Despite the smears and demagoguery surrounding this issue, the libertarian position on the Civil Rights Act is not, as our opponents might claim, grounding in racism and hate. On the contrary, not only is it consistent with anti-racist sentiments, but it takes into account the importance of property rights and free association in maintaining a free society.
To use the coercion of the State to force people to associate with individuals they do not willingly desire to associate with is a violation of one of the most sacred and foundational rights found within any civilized society. Namely, the natural right to private property.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 violates the property rights of all business owners and thus violates a foundational freedom. As Ron Paul stated:
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave the federal government unprecedented power over the hiring, employee relations, and customer service practices of every business in the country. The result was a massive violation of the rights of private property and contract, which are the bedrocks of free society. The federal government has no legitimate authority to infringe on the rights of private property owners to use their property as they please and to form (or not form) contracts with terms mutually agreeable to all parties. The rights of all private property owners, even those whose actions decent people find abhorrent, must be respected if we are to maintain a free society.
Again, the importance of private property rights in maintaining a free and voluntary society cannot be understated. The right to private property is the foundation of all our other freedoms, from speech to religion to press. Private property rights are the hallmark of civilization. In his famous book Omnipotent Government, Ludwig von Mises makes a similar case in the defense of property rights as Ron Paul:
The essential teaching of liberalism is that social cooperation and the division of labor can be achieved only in a system of private ownership of the means of production, i.e., within a market society, or capitalism. All the other principles of liberalism, democracy, personal freedom of the individual, freedom of speech and of the press, religious tolerance, peace among the nations are consequences of this basic postulate. They can be realized only within a society based on private property.
However, our opponents will claim: even if we are to understand that property rights are foundation to maintaining a free society, and even if we are to agree that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 violates this fundamental right, does that not still mean that we promote what other people do on their own private property? In other words, by defending the legal right of discrimination on private property, don’t we then automatically defend race-based discrimination itself?
Of course not.
To defend the right of an individual to do with his freedom as he chooses does not defend the action itself. For example, prostitution is generally not considered to be of “good taste” or “good morals” by the libertarian or anybody else. Most libertarians, therefore, do not believe in or engage in the act of prostitution. But one would be hard-pressed to find any libertarian that would not defend the right of two consenting adults to engage in whatever activity they choose, so long as those actions do not violate the right of others to do the same. In other words, libertarians believe that freedom can only be applied in its entirely when we allow people to use their freedoms in ways that we personally dislike.
The right to discriminate should be protected not because we libertarians like discrimination, but because we believe that complete and total freedom brings about a prosperous and just world. To force people to associate with individuals against their will is nothing less than a form of slavery.