Saturday, July 9, 2011

Title 2: A Lesson on Activism - from the Left

How does one fight "the good fight"? Here is a lesson on the only way to do it; stand on principle, even at the risk of taking an unpopular stand or "defending to the death" the most abhorrent individuals.

In my post of 7/10/10, I opened this dialogue on Title 2 with a discussion of the crucial importance of principles. So, when I read this editorial by my favorite Left-leaning media outlet, I seized the opportunity to use the words of a staunch defender of Title 2 to demonstrate the importance of principles - and the hollowness and utter futility of attempting to pragmatically cherry-pick one's principled stands.

In a short editorial entitled, ACLU of New Jersey: 50 years of defending rights on left and right, the NJ Star-Ledger praises the American Civil Liberties Union for its adherence to principles. They write:

"For 50 years, the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has defended rights that many take for granted — or that some would withhold from others.

"The ACLU has taken a purist view of the U.S. Constitution: It applies to every American regardless of race, faith, gender or sexual orientation. As might be expected, controversy has never been far behind.

"Most people recall the ACLU defending the free speech of American Nazis, or fighting to keep religious displays off government property."


I've left the following comments:

zemack June 16, 2010 at 1:45PM

Now, why would the Star-Ledger praise the ACLU for defending a Nazi’s right to freedom of speech? Could it be that principles matter? According to the Editors, “The ACLU has taken a purist view of the U.S. Constitution.” A “purist” view recognizes that the Constitution is derived from the philosophical groundwork laid out in the Declaration of Independence, which holds unequivocally that rights are political guarantees to freedom of action, are unalienable, possessed equally and at all times by every individual, and protected by government equally and at all times. So long as you don’t violate the same rights of others, your rights can never be stripped away by government.

In other words, the implied meaning behind the ACLU’s Nazi stand is that when you violate the rights of a single individual, you invalidate the principle of unalienability, and thus the rights of “every American regardless of race, faith, gender or sexual orientation.” You cannot defend any right, unless you are prepared to defend that same right for everyone, including those of the most despicable practitioners of that right. Therefor, it logically and morally follows that a Nazi (or National Socialist) has the same unalienable right to act on his free speech guarantees as anyone else.

So, I have to wonder. Where does the ACLU, and for that matter the Editors, stand on Title 2 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which trampled another unalienable right of the individual – his property rights? That Act swept away the last remnants of legally sanctioned, government-imposed segregation. This monumental advance for justice and a civilized society was marred by the “public accommodations” clause, known as Title 2, which denied the individual’s right to freedom of association on his own private property. An individual’s earned property is the means by which he sustains his life. Thus his right to his property – which means the right of use and disposal – is tied irrevocably to his right to life. All other rights, including to speech and religion, rest on a foundation of property rights – which makes them the most important of all rights. When the government takes away property rights, it takes away a person’s means of sustaining his life. Without property rights, all other rights are effectively rendered a fraud.

Property rights are unalienable just as are free speech rights. The same logic that applies to the defense of Nazis’ free speech rights applies to private segregationists’ property rights. Both Nazis and private segregationists hold despicable and evil ideas. Both are racist ideologically, with Nazism being the worst because it also includes the totalitarian element. And, just as a Nazi exercising his own free speech rights is violating no one else’s free speech rights by doing so, so to a business owner who exercises his own property rights by excluding certain customers for irrational reasons is likewise violating no one else’s property rights by doing so. And for the very same principled reason that a Nazi’s free speech rights must be defended, so to must a private segregationist’s property rights be just as vigorously defended, however hard and nauseating that may be.

As the Editors correctly seem to be saying in praise of the ACLU, “a purist view of the U.S. Constitution” requires a fully consistent defense of “rights that many take for granted — or that some would withhold from others.” A purist view demands taking an uncompromising stand regardless of how controversial or unpopular, because rights apply “to every American regardless of race, faith, gender or sexual orientation” or anything else so long as he refrains from violating the same rights as others.

I don’t recall the ACLU rushing to the defense of Rand Paul, who was recently vilified because of his long-time principled opposition to Title 2 based on that’s clause’s violation of property rights. If the ACLU doesn’t stand with Rand Paul on Title 2, it is exposed as blatantly hypocritical and devoid of credibility.


The editors might object that Title 2 involves action, while free speech is just expounding a viewpoint and thus not hurting anyone. But freedom of thought without the freedom to act on that thought means no freedom at all. The act of speech is action, in and of itself. The right to hold views without the right to expound those views is a contradiction in terms. So is the right to property without the right to set the terms of use for that property. To deny a person freedom of association on his own property is tantamount to denying a person the right to speak his own mind.

I also want to point out some excellent comments made by another correspondent:

individual June 16, 2010 at 1:36PM

Excellent editorial. Our rights under the First Amendment are for everyone, not just those that we agree with. A common conservative myth is that the ACLU "supports" various nefarious groups (take your pick). Nothing could be further from the truth. When the ACLU says that Nazis have the right under the First Amendment to express their views, the ACLU is not "supporting" the Nazis' views. They are only supporting the First Amendment freedoms of everyone, including even Nazis.

Generally, when conservatives support "freedom," they mean freedom for themselves, not anyone else. While talking about "less government intrusion in our lives," these same conservatives want laws banning abortion from the moment of conception, laws censoring erotica and even laws telling consenting adults what kind of sex they can have in the privacy of their own home (Conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia takes this view). Yes, some conservatives have more of a "libertarian" view and don't support the Scalia mentality. But the vast majority of conservatives are not libertarian, and want the government to intrude into the most intimate aspects of our lives.

Unlike conservatives, the ACLU recognizes that freedom is for everyone, even the hated, even the despised. Freedom is not just for those we agree with.


Of course, individual is only half right. The same as what he says about conservatives can be said of liberals. Neither side is a consistent defender of individual rights. Certainly, when it comes to property rights, the liberals are not proponents of the belief "that [to paraphrase] freedom is for everyone, even the rich, even the successful". If they believed that, they would have to oppose the redistributive welfare state down to its core. It's true that conservatives are social authoritarians. But, liberals are economic authoritarians. Certainly, under Title 2, the 1964 Civil Rights Act empowers "the government to intrude into the most intimate aspects of our lives" - our personal beliefs on our own property.

That aside, individual makes a good overall point. He writes that "When the ACLU says that Nazis have the right under the First Amendment to express their views, the ACLU is not 'supporting' the Nazis' views. They are only supporting the First Amendment freedoms of everyone, including even Nazis." Well, how does he feel about Title 2? Since he criticizes only "conservatives", one might logically infer that he is a "liberal". So, would he agree that "When Rand Paul (or John Stossel, or I) say that any private individual has the right under the principle of property rights to exclude people of a certain 'race, faith, gender or sexual orientation' from his own place of business, Paul is not 'supporting' the bigot's views. He is only supporting the property rights freedoms of everyone, including even bigots".


The Editors conclude with:

"By taking up these important and sometimes unpopular causes, the ACLU of New Jersey exemplifies what fighting the good fight is all about."

If the Star-Ledger really believes that defending individual rights is "what fighting the good fight is all about", then it has a lot of rethinking to do on a whole host of issues it holds dear. It needs to learn that "what fighting the good fight is all about" requires unbending philosophical consistency. Without that, the editors, and the ACLU, are exposed as opportunistic phonies.

2 comments:

Michael said...

that second comment could have easily been made about liberals too but in a different realm. In fact maybe I will leave a comment on that myself.

Regarding title 2 the principle also applies:

To allow a person the freedom to practice racial discrimination does not imply that one sanctions his conduct, any more than to allow him the freedom to express a racist viewpoint implies that one sanctions its content. Moreover, just as someone who opposes racist propaganda has no right under freedom of speech to ban it, so neither does someone who opposes racial discrimination have a right under freedom of association to ban it. One may not interfere with another person's freedom of choice simply because one disagrees with the way that he or she exercises that freedom.

Defenders of the First Amendment often point out that the true test of one's belief in freedom of speech is whether or not one allows freedom for speech that one finds offensive. By the same principle, the true test of one's belief in freedom of association is whether or not one allows freedom for associations that one finds offensive (e.g., those based on discrimination). In fact, he who has no right to freedom of association -- no right to determine whom to associate with -- has no right to refrain from practicing racial discrimination, should the government decide to make such discrimination mandatory. It is such mandatory discrimination to which the old miscegenation and separate-but-equal laws bear grim testimony, and of which the contemporary statutes on affirmative action and racial quotas are a modern expression.

Mike Zemack said...

"...he who has no right to freedom of association -- no right to determine whom to associate with -- has no right to refrain from practicing racial discrimination, should the government decide to make such discrimination mandatory."

That is an excellent point and gets right to the heart of the matter. When the power to impose a single exception to the exercise of any given right is granted to government, that right is obliterated.

Another example: a legal ban on abortion is the establishment of the premise that the government has sovereignty over the functions of a woman's body. Under that premise, one can envision the day when mandatory abortions could follow from the EPA's new-found power to regulate CO2, considering the fact that human beings are CO2 Machines", as one climate scientist put it.