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Defend Voluntary Association

HandshakeVoluntary association is one of the most basic tenets held by the truly liberty-minded.  And yet lately it’s fallen out of fashion, sometimes even with those claiming to be [L]ibertarians.  Instead, we’re told, public accommodation laws should be favored.  These laws empower the the State to insert itself into a business arrangement that should be the sole concern of the business owner and the potential customer, with no intermediary necessary.

In a recent newsletter to his Podcast subscribers Tom Woods boils voluntary association down to its simplest explanation:

“…when only one party to an exchange wants that exchange to take place, it doesn’t take place. Only when both parties favor it does it happen.”

“But what if Joe’s Widget Shop discriminates against black gay transgender people?  That’s not right!”

First: what’s right and what’s wrong is a judgement that you can make for yourself, but can’t force onto a business or its customers.  That’s a natural principle that flows from the idea of voluntary association.  You know what else naturally flows from voluntary association?  The idea that if you don’t like the associations that Joe’s Widget Shop chooses to make or not make, you don’t have to shop there.  In fact, you can even utilize social media to make everyone else aware of what Joe is up to, and maybe that will affect Joe’s business and force him to either change his practices or go out of business.  This is all possible thanks to voluntary association.  You have the freedom to patronize or not.  You have the freedom to vocally support or oppose.  That’s all built in to voluntary association.

Second: even if you judge Joe’s Widget Shop to be a deplorable establishment, undeserving of your patronage, that doesn’t give you the right to stand in the way of a voluntary transaction between Joe and his customers.  Would you personally walk into Joe’s shop and point a gun at him, forcing him to do business with someone he doesn’t wish to do business?  Of course not.  Any reasonable person would find something about this use of force to be immoral and rather distasteful.  But why is it suddenly on the up and up when we ask the State to stand in our place and point the gun at Joe?  In the latter instance, not only are you forcing your opinions and values on others, but you’re also a coward for standing behind the State’s firepower, all the while declaring your moral superiority.  What a hero you’ve become.

Sadly, some in the liberty movement have simply given up on this principle.  When challenged by name calling like “racist!” or “homophobe!”, one group — the weak — give in and allow themselves to be manipulated into believing they might actually be a racist for simply believing that everyone ought to have the right to choose with whom they associate or don’t.  A second group — the lazy — acquiesce because the fight isn’t worth it.  They just can’t handle the scrutiny.  As in the case with the meager child who gives in to the bully’s demands, this is a dangerous precedent to set — one that sends a clear signal that you can be managed, you can be controlled.

If we are to regain our liberties, we must defend voluntary association, even when one’s associations offend us.  Don’t be weak, and don’t be lazy.  The Battle for Liberty requires vigilance and dedication — being a free people is hard work.  Nearly every civilization in the course of human history has trended toward tyranny.  Perhaps this is what lead to Ben Franklin’s famous statement regarding the difficult task that is maintaining a republican form of government.

At the close of the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 (the convention which gave rise to the Constitution of the United States) it is reported that a passing lady asked Franklin,

“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

To which Franklin replied,

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Let us keep it.



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