Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Freedom of Association

Lew Rockwell
LewRockwell.com -

It seems incredible that in the last days, a fundamental right of the whole of humanity, the freedom of association, has been denounced by the New York Times and all major opinion sources, even as a national political figure was reluctant to defend his own statements in favor of the idea, and then distanced himself from the notion. Has such a fundamental principle of liberty become unsayable?

Or perhaps it is not so incredible. An overweening government, in an age of despotism such as ours, must deny such a fundamental right simply because it is one of those core issues that speaks to who is in charge: the state or individuals.

We live in anti-liberal times, when individual choice is highly suspect. The driving legislative ethos is toward making all actions required or forbidden, with less and less room for human volition. Simply put, we no longer trust the idea of freedom. We can't even imagine how it would work. What a distance we have travelled from the Age of Reason to our own times.

Referencing the great controversy about the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Karen De Coster put the issue to rest by turning Rachel Maddow’s question on its head. She demanded to know whether a white businessman has the right to refuse service to a black man. Karen asked: does a black businessman have the right to refuse service to a Klan member?

I don't think anyone would dispute that right. How a person uses the right to associate (which necessarily means the right not to associate) is a matter of individual choice profoundly influenced by the cultural context. That a person has the right to make these choices on his or her own cannot be denied by anyone who believes in liberty.

The right to exclude is not something incidental. It is core to the functioning of civilization. If I use proprietary software, I can't download it without signing a contractual agreement. If I refuse to sign, the company doesn't have to sell it to me. And why? Because it is their software and they set the terms of use. Period. There is nothing more to say.

If you run a blog that accepts comments, you know how important this right is. You have to be able to exclude spam or ban IP addresses of trolls or otherwise include and exclude based on whether a person's contribution adds value. Every venue on the internet that calls forth public participation knows this. Without this right, any forum could collapse, having been taken over by bad elements.

We exercise the right to exclude every day. If you go to lunch, some people come and some people do not. When you have a dinner party, you are careful to include some people and necessarily exclude others. Some restaurants expect and demand shoes and shirts and even coats and ties. The New York Times includes some articles and excludes others, includes some people in its editorial meetings and excludes others.

When business hires, some people make the cut and others do not. It is the same with college admissions, church membership, fraternities, civic clubs, and nearly every other association. They all exercise the right to exclude. It is central to the organization of every aspect of life. If this right is denied, what do we get in its place? Coercion and compulsion. People are forced together by the state, with one group required at the point of a gun to serve another group. This is involuntary servitude, expressly prohibited by the 13th amendment. One presumes that a freedom-loving people will always be against that.

As Larry Elder says: "This is freedom 101."

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