So, at an Unfogged party this weekend, there was a charming young academic who seemed positively giddy at the prospect of encountering real live libertarians; we even let her check for horns. Apparently she knew a few people who self-describe this way because they’re “suspicious of state power,” but also all support Canadian-style healthcare. So she was delighted to finally glimpse the mythical beast in the wild.
Not so, alas, Ann Althouse, for whom the parallel experience at a recent Liberty Fund apparently touched off some sort of bad acid trip and an unfortunately acrimonious little blogspat with Reasonoids Ron Bailey, Virginia Postrel, and (at the buzzer!) Radley Balko. The catalyst for it all? Althouse’s horrified recognition that there were really people in the world who have reservations about, and even oppose, federal laws prohibiting discrimination by private parties. Althouse was duly creeped out to be among such people, since, of course, the only reason anyone might hold this view is an abiding hatred of brown people.
First, this just seems like an extraordinarily odd reaction from a putative grown-up who works in the world of ideas. The view Ann’s so wigged out by is held by most libertarians, and I had been under the impression that this was general knowledge. My liberal friends find this view misguided, maybe even appalling, but they don’t find it shocking, and they all take quite for granted that people they know who hold this view do so for reasons having nothing to do with racism.
Actually, I’ve found a surprising number of lefties of my acquaintance basically sympathetic to my own slightly more convoluted view on the topic, to wit: A broad ban on private discrimination was justifiable in the wake of slavery, Jim Crow, and other forms of institutionalized racism, but this should be seen as an essentially rectificatory measure, a second-best state of affairs. Ideally, that ban would have come with a built-in sunset after, say, 50 or 60 years, since while it clearly would have been inadequate to merely eliminate the formal legal trappings of discrimination without doing anything to change the stratified social system they’d created, rectification in this case would still entail a real burden on people’s free association rights. Widespread and systematic discrimination flowing from a history of state-enforced racism is unacceptable and undermines the kind of background social equality that’s necessary for a liberal society to function, but when we reach the point where this would not be the result of permitting the odd bigot to run his segregated business, then the balance of considerations tips in favor of allowing this, repugnant as we may find it. Now, maybe the people who’ve agreed with me on this point are unusual, or maybe they were just humoring me. But this is, at the very least, apparently not an utterly beyond-the-pale-thought even for people outside my wacky ideological ghetto.
Finally, and somewhat tangentially, if you can’t manage to carry on a debate with people you radically disagree with without bursting into tears, I think you’ve ceded the right to apply the descriptor “embarrassment to women everywhere” to anyone else. Just sayin’.