Rand Paul says he’s against “institutional racism.” By “institutional” he means “public-sector.” Someone needs to tell libertarians that the private sector and civil society are also “institutions,” and that those institutions can be just as oppressive as public ones. Once you understand that private as well as public power can threaten freedom, you’re ready to graduate from libertarianism and join one of the adult groups.
Paul’s attempt to liken private discrimination to free speech doesn’t really make much sense, unless you think that having to hear speech you disapprove of is just like losing a job because you’re the wrong race or the wrong religion. Why Rachel Maddow, who has a lot on the ball, focused on public accommodation rather than employment, I’m not sure.
Update Brink Lindsey shows that it’s possible to graduate to adulthood without giving up the libertarian label:
I think Rand Paul is wrong about the Civil Rights Act. As a general matter, people should be free to deal or not deal with others as they choose. And that means we discriminate against those we choose not to deal with. In marrying one person, we discriminate against all others. Businesses can discriminate against potential employees who don’t meet hiring qualifications, and they can discriminate against potential customers who don’t observe a dress code (no shirt, no shoes, no service). Rand Paul is appealing to the general principle of freedom of association, and that general principle is a good one.
But it has exceptions. In particular, after three-plus centuries of slavery and another century of institutionalized, state-sponsored racism (which included state toleration of private racist violence), the exclusion of blacks from public accommodations wasn’t just a series of uncoordinated private decisions by individuals exercising their freedom of association. It was part and parcel of an overall social system of racial oppression.
Paul’s grievous error is to ignore the larger context in which individual private decisions to exclude blacks were made. In my view, at least, truly individual, idiosyncratic discrimination ought to be legally permitted; for example, the “Soup Nazi” from Seinfeld ought to be free to deny soup to anybody no matter how crazy his reasons (they didn’t ask nicely, they mispronounced the soup, etc.). But the exclusion of blacks from public accommodations wasn’t like that – not even close.
“Part and parcel of an overall social system of racial oppression.” That’s what “institutional racism” means.
Second update David Bernstein states what I take to be the more conventional libertarian belief: that “private discrimination should, in general, be legal.”