Property Rights

A Libertarian Defense of Sit-Ins

|

Some libertarians, thinking of private property rights, are leery of sit-ins as a solution to private racism. Sheldon Richman at the Freeman, in the conclusion of a very worthwhile walk through the reasons why there is more to the rich libertarian perspective on racism than "I disapprove of your bigotry, but I will defend to the death your right to live by it," explains why he thinks sit-ins are an appropriate non-violent means of opposing racism:

no doubt someone will have raised an eyebrow at my inclusion of sit-ins in the list of appropriate nonviolent forms of protest against racist conduct. Isn't a sit-in at a private lunch counter a trespass?

It is — and the students who staged the sit-ins did not resist when they were removed by police. (Sometimes they were beaten by thugs who themselves were not subjected to police action.) The students never forced their way into any establishment. They simply entered, sat well-behaved at the counter, and waited to be served. When told they would not be served, they said through their actions, "You can remove me, but I will not help you." (Actually, blacks could shop at Woolworth's and similar stores; they just couldn't sit at the lunch counters. Boycotts hurt the stores' bottom lines.)

I could buttress this defense of sit-ins by pointing out that those stores were not operating in a free and competitive market. An entrepreneur who tried to open an integrated lunch counter across the street from Woolworth's would likely have been thwarted by zoning, licensing, and building-inspection officers. He would have had a hard time buying supplies and equipment because the local White Citizens' Council (the "respectable" white-collar bigots) would have "suggested" to wholesalers that doing business with the integrationist might be, shall we say, ill-advised. And if the message needed to be underscored, the Ku Klux Klan (with government's implicit sanction and even participation) was always available for late-night calls.

Did the beneficiaries of that oppressive system really have a good trespass case against the sit-in participants?

NEXT: The Rise of Consumer-Driven Care

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Heh, I like this.

  2. Well, if you’re willing to take the penalty for trespass, in order to shame the property holder and the law enforcement structure, then I’m not going to damn you for it.

    1. I agree. I’m all for civil disobedience and non-violent resistance, but practically the whole point of it is to get thrown in jail so you can emphasize the injustice.

      I really can’t stand protestors who engage in civil disobediance acts and then whine about the getting thrown in prison. That’s the whole point idiot! You’re SUPPOSED to get yourself thrown in prison! GAARH!

  3. Sorry, but this kind of “non violent” protest is wrong. If I have to remove you from my own store, I am having to use physical force. Whether or not I am causing you pain is irrelevant.

    Property rights are meaningless without the right to use force to defend them. Telling someone, “you own your house, but if someone else shacks up there, tough shit.” is exactly the same as telling him that he doesn’t own his house.

    If someone is on my property, I have no moral obligation to pick them up and carry them out. I am entitled to say, “I’m giving you this one warning. Get off my property now or I will use whatever degree of force necessary to get you off, and if you get hurt, that’s not my problem.”

    1. If they aren’t resisting you in any way, the degree of force necessary is picking them up and carrying them out.

      If you claimed, “Well, it was more convenient for me to just shoot them” I would support your death by hanging. Seriously.

      You’re allowed to use the minimum amount of force necessary. Not the amount that satisfies you emotionally.

      1. What if, in the course of using the minimal amount of force necessary, the store owner throws his back out? Let’s assume too that he was using proper lifting form. I would think the libertarian would allow him to sue for damages too, no?

        1. The store owner could sue, but I’d argue that trying to lift someone on one’s lonesome is foolhardy. In this instance, I would not award the shopowner damages.

          1. Seriously, were are the employees that he’s already paying to do the heavy lifting?

          2. *cough* where *cough*

      2. Gee, how about if I shoot a burglar, do you still support my death by hanging, even though many states have a “presumption of threat” law? And what is the difference between a burglar and someone attempting to intimidate me, my staff and my customers?

        1. If someone comes into your home after hours or comes into your business after hours or with clear intent to rob, you can treat that person like burglar. If someone comes into your business during business hours and is posing no overt threat, you treat that person like a trespasser, not a burglar.

      3. So if someone breaks into your home and after refusing to leave you have to grab them and attempt to drag them out? How do you find out if theyre resisting or not? when they fail to knife you in your attempt to carry them off the premises?

    2. Who said the property owner could not have the protesters removed?

  4. I don’t think genuine civil disobedience is particularly controversial among libertarians.

    As long as you are genuinely civil and non-destructive, and willing to accept the application of the (unjust) law as a necessary part, indeed the point, of your protest, I see nothing unlibertarian about it.

    Did the beneficiaries of that oppressive system really have a good trespass case against the sit-in participants?

    Yes, they did. So? The point of the sit-in is to (a) get the law changed so that they don’t and/or (b) get the culture/civil society to change so that, even if they do, they don’t enforce it.

  5. The argument assumes that the protestors are willing accept the foreseeable legal consequences of their illegal act.

    Typically, protestors believe they are entitled to get off scott free since their actions were “morally right.”

    If you take an ethical stand and you’re willing to accept the maximum potential legal penalty without a whine, I salute you.

    1. what’s wrong with whining? If you don’t advertise the fact that you were subjected to an unjust law, it never gets changed.

  6. “The argument assumes that the protestors are willing accept the foreseeable legal consequences of their illegal act.”

    In the cases I talked about, they were and they did. What’s the beef?

    There should have been amnesty, though.

  7. Yeah, that’s rich.

    Did the beneficiaries of that oppressive system really have a good trespass case against the sit-in participants?

    What beneficiaries? The cops who got overtime? The jerks who got some free shots in? The lawyers who worked the sitters’ cases? The politicians who pushed the right end of the wedge?

    The whole paragraph preceding that quote outlines how the “entrepreneurs” who got sat in on weren’t voluntary participants in the system, let alone beneficiaries of it. They were less sympathetic victims of it.

    If they didn’t call the cops, what would happen to them? Right.
    Some say […] that since liberty is threatened only by the initiation of physical force (and fraud), nonviolent racist conduct ? repugnant as it is ? is not a libertarian concern.

    Not as such. Libertarianism is a theory of government, not a totalizing reductio ad politicum of all life. Not being that is the whole damn point of it.
    If you want that, pick another team. The more popular ones all have it, and the endlessly moralizing assholery to go along with it. Don’t fuck up the last decent one.

    1. >>Not as such. Libertarianism is a theory of government, not a totalizing reductio ad politicum of all life. Not being that is the whole damn point of it.
      If you want that, pick another team. The more popular ones all have it, and the endlessly moralizing assholery to go along with it. Don’t fuck up the last decent one.

      Agreed. While I’m not necessarily willing to send the law against private racist conduct, I would certainly never patronize such a place. In fact, I would probably flick off everyone inside through the window and yell at everyone who does.

  8. From the linked article:

    When I walk past a restaurant, in the back of my mind is the thought, “I can go in there.” I have no such thought when I walk past a home.

    When I walk past a restaurant, in the back of my mind is the thought, “I can go in there if the owners wants me in there.”

    If the place is full of people giving me hostile looks when I step in the door, I may have the legal right to be there, but damned if I’m gonna have my meal marred by overtly hostile patrons or owners. I’ll go somewhere where my business is welcomed, where the waiters are welcoming, where the vibe is right.

    1. Do you really think when you past a shop, “I can go in there if the owners wants me in there.”

      If so that’s funny and a bit sad – I know everytime I walk into a Bed Bath and Beyond the first thing I think is, ‘gosh I talked trash about the shower curtain I bought and returned here back in 2002 – I hope they want me in there cause I sure want that blender at 20% off”

      1. the shower curtain I bought and returned

        You know how i know you’re gay?

  9. I’m happy with achiveinbg smaller government and turning over more control/power/marketshare to corporations and private groups, etc. but in order for that to be the case I really need to know there is a way to protest them more than not buying their products (which can be hard if, say, they own the sidewalk on my way to my work) or blogging snark about them (the Reason way) – sit-ins, peaceful protests, etc.

    1. >>achiveinbg

      What the hell is this word supposed to be?

  10. My view is that discrimination by race is wrong and that any attempt to support that view based on “property rights” is wrong.
    “Property rights do no trump Human rights” and denying equal rights to people because they are black, or gay, or Asian, or handicapped violates basic human rights.

    Believe it or not, In some countries it is still legal to put an ad in the papers saying
    “Wanted: secretary. Must be young ,single and attractive”

    1. Denying… what? What is it about “I own my own labor” do you not understand? No human other than myself has the right to my own labor, my own earnings, my own property that I’ve paid for with money I’ve worked for. If I choose not to do business with you because you have salt and pepper hair, tough shit. I can make up whatever arbitrary standard I want, because nobody else owns anything I have to offer, and I can offer it to the people I feel the most comfortable doing business with.

      1. If I choose not to do business with you because you have salt and pepper hair

        HEY! Wtf man? Salt and Pepper hair looks cool.

        Now gingers on the other hand…..

    2. “Property rights do no trump Human rights” . . ?

      Property rights ARE human rights.

      There has been a blurring over the years of the difference between private choice and government.

      The government may NOT discriminate based on color, sex, etc. This is only right.

      I, on my own property, MUST discriminate based on my own choices. If those choices include division by sex, color, religion, or being left-handed, so be it.

  11. How about this:

    A group of enlightened investors decide to open up an avant garde restaurant in Birmingham, circa 1955. The investors locate what they think will be a good location for their new dining establishment and negotiate a five year lease with the landlord.

    The investors unanimously decide that they will be open for negro patrons. They also decide that they will not publicize their decision; rather, they will simply seat and serve all who choose to eat at their restaurant.

    A couple of weeks after the joint is opened, Josh, the 23 year old stepson of one of the investors, shows up with a gorgeous 6 foot tall nubian angel. He had overheard his mother and stepfather discussing the investors’ decision to serve black folk. So, he decided to invite Gloria, the daughter of a New Haven minister whom he met at college dance.

    That same night also happened to be the night that the landlord was taking his wife to the restaurant. Although he was not an overt racist, the landlord did believed that “folks should only mix with their own kind”. His belief encompassed dining experiences.

    Needless to say, the landlord nearly had an apoplexy when Josh entered the restaurant with his statuesque sista’ on his arm. The landlord summons the manager and demands that he politely escort the couple off of the premises.
    The manager informs the landlord that the policy of the restaurant is to accept black patrons.

    The landlord calls the cops. There is nothing in the lease which forbids the acceptance of negro patrons.

    IMO, the landlord does not have the right to prevent his tenants from serving black people.

    Just as the Westminster, Colorado, mall owner did not have the right to eject Gailey from the mall.

    1. 6 foot tall nubian Goddess

      FTFY

      IMO, the landlord does not have the right to prevent his tenants from serving black people.

      Well, that would depend on the text of the lease, wouldn’t it?

      1. I don’t know, 6 foot might be stretching it. I need basketball shoes to be 6’1″. Can we make it 5’10”?

        1. Gods/Godesses have to be over 6ft tall?

  12. You’re welcome to trespass to make a point. You’re just going to get in trouble for doing it. I don’t know anyone who is libertarian leaning that would argue otherwise. The rules are pretty basic and clear. Person who owns property calls the shots, people leasing property call the shots per the lease (and some common law), people who violate the the property owners wishes or the law pay the price.

    *preferably not a beating, although I find it hard to begrudge the occasional patchouli smelling hippy beating, some hippies need beating

    The article seems a bit trite, and should be file under, “No Shit.”

    1. *preferably not a beating, although I find it hard to begrudge the occasional patchouli smelling hippy beating, some hippies need beating

      Yeah, even when they smell like *what hmm smells like* and theyre just dirty *hmm*s.

      Yeah, beating people is cool. (Well, if they’re legislators….damn, i’m just as bad as hmm aren’t I?)

  13. I’m curious if any one in this crowd had actually lived through the civil rights struggle in the South? Or if anyone has bothered to imagine what life is like for those of us who aren’t as white and privileged as this comment stream is?

    1. I’m curious why you automatically assume that we are all white and privileged?

      1. How about white and stupid?

    2. Please don’t whine about the poor minorities. If you’re going to do that, go join the Democrats. Most of us are not privileged, not by a long shot.

  14. This is why it is so very hard to take “libertarians” very seriously in any kind of respectable intellectual sense: you are always finding “exceptions” to your own ideological rules.

    1. In a “libertarian” society, a private business owner has the right to exclude anyone he wishes from his lunch counter, period. The person(s) who violate that business owners property in violation of his rules is the bad guy, regardless of the “good” reason they may have had to do it.

    2. Matt @ 6:06 pm: to the extent “white privilege” exists (it is largely a myth), it has been earned. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being either “white” or “privileged.” Get over it.

    1. I earned the “white” by staying indoors!

    2. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being either “white” or “privileged.” Get over it.

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with being either “white” or “privileged.” Get over it.

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with being either “white” or “privileged.” Get over it.

      There is absolutely nothing wrong with being either “white” or “privileged.” Get over it.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.