Libertarian History/Philosophy

The Libertarian Roots of the NAACP

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Historian Jonathan Bean wrote an excellent article for U.S. News & World Report earlier this month contrasting the classical liberal goals of the early NAACP with its less-than-individualistic modern agenda. As Bean writes:

The historic achievements of the NAACP—all but forgotten by most Americans—derived from a passionate dedication to colorblindness and individual freedom. From its founding in 1909 until the 1960s, the NAACP fought for a "colorblind Constitution." Since then, it has become just another interest group pleading for favors. This flip-flop would make splendid material for an Orwellian novel: preference is equality, some "more equal" than others.

One of the key figures in Bean's piece is the great libertarian lawyer Moorfield Storey, who argued and won the NAACP's first major victory before the Supreme Court, Buchanan v. Warley (1917), which relied on property rights to strike down a residential segregation law. Storey's achievement in that case continues to directly refute those progressives who maintain that constitutionally protected economic rights only benefit big business and other elites. As George Mason University legal scholar David Bernstein has argued, "though it was not used to its full potential, Buchanan almost certainly prevented governments from passing far harsher segregation laws [and] prevented residential segregation laws from being the leading edge of broader anti-negro measures." To put it another way: Civil rights are impossible without economic liberty.

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  1. To put it another way: Civil rights are impossible without economic liberty.

    Not when “CHANGE!” is afoot. When economic liberty ceases to exist, then it can no longer be a player in the equation.

  2. Oh dear Gog. I feel the hate coming towards the referenced article.

  3. “To put it another way: Civil rights are impossible without economic liberty.”

    But depriving everyone equally of economic liberty is one way to bridge the racial divide isn’t it? That statement assumes that the current crop of leftists see civil rights as anything but brutal equality. Emphasis on BRUTAL.

  4. But depriving everyone equally of economic liberty is one way to bridge the racial divide isn’t it?

    There is no such thing as racial equality, either of opportunity or results, when legal and economic outcomes are determined by the granting or withholding of political favors.

    When your “civil rights” depend on the thin reed of who owes what to whom in DC today, then you have no rights, only the opportunity to be extorted by politicians, and the obligation to bow your neck to bureaucrats.

  5. RC,

    If we are all equally opressed, are we not all equal?

  6. As long as the NAACP (and Sharpton and Jackson) exists, there will be racism.

  7. Abbie Hoffman unironically stood before a flag and invoked the Constitution and “The American Way” to rally students in ’68, and less than twenty years later, Frank Zappa got bitch-hissed off a stage for describing opposition to legal abortion as “Unamerican” — because by then that was an unacceptably “right-wing,” “ideological” position.

    It’s not just the NAACP.

  8. But that’s just it, John. All will not be equally oppressed; the degree of your oppression will be relieved to the extent someone in authority owes you a favor.

  9. Without economic rights, the others in the Bill of Rights are dubious at best. I’ve never really understood the Supreme Court’s downgrading of economic rights, other than as a matter of expediency during FDR’s administration.

  10. I know RC. I am just being flippant.

  11. Would Barry Goldwater do better or worse today? “Repeal the Civil Rights Act!”

  12. Frank Zappa got bitch-hissed off a stage for describing opposition to legal abortion as “Unamerican” — because by then that was an unacceptably “right-wing,” “ideological” position.

    You want to try again with that? Something seems amiss in that statement.

  13. There is no such thing as racial equality, either of opportunity or results, when legal and economic outcomes are determined by the granting or withholding of political favors.

    The idea that there should be any semblance of racial equality is very recent in human history.

    Certainly very few people living in 13th century B.C. Egypt had any idea that it might be unfair to have laws favoring Egyptians over Phoenicians, Greeks, or Hittites.

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