Yes, There is a Case for Taking Away Disney's Florida Privileges
Up until recently, Disney has had the right to more or less self-governance, but it is looking like that privilege has reached its end. On Wednesday, April 20th, the Florida Senate voted to remove the special status that Disney has held in Florida since 1967. This was almost immediately followed, on Thursday, April 21st, by the Florida House of Representatives passing the same bill. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ has signed the legislation.
Prima facie, this seems to spit into the face of Austrianism and libertarianism to seemingly de-privatize what amounts to be a large, self-governing, private city and return the responsibility and authority over this area to the state and local authorities. At first glance, it seems that Disney’s former status was no different from this quote from Hans-Hermann Hoppe explaining covenant communities:
All land is privately owned, including all streets, rivers, airports, and harbors. With respect to some pieces of land, the property title may be unrestricted; that is, the owner is permitted to do whatever he pleases with his property as long as he does not physically damage the property of others. With respect to other territories, the property title may be more or less restricted. As is currently the case in some housing developments, the owner may be bound by contractual limitations on what he can do with his property (restrictive covenants, voluntary zoning), which might include residential rather than commercial use [and] no buildings more than four stories high.
It is easy to see that Disney obviously does not face a voluntary restriction of no building more than four stories high. But for all intents and purposes, Disney has met the exact criteria that Hoppe laid out above. If anything, the above description would really make it seem that Disney’s current standing should be further privatized, not less.
The right generally attempts to square this circle with reference to the colloquially termed “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Disney came out strongly against this bill and led to an anger directed at Disney beyond anything they had passively aimed at the corporation in the past. DeSantis in particular spoke regarding Disney’s stance on this bill. It was quite arguably from this moment that criticism of the company went from abstract complaints to snowballing into what it has become today.
However, continuing with Hoppe’s logic of covenant communities, this would, in no way, rule out Disney’s right to private governance. Hoppe went as far as somewhat famously saying:
In a covenant… among proprietor and community tenants for the purpose of protecting their private property, no such thing as a right to free (unlimited) speech exists, not even to unlimited speech on one’s own tenant-property. One may say innumerable things and promote almost any idea under the sun, but naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very covenant of preserving and protecting private property, such as democracy and communism. There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and removed from society.
Taken to its logical conclusion, just as a libertarian covenant community could physically separate and remove those with contrary ideas, a Disney covenant community – which borderline already existed – would have a reasonable right to dictate what was acceptable in its borders. If it spoke against this particular bill, no matter how poorly others may look upon it, they would be well within their property rights to do so. It certainly would not invite state action.
Having looked at these basic libertarian principles, where does this leave us? Are we handcuffed by our beliefs in the principles of private property that we thus question the actions taken against Disney – a company that is anything but an ally to liberty? Absolutely not. There is no reason for us to simply sit back and allow liberty to be trampled.
This conflict can be resolved from the content of a talk that Tho Bishop of the Mises Institute gave recently in Tampa at a Mises Meetup event. Speaking in defense of Governor DeSantis, Bishop referred to anti-discrimination laws, explaining that the obvious libertarian stance is against anti-discrimination laws. One does not even need to have heard this talk to understand that starting point. Rothbard himself once said:
In sum: anti-discrimination laws of any sort are evil, aggress against the genuine rights of person and property, and are uneconomic since they cripple efficient business decisions.
Many libertarians -- myself included – have taken this logic to say that DeSantis therefore had no right to limit a business’ right to discriminate against who it employs based on vaccination status. However, Bishop took this basic libertarian principle one step further explaining that obviously it is anti-libertarian or illiberal to advocate for anti-discrimination laws, ceteris paribus.
However, all things are in no way equal in today’s world. If group a argues we should only protect them from discrimination and the opposing group B argues that we should protect no classes from discrimination. The outcome may be a compromise, but it will drift in the direction of protecting group a from discrimination and leaving only group B open to discrimination. This protection where only libertarians are allowed to be discriminated against will undoubtedly lead to a more illiberal society over time.
It is easy to apply this same logic to the present Disney issue. Theoretically, we absolutely should allow Disney what amounts to its own covenant community. However, this cannot hold if they will be the only ones with such a privilege. If we are to advocate for private cities, we cannot do so by simply taking the offer of this one singular covenant community to a corporation that will gladly fight against us and calling that the win. We must advocate for privatization, however, in moments that will inevitably be one step forward and two steps back by giving enemies of liberty substantial power, then we have every right to proceed ever more boldly against it.