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By: Rad Geek

Well. The primary reason I mentioned the sit-in movement was that Maddow kept specifically bringing it up to beat Paul over the head with it. If she wants to make a point about recent history, I don’t think it’s weird to mention some actual historical data. I personally find that when some episode in recent history is very important to somebody, you can usually get further by showing them how that episode has a different lesson from the one that they took from it, rather than just telling them that they’re wrong to care about anything that’s not happening right now at this very instant.

Also, whatever the status of segregated lunch counters may be these days, it may also be worth mentioning if you think that there might be other social problems right now, or in a future free society, which similar forms of grassroots social activism might help to address. I think history’s worth talking about for its own sake; but it’s also worth talking about because you might be able to learn something from it. Like how to resist pervasive forms of discrimination or oppression without having to depend on laws or bureaucracies. Seems like that might be a helpful lesson for an Anarchist to learn.

By: Rad Geek


Can’t we at least agree that the government should stop the “no blacks allowed” here at both public and private places?

Well, but I don’t agree that government should do that. What I do think is that grassroots pressure campaigns (like those practiced by the student sit-in movement) should stop that.

Agreeing that segregation is immoral is not the same thing as agreeing on the best strategy or tactics for dismantling segregationist institutions. Opposing one particular kind of strategy (e.g. the strategy of dismantling it coercively, by means of federal prohibitions) is not the same thing as opposing desegregation.


Why do you think there was such a kerfluffle about the eulogizing of the 1880’s in libertarian circles a few months back?

Myca, I’m not sure whether you meant the “in libertarian circles” to modify “such a kerfluffle,” or to “modify “the eulogizing of the 1880s.” If you meant the latter, then I think this is an extremely uncharitable description of what actually happened. I hope you’re aware that within libertarian circles Bryan was repeatedly called out and heavily criticized for his claims. (See, for example, the responses by Kerry Howley, Jason Kuznicki, Will Wilkinson, Jacob Levy, et al.) If anything, the kerfluffle started amongst libertarians who were calling Caplan out, and then spread outward from there. It’s not like all the libertarians were sitting around having all having a big 1880s Nostalgia Party and then some progressives showed up to criticize what they were doing.

Of course, it’s certainly true that Caplan is one of many in libertarian circles who have said some really shitty things about gender. But I don’t think that libertarian circles are unique in having men in them who have said some really shitty things about gender. I notice that that seems to be a really common problem in a lot of dude-heavy political circles, and something that just has to be handled through critique, through calling people out, and through working to change the internal culture of the circle, pretty much wherever you go.

By: Rad Geek

Tyro: Yes, actually, libertarians do have a problem with that. Remember what happened to the blacks staging the sit ins at the lunch counter? They were ARRESTED. by the GOVERNMENT.

Right; but who told you that libertarianism means never being willing to put yourself in a position where you might get arrested?

I don’t think that the arrests were violations of the individual rights of the protesters arrested. (Business owners have a right to have people removed from their property.) That doesn’t mean that I think the business owners or police were acting morally by doing so. (In any non-totalitarian legal regime, there are many things that are within your rights to do which are profoundly immoral. things to do.) And it doesn’t mean that I don’t support the protest. Civil disobedience often means deliberately exposing yourself to the risk of arrest. In this case, the point of the protest was to corner the business owners into a position where they had only three choices: (1) do something obviously immoral, by having peaceful people hauled out of the restaurant by the police for no good reason; (2) run their racist lunch-counter out of business by leaving those seats occupied without selling any food; or (3) change their racist policy, by serving the would-be black customers. There is nothing in libertarianism that says you’re obliged not to put asshole property owners into sticky situations like that.

Tyro: The question for Rand Paul is this: he obviously believes in the sanctity of business owners to refuse to serve blacks. Would he be willing to pull the trigger to start shooting at blacks who refuse to recognize that right of the business owner?

Well, that’s an absurd question, if it’s intended to have any real-world application to the sit-in protests. Why do you think that a libertarian would believe that shooting a sit-in protester is a proportional response to an obviously nonviolent person refusing to leave the premises?

Ampersand: So, if it was legal for Mr. Lunch Counter Owner to have a “no Jews allowed” sign, would libertarians say that he should legally be allowed to have such a rule, but he has no right to call the police and ask the police to force any Jews who refuse to leave, to leave?

See above. My view is that an anti-Semitic lunch counter owner has a right to put up the sign, and a right to have the police force you out of the restaurant if you don’t get up and leave. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be willing to stage a sit-in anyway. Nonviolent civil disobedience often means being willing to risk arrest.

Civil activism before the 1950s had a number of victories … Antislavery activism, antilynching activism, voting rights…

Amp, I made a statement specifically about campaigns against racial discrimination (esp. residential, educational, business, and hiring discrimination) from 1875-1955. Not about all anti-racist activism broadly prior to Montgomery and Brown. You seem to have interpreted this as a statement about “a century of anti-racist activism and progress”; it’s not. I’m well aware of the abolitionist movement, and the anti-lynching movement, and the voting-rights movement, although we may differ somewhat on what we think the most important and effective parts of those movements were. I’m also aware of older efforts that challenged segregation ordinances and segregated business specifically, prior to the mid-1950s, and which did so through methods of grassroots organizing (for example, some of the NAACP’s campaigns, the BSCP, etc.). But the victories on that front are few and far between (perhaps you could name some that you have in mind? I’ve got the desegregation of war industries and of the military, and that’s about it), and I don’t think it’s ignorant, or erasing anything, or even particularly controversial, to argue that something important and distinctive happened in the 1950s and 1960s, compared to what had happened before, which radically changed the social and political landscape. My view is that the main difference was the explosive growth (in size, scope, and intensity) of a mass social movement that was willing to use confrontational tactics to directly oppose segregation. Do you have a different view of what made the difference? If so, what?

I am, of course, also well aware that grassroots civil action can attempt to change laws. If laws ever do change in a positive direction, it’s virtually always because of grassroots civil action. But my point is that grassroots civil action can also aim at achieving goals directly, by means other than legislative change. And that the actual historical record of activism against Jim Crow offers a rich history of doing exactly that. Those who claim that without federal antidiscrimination laws, the Civil Rights Movement never would have changed anything are the ones erasing the history of what the Civil Rights Movement actually accomplished prior to 1964, and what they would have gone right on accomplishing with or without the weak face-saving political maneuvers of the Kennedys or LBJ.

By: Rad Geek

Jeff Fecke: Nobody — certainly not me — is denying that ultimately, direct action by people was what led the government to act to secure rights for African-Americans. But the fact is that without the EEOC, integration would be a long, long, long way from where it is today.

But, see, the point is that I deny that assertion. I would argue that the EEOC (and the federal antidiscrimination bureaucracy more broadly) has been largely irrelevant to the process, and is especially irrelevant today, for the reasons that BroadSnark mentions above.

The Civil Rights Movement won a lot of major victories without the help of Title II and Title VII. Including those “brave men and women who staged sit-ins.” My position is, first, that it’s profoundly misleading to act as if libertarian principles are somehow against that kind of social activism (they’re not; in fact, one reasonable understanding of libertarian principles would call for a lot more of that kind of social activism). And, second, that the most important victories were won in the streets, not through lawsuits, and that many of them were won well in advance of anything like the federal Civil Rights Act. Without the Civil Rights Act, what would have happened is not just Segregation Forever; rather, segregation would be dismantled by the conscious social and economic activism that was already dismantling it in Montgomery, Greensboro, Nashville, and throughout all the rest of the South.

By: Rad Geek


You do realize, don’t you, that without government backed forms of redress, like being able to sue businesses who discriminate against African Americans in any way, the Civil Rights Movement would not have been able to change anything?

This is both ignorant and patronizing. Local antidiscrimination fights repeatedly managed to win desegregation during the late 1950s and early 1960s without the help of Title II, Title VII, or any other form of federal antidiscrimination law. The sit-in movement that both Maddow and Jeff Fecke keep sanctimoniously bringing up had already “changed something” by summer 1960 (the Greensboro Woolworth’s counter was desegregated due to pressure from the sit-in campaign in July 1960; the Nashville Student Movement won an agreement from downtown business owners to desegregate the entire downtown business district in May 1960). If they sat around waiting for the federal Civil Rights Act to be able to “actually change anything,” they would have been waiting four more years. Or, actually, they would have been waiting a lot longer than that, since it was their own victories, and the victories of the cresting social movement, of which they were a key part, that radically changed the political and cultural landscape in such a way as to make the Civil Rights Act even politically possible.

That all of the activism would have been for nothing if said businesses could just go blithely along their way, discriminating in hiring or selling of goods/services, until there was a legal means to keep them from doing so?

I just wrote a long passage all about the power of social pressure campaigns like sit-ins and boycotts through which the Freedom Movement actually achieved real-world goals, against the opposition of white business owners, during their campaigns throughout the South. If you think that the businesses facing the sit-in movement “could just blithely go along their way,” then I think you have a funny idea of blitheness. If you think that “legal means” are the only means by which social movements can hold racist businesses accountable, then I wonder why you think that.

You do realize, don’t you, that since the end of the Civil War African Americans could participate in society as equally as their former slave owners but they were kept from doing so by de facto and “on the books” laws that were designed to disenfranchise them?

I don’t know what this lecture is intended to teach me. I’m quite familiar with that historical background. Did you think from my previous message that I was somehow cool with Jim Crow statutes or the terror campaigns of the KKK, WCC, and other similar white supremacist terror cults?

And without legal redress they would still exist today?

This strikes me as confused. I didn’t say anything against the prospect of using legal means to take segregation laws off of the books, or to suppress private violence. What I suggested is that there are other means, besides legal means, for dealing with a distinct but related problem — the problem of how to address discrimination by private businesses when it’s not enforced by a segregation ordinance or vigilante violence. My suggestion is that that sort of problem ought to be addressed by different means. Specifically, grassroots organizing, rather than legal prohibitions.

Not to mention what Buttercup rightly brings up, that discrimination in businesses continues today, based on someone’s genitalia and not just the color of their skin. Your understanding of libertarianism, Rad Geek, has no direct correlation in the real world.

I have no idea what you mean by this. If you mean that my suggestions about resisting private discrimination through social and economic pressure campaigns, rather than through legal prohibitions, have not been tested in the real world, then you’re mistaken. I specifically cited historical examples of important campaigns that were won through these means. If you mean that my understanding of libertarianism doesn’t represent the real history of racial politics in America, then of course you’re right — but criminy, when did I ever say that historical racial politics in America were libertarian? The whole point was to criticize white supremacy from a libertarian standpoint, and to suggest that libertarian principles support the kind of social activism that the sit-in movement engaged in. If you mean that my understanding of libertarianism doesn’t reflect the way things are now, of course you’re right. The way things are now suck, and part of the point of my politics is to try and change that. If you didn’t mean any of these things, then what exactly did you mean?

Comment on Electoral Race by Rad Geek

Personally, I was thinking of Diane Nash, the NSM, SNCC, and the lunch-counter sit-ins. And getting progressively more angry (at both Maddow and Paul) every time she brought them up, and he meandered about a stupid gun rights case rather than pointing out that the lunch-counter sit-ins are a perfect example of non-governmental, grassroots victories against segregation in private businesses. The first big wave of sit-ins started in 1960 and the students repeatedly won the campaigns years before federal intervention was even legally possible. Greensboro’s Woolworth’s was desegregated in July 1960; the Nashville students had already gotten all the downtown merchants in the city to desegregate in May. Because the sit-ins demonstrated, without the help of Federal antidiscrimination bureaucrats, that segregation was immoral and socially unsustainable.

If they sat around waiting for Title II to come along, they would have been waiting 4 more years. Actually, they would have been waiting a lot longer than that, because a greasy racist fuck like LBJ never would have gone for anything like the Civil Rights Act, except for the fact that the cresting social movement, of which the sit-ins were one of the most effective examples, politically cornered him into doing so.

If Rand Paul were capable of answering a question honestly and forthrightly, it would be easy to point out that the sit-ins are a perfect example of what anti-racist libertarians ought to be for; and that invoking the sit-in movement while taking credit away from them and pretending like the federal government somehow gave them the Civil Rights that they bled and died to take for themselves, is an insult to the sit-in movement.

Of course, Rand Paul’s not capable of answering a question honestly and forthrightly; as a political candidate, he answers questions politically.

By: Rad Geek

I can’t speak for Rand Paul. I know that he believes in many things I consider to be stupid and immoral. But I think I can claim to have some passing familiarity with the libertarian philosophy.

Paul’s worldview — the libertarian, anti-government worldview — is that government can never be the solution. That government action is — always — the problem. That the wisdom of the market cures all.

That last bit about “the wisdom of the market cures all” sounds a lot more like what you’d like to argue against than what libertarians endorse. I know many libertarians who have overly rosy views of markets, and especially of business. But I don’t know of any libertarians who believe that individual freedom and market processes are some kind of automatic cure for all social ills. Certainly that doesn’t follow from the claims that came before it — opposition to governmental “solutions” to social problems is not the same thing as denying that social problems exist outside of government, or that anything done outside of government is, therefore, automatically OK.

It is perfectly possible to believe that government is always a problem without believing that it is always “the” problem — There’s no reason why a libertarian has to believe that every social evil derives from statism; the issue isn’t whether all evils come from government, but whether or not government is the right response. When you have a social evil, like (say) whitespread white supremacy in civil society, business and social institutions, etc., even outside of the scope of formal segregation laws, even when those evils don’t come from government, it may turn out that it’s still better to rely on non-governmental forms of social organization in order to undermine or dismantle them, rather than trying to address it through lobbying and electoral politics.

If you want evidence of why someone would believe that, well, there are many reasons, but the history of the Freedom Movement in the South is actually one of the best examples. Opponents of Jim Crow were continuously trying to get antidiscrimination acts through the legislature and to challenge segregation laws in court from 1875 until well into the 1970s (my high school wasn’t successfully integrated until 1973). These efforts at reform through governmental politics failed over and over again right up until the mid-1950s — when they were accompanied by a grassroots social movement that achieved its immediate goals by making repeated and heavy use of community organizing, social and economic pressure campaigns (marches, boycotts, strikes, mutual aid, sit-ins, Freedom Rides, etc.). What I’d argue is that the federal government’s (extremely tardy and extremely reluctant) embrace of desegregation was something forced on it by the struggles and victories of the social movement and the changes in public opinion that those struggles and victories made. Without the federal government there to stand around and take the credit, Jim Crow still could and would have been brought to its knees. By the people who did all the work and put their lives on the line to bring it to its knees — from the MIA and SCLC to CORE to SNCC to the countless local activists and organizers who risked and lost their lives in town after town all across the South. While white politicians like Bobby Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Banes Johnson, et al. repeatedly tried to tell them to stop marching, to call off public protests,to dial down local organizing and generally to stop making waves and acting like free people.

He’s perfectly okay with making life hard for those who aren’t white — as long as it’s only business, not government, making the difficulties.

I don’t know what Rand Paul thinks about that, but if this is intended as a general statement about what libertarians believe, it’s both wildly uncharitable and completely wrong.

Believing that government shouldn’t enforce a legal prohibition against segregation is not the same thing as being “perfectly okay” with segregation, any more than believing that fascists shouldn’t be imprisoned or tortured for their political beliefs is the same thing as being “perfectly okay” with fascist political beliefs. The issue isn’t whether or not segregation is morally “okay;” it’s what sort of means you ought to adopt in order to fight such a moral evil — in particular, whether those means should be coercive or consensual, and whether they should depend on politicians, judges and politically-appointed regulators, or whether they should be in the hands of communities and grassroots organization.

But the brave men and women who staged sit-ins at whites-only lunch counters weren’t just doing so to end government-led discrimination.

They weren’t doing it for the EEOC, either. I’m glad you appreciate the bravery of SNCC and other lunch-counter sit-in movements, but you do realize, don’t you, that libertarians have no problem with using exactly that kind of grassroots social pressure and direct action tactics in order to convince business owners that white supremacist policies are both wrong, and ultimately unsustainable? You do realize, don’t you, that many libertarians believe that it’s precisely because of these kind of tactics that the Civil Rights Movement had the revolutionary effects that it had, and that what’s needful is a great deal more emphasis on that kind of social activism, as a better alternative to governmental solutions?

When I look for the heroes of the Civil Rights movement, I certainly don’t see a bunch of grandstanding, Vietnam-bombing white politicians; I see the ordinary people who organized, boycotted, organized car pools to undercut segregated busses, marched in the streets, sang freedom songs, faced down government police dogs and firehouses, organized mass meetings, stood watch and faced down the night-riders in their neighborhoods, spoke out, sat in. I’ll be damned if I give Lyndon Banes Johnson credit for the “solutions” that they fought and died for.

Libertarians don’t hold that without government, markets or civil society would automatically “cure” everything, just by leaving it be. What we do hold is that if there is a problem with civil society, the thing to do is to change civil society, and that kind of change really only comes when it comes from within a culture. The right tools for that aren’t government laws and governmental force; they’re grassroots activism, community organizing, and building a culture of solidarity and disobedience.

Re: Worth reading


Thank you for the kind mention, and for the thoughtful comments.

You write: “Henley says that the challenge is to ‘correct spontaneous malign orders without the tool of state violence.’ I’m not sure that circle can be squared — some countervailing force is needed against spontaneous malign orders, and that force will need some agreed on norms of justice and enforcement”

There are a couple of different kinds of malign spontaneous orders that need to be differentiated here.

The first are malign undesigned orders that emerge, in part, from diffuse forms of violence — what I called “invisible fist” processes, as with the socio-cultural ripple effects of stranger-rape and other prevalent forms of violence against women.

The second are malign orders that don’t emerge from diffuse forms of violence, but rather from voluntary interactions. Unlike some libertarians, I believe that there are plenty of examples of these, too (for example, certain kinds of widespread credentialism and elitism that have emerged over the past century, and which have a big effect on education and on the workplace). These malign undesigned orders are often intimately connected with social orders that have coercive elements (for example, I’d say that certain pernicious forms of credentialism and managerialism, which contribute to classism and to the exploitation of working folks, have an awful lot to do with consistent government intervention on behalf of the managerial class and against the deskilled proletariat over the past century — cf. for examples my essay “Scratching By” at or Kevin Carson’s Mutualist Blog at — but, while intimately connected, are not identical with them (it’s likely that even without that government intervention they might live on through institutionalized cultural prejudices, unless deliberately confronted and undermined).

Libertarians and anarchists can consistently endorse the use of physical force as part of the response to the former (violent) sort of undesigned order; they can’t consistently endorse the use of physical force as part of the response to the latter (non-violent, but still ugly) sort of undesigned order.

In the second case, though, I ought to stress that not abandoning the use of force doesn’t mean abandoning the use of confrontation or hardball tactics–they just have to be carried out through tactics and institutions outside the political arena, the legal arena, or the regulatory bureaucracy. (On what should be done instead, I’m really an old Leftist at heart: I think people should form fighting unions and community organizations, build counter-institutions and mutual aid societies, use targeted and general strikes, boycotts, work-to-rule, hardball forms of social ostracism, stage sit-ins, etc. etc. etc. Forget about the government; we can do this ourselves.)

In the first case, the use of countervailing physical force in defense of self or others is defense, not aggression, so it need not offend any libertarian or anarchist sensibilities (unless one is a principled pacifist–which I’m not, and which most libertarians and anarchists aren’t either). You worry that “that force will need some agreed on norms of justice and enforcement.” I’m inclined to agree with that (although we might disagree on what the importance of “agreement” is here). But supposing that we do agree, I don’t think it tells against Jim’s point. Agreed-upon norms of justice and enforcement aren’t in and of themselves a problem for anarchism or libertarianism. The question is how the agreement on those norms is brought about: whether the agreement comes about by general acquiescence to privileged demands, or whether it comes about by means of a broad consensus among equals.

Government ensures “agreement” upon these norms by erecting privileged institutions which are legally empowered to force everyone else to acquiesce to the norms they propound and act on.

Anarchy, on the other hand, doesn’t mean chaos or the break-up of any agreed-upon norms of justice or enforcement. (At least, that’s not what “anarchy” means in the mouths of anarchists who use the term.) What it does mean is that any agreement upon those norms should be brought about through the free interactions among equals and by the emergence of a broad social consensus.

Further, anarchists generally believe that that kind of consensus can rightfully be acted on by any free association that puts reasonable norms for justice and enforcement into practice — rather than being limited to a privileged class of government-approved cops, judges, etc. The idea here being that the justice of judgments and the righteousness of enforcement are things that ought to be assessed on the merits of the conduct itself, not according to the identity or the political status of the judge or the enforcer. That is to say, that it should be considered as a matter to be resolved by appeals to the content of the norms, rather than to the political status and prerogatives of the body propounding them.

So the ideal here is not to abolish any general norms of justice or enforcement, but rather to keep the ideal of consensus on norms while detaching the crafting of the consensus from the imposition of exclusive government-granted prerogatives.

Does that help clarify, or does it muddify?