The succession of Civil Rights Acts through the 1960’s in the United States is often considered a watershed moment in American history. In general these Bills that became Law are seen as major victories for advocates of civil equality and most especially, black Americans. On the surface it is hard to view these events in any other way, and most often it is the correct view. There is a problem however, and one that may in fact aid in the understanding of the continuing problem of race relations in the twenty-first century.
There is a single distinction that can be made in regards to what the different Civil Rights Acts decreed. There were parts of these laws that eliminated segregation and discrimination in government sponsored or “public sector” establishments, and there were parts of these laws that violated the private property rights of others declaring it unlawful to discriminate or segregate one’s own private business. This is the problem.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s was a movement demanding civil equality, and equal protection under the law. These are the basic tenets of personal freedom as viewed through the classical liberal lens that the United States was supposedly founded upon. It must be made clear, to endorse the personal freedom of all men and women is not to endorse their ensuing behavior, only that the individual has the rights of person and property. If a society is to maintain freedom and equality, the rights of all private property owners must necessarily be respected, no matter how immoral one may feel about how the property is being used.
This unprecedented expansion of federal government authority over private businesses begs a question. What is the philosophical distinction between a private home and a private business? There is no such distinction that can legitimize a government claiming dominion over some, but not all private property. The mere fact that a business “accommodates” or “facilitates” the general public does not make it “public” property. This may be seen as proposing discrimination to some, but ought to be seen as defense of the smallest minority, the individual.
Another problem with specifically the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the requirement of businesses of over one hundred employees not to discriminate in hiring and the impracticability of its enforcement. An agent of the federal government cannot possibly know or prove whether a business owner is truly employing racial prejudice in his hiring decisions. The federal government’s solution was eventually to mandate racial quotas for hiring. It is likely that over time, further collectivization of race as a profound and distinct grouping only served to further racial tension. Former Congressman Ron Paul said on the House floor, July 3, 2004
“…while I join the sponsors…in promoting racial harmony and individual liberty, the fact is the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not accomplish these goals. Instead, this law unconstitutionally expanded federal power, thus reducing liberty. Furthermore, by prompting raced-based quotas, this law undermined efforts to achieve a color-blind society and increased racial strife.”
Contrary to mainstream opinion, opposition to this aspect of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not conflate with a support of the pre-1960’s status quo. It is perfectly within the authority of the federal government provide recourse to individuals whose 14th amendment rights had been denied in regards to segregated public schools, as determined in another section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is also the responsibility of the federal government to require all polling stations to ensure every legally eligible citizen is able to vote, as determined by the Voting Rights Act of 1964.
The only aspects of the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960’s are those that infringe upon the right to private property. Again, contrary to mainstream opinion this principle of private property does not conflate to support of continued segregation and racism. It is important to recognize the real relationship between Culture and Law. If it is true that the progress in race relations that has been made since the 1960’s is not because of these aspects of the Civil Rights Acts but in spite of them, then we can say with certainty that nowhere in the United States could a “White’s Only” private business succeed financially. Our culture has evolved to abhor racism to such an extent that rational discussion about the Civil Rights Acts is often unattainable without being labeled a racist. The market of ideas would have put Jim Crow segregation out of business decades ago if not propped up by Supreme Court decisions and other legislative infringements on the rights of the individual. It is certainly possible that this evolution would have occurred with less racial tension than what was created by the infringements of individual liberties that was part of the Civil Rights Acts.
Legislation must be understood for what it is, violence. All legislation, whether written and signed by a majority of the ‘citizens’ of a democracy or the whims of a monarch, is backed up by the threat of imprisonment, and in many cases the implied threat of death. We should attempt to learn from the successes that occurred organically and culturally, those of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Perhaps his doctrine of nonviolence can be applied here to the federal government. One of the five main pillars of Dr. King’s doctrine on non-violence included “Active resistance to the forces of evil, but not the individual actors”. Dr. King believed that racism was “a plague suffered by all races”. Clearly the aspects of the Civil Rights Acts in question here are examples of active resistance to the individual actors. Brown v. Board of Education proved that it is not possible to change Culture via the Law. Ten years after the Brown ruling, only 9.2 percent of black students in the South were enrolled in segregated schools.
The Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s accomplished several admirable feats. In regards to the public sphere the federal government had every responsibility to guarantee equal protection under the law, and civil rights. Its violations of individual liberties have had long lasting negative effects. It is easy to understand why it is costly and often counterproductive to fight violence with violence, but what many fail to grasp is the inherent violence in legislation. The federal government has tried, again and again, to legislate morality. It does not work. Alcohol prohibition was a dismal failure as the “War on Some Drugs” continues to be. If the federal government had no hand in marriage, there would be no need for marriage equality laws. The rights of individual self-ownership and private property are ultimately what gives every individual the potential to improve his or her lot in life. These rights ought to be protected, not infringed upon by the Law. Cultural evolution is the non-violent alternative to violent, or political revolution. It is also the more effective alternative.
- Adam Alcorn, @AdamBlacksburg
Founder, Editor at the Humane Condition