Mises Wire

State Coercion and the Injustice of Apartheid

Many libertarians hold the view that state coercion is wrong, regardless of the ends to which that coercion is deployed. It is wrong for the state to force people apart in an apartheid system, and it is also wrong for the state to force people to engage in “inclusivity” under systems of equity and diversity that force people into contractual relations against their will—for example, in the context of employment or housing. This is what Lew Rockwell meant when he referred to civil rights laws as “involuntary servitude”:

Like the right to housing or medical care, civil rights must trample on the freedoms of association, contract, and even speech. As Michael Oakeshott has pointed out, these are what distinguish the free man from the slave. Civil rights laws even enshrine involuntary servitude, as when restaurant owners are forced to wait on people they don’t want to serve.

The authors of “Setting the Record Straight on the Libertarian South African Economist W. H. Hutt and James M. Buchanan” are critical of the view that economic liberty is essential to justice. They criticize W. H. Hutt’s antiapartheid arguments because Hutt grounds his opposition to apartheid in a defense of economic liberty. Hutt saw apartheid as an injustice that impedes economic liberty and amounts to state coercion. His critics consider it “racist” to base opposition to apartheid on notions of economic liberty because, in their view, such arguments should be grounded on theories of antiracism. The fact that Hutt regarded the apartheid system in his country, South Africa, as an injustice is insufficient for American antiracists because, in their view, it is not enough to oppose injustice if one does not specifically define that injustice as “racism.”

In Hutt’s view, the injustice of apartheid consisted in what he described as “deliberately imposed man-made barriers to equality of economic opportunity—barriers which are, I suggest, by all odds the most important ultimate cause of inequality of civil rights.” Hutt depicted apartheid as “governmental appeasement of a white proletariat,” where the government segregated races in order to ensure that lower-waged black labor would not be in competition with higher-waged white labor. Hutt gives the example of the Mines and Works Acts of 1911 and 1926: “Under these acts, no African may be employed in (or trained for) skilled or responsible work in mining and connected industries.”

Hutt’s argument was that the “inequality of status and respect between races is derived from inequality of economic rights.” He regarded this—the fact that black people were prevented by apartheid laws from improving their material conditions—as the essential problem. The “white arrogance” that some white people exhibited was, to Hutt, no more than an aggravating factor: the insult added to the injury of economic exclusion. He emphasized, in true libertarian spirit, the importance of freedom of association: “The right of free association implies the right not to associate as well as to associate.” Freedom of association means that while it is wrong to try and keep races separate by force, it would be equally wrong to try to introduce inclusivity by force. Hutt argued:

In any free society, a club should have the right to restrict its membership to, say, women, teetotallers, veterans, Negroes, Baptists, Jews, or whites. Equally, clubs which wish to admit both whites and Negroes should, under the same rule, have the effective right to do so, and be protected from private coercion of the Ku Klux Klan type.

Being Actively Antiracist

Hutt’s critics regard themselves as “actively antiracist,” and on that basis, they argue that Hutt erred in emphasizing the importance of freedom of association and highlighting the inequality of economic opportunity entailed in laws such as the Mines and Works Acts, which locked black people out of work and training opportunities. In their view, Hutt ought to have opposed apartheid on grounds that it is racist. They argue that Hutt ought to have conceptualized the injustice of apartheid as being all about, or at least primarily about, “racism.”

A key tenet of critical race theory (CRT) is that anyone who does not employ “antiracism” justifications for his arguments is by definition a racist. Following the logic of this theory, it follows that the only conclusion to be drawn from Hutt’s focus on economic liberty instead of “racism” is that Hutt must have been a racist.

Antiracists regard racism as the only moral ground on which injustice can and should be opposed. As explained by one of the best-known proponents of antiracism, Ibram X. Kendi, in this theory, there is no neutrality on the matter of racism: one is either a racist or an antiracist. The point of CRT is that everything, including a concept of justice, must be viewed through the lens of race. Thus, antiracists consider it meaningless to describe anyone as “not racist” because anyone who is not an antiracist is a racist:

Kendi explains that “not racist” isn’t really a thing. Kendi argues that “not racist” is a term that “signifies neutrality . . . [b]ut there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘antiracist.’ . . . One either endorses the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist or racial equality as an antiracist.”

From that perspective, by failing to be an “antiracist” in that sense, Hutt must be treated as implicitly declaring himself to be a supporter of racial hierarchies. The evidence of this is said to lie in remarks Hutt made about the attitude of black South Africans to white South Africans. The authors do not question whether Hutt’s observations are true or not, nor are they interested in the point Hutt was trying to make, namely that inequalities of economic status are the primary influence on race relations in circumstances where one race is prevented, by law, from economic participation. Hutt’s critics have no interest in this insight and simply argue that Hutt’s remarks are consistent with Hutt’s implicit belief in racial hierarchies as they see it.

The Injustice of Racial “Equity”

Hutt was correct to highlight that apartheid is an injustice as it relies on state coercion to restrict participation in economic activity. That injustice is compounded by basing the restrictions on race: preventing people from participating in economic activity purely because of their race. There is a further implication of Hutt’s argument, namely that state coercion does not become acceptable if it is used to confer privileges on black people instead of white people. Apartheid laws were wrong to restrict black participation in economic activity, and by the same token, current equity laws in South Africa are also wrong to restrict white participation in economic activity.

For example, the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act of 2013 states that “broad-based black economic empowerment means the viable economic empowerment of black people” and provides the legal basis for “facilitating ownership and management of enterprises” by black people, “human resource and skills development” of black people, and “preferential procurement from enterprises that are owned by black people.” In practice, this means that white people have no legal basis for such participation and no legal protection when they are locked out of economic opportunities under the enforcement of this act.

State coercion that historically privileged whites above blacks under apartheid was unjust, and state coercion that now privileges blacks above whites under equity is also unjust. The Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act is an injustice for the same reasons that apartheid was an injustice.

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