease to be the crushingly expensive source of destitution and distress they are today.

From a market anarchist perspective, there could not have been a good or ideal result in Hobby Lobby. The factual picture on display in the case simply could not materialize in a free society, one where an economy of voluntary exchange without special government privilege truly flourished. It is left to us to imagine a more just and free world, to find a way to replace the pernicious corporate-government nexus with a genuine libertarian society.

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Markets Not Capitalism
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist