Revisiting Freedom of Association and Why It Matters

A couple of months ago I wrote an article on freedom of association in the economic sphere and the fearmongering myths that surround it. I recently decided to read it again and recap my thoughts on the topic, and realised that what I thought was a good explanation of my views was actually an extremely polarising article that does not delve deep enough into the issue.  It is because of the aforementioned that I decided to rearticulate my position on freedom of association.

First off, I would like to apologise for the condescending tone of my previous piece. It was uncalled for, and, in retrospect, did not help my cause in getting people to think about the substance of what I actually wrote. I made it seem as if I have zero empathy for victims of discrimination and I am ashamed of myself for that.

Secondly, I’d like to make my views on discrimination clear.  Discrimination based on arbitrary grounds, especially traits of individuals that they can do nothing about, makes no sense to me and is, in terms of my personal sense of morality, quite deplorable. I see individuals for who they are as their own person, and despise stereotypes. I see no point in treating a person differently based on the colour of their skin or their sexual orientation, for example. Why people feel the need make others feel worthless based on such attributes is beyond me. You can read more on my opinion on individualism and the damage of stereotypes in my article titled “Identity Politics, And Why It’s a Virus”.

Finally, I want to get to the gist of what I actually wrote; the message that I was trying to convey.

I started off the article by stating that every individual has the right to associate with whomever they please. I think everybody can agree with me here. What I did not take into consideration is just how controversial such freedom of association is in the economic sphere. I was disingenuous and pretended that I did not seem to understand why people get so upset over economic discrimination by and between individuals. This is what I want to address today.

If I come across a business that discriminates against me or anyone else on the basis of race, sex, etc., I would not hesitate to name and shame that enterprise on social media. I sincerely believe that such individuals and businesses deserve to be economically ostracised to the point of literal despair. Again, I think most people can agree with me on this. Where I do, however, digress from the prevailing consensus is that I do not believe that the law should be used against such culprits. If I were to tell you, the reader, that one can be truly anti-discrimination whilst not being in favour of the criminalisation of the very same discrimination, you’d think I’ve gone mad. But I honestly believe that you can, and here’s why:

According to natural law theory, the law exists to protect individuals’ natural rights: those rights you have a claim to that only imposes negative obligations on others to not impair your liberty. Such rights are those of life, liberty, and private property, as these liberties only require others to refrain from violating them. This obviously begs an interesting question: is dignity a natural right?

One can argue that dignity can be a natural right as people only have to refrain from impairing your dignity. On the other hand, if we look at the natural rights listed in the aforementioned paragraph, one thing stands out: if they are impaired, your freedom is impaired. Having your dignity impaired does not equate to having your freedom impaired by default. Dignity is a subjective feeling. The impairment of dignity will quite possibly arise from an actual impairment of freedom, but impairment of dignity is not the impairment of individual freedom itself, hence it is not a crime. A crime is the impairment of freedom itself.

Should the law then, be used to prosecute entrepreneurs who discriminate against a person based on, say, their race? In my honest and controversial opinion: no, the law should not be so used. An entrepreneur’s business premises is their private property, and they can use their property to associate with whomever they want. Your liberty and mine does not extend to the point of forcing business owners to associate with us. Can we name and shame those owners who do discriminate? Of course! I’d be ashamed of myself if I didn’t at least stand up for a fellow human being who was refused service just because they are the “wrong” colour.

Freedom limits itself, and the freedom of private property and who a person associates with on the property in question limits our freedom in the sense that we cannot force others into economic relationships with us. The law, in its inherent nature, represents force or a credible threat thereof, and should be used as the utmost last resort to intervene in social problems. We as consumers can use our own freedom of association to dissociate from bigoted businesses. We can use our freedom to economically ostracise them to the point where they go bankrupt (which is what they thoroughly deserve).

We protect the freedom of those we disagree with, even vehemently, in order to protect our own. I do not want to associate with people I deem despicable (case in point being bigoted entrepreneurs) and therefore I do not want to force others to do the same, regardless of whether I agree with their reasons or not. Let us afford the bigots the freedom to expose themselves. Let us afford them the freedom to show the world their true colours, for then we know who to name, shame, and ostracise. For then we know who to show the finger to, and who to dissociate from. For then we know who to not give our hard-earned money to.

Jacques Jonker

Jacques Jonker is a scholar of economics. He holds a Baccalaureus Commercii in Law. Jacques is a strong proponent of the principles of voluntarism and ethical altruism. He aspires to become a philanthropist. Disclaimer: Views expressed are his own.

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