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Discrimination

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… Many of the leading problems of our day, I believe, stem from a thought-disease about discrimination. It is well known that discrimination has come to be widely scorned. And politicians have teamed up with those who scorn it, to pass laws against it — as though morals can be manufactured by the pen of a legislator and the gun of a policeman….

According to [the "fair employment practices" laws], one is prohibited from discriminating against the employment of a person because of his race, color, and the like. This type of law reveals, on closer scrutiny, the dangers inherent in the “nondiscrimination” thinking of our time.

Not everyone can work at every job. Only one person can work at each job, which means that nobody else can have it at the same time. Such is the nature of things — a natural law which no man-made law can revoke. It follows, then, that there must unavoidably be a selection of the person who is to work at any one job. There must be discrimination in this situation. The only remaining question is: Who shall have the right of decision? He must somehow choose the one for the job; he must somehow discriminate.

The method used in a free and voluntary society is to allow agreement between the two persons concerned — the employer and the employee. No one else is rightfully concerned….

Under socialism in any of its forms and by any of its names, [the method] becomes the business of government, since government is supposed to be the unquestioned reservoir of justice. But the government has no basis for selecting the man who shall have that job, except as some one bureaucrat renders the decision arbitrarily and exercises his own personal choice or preference. Discrimination has not been eliminated; it cannot be eliminated, by the very nature of things. All that has happened has been the transfer of the rights of discrimination to a bureaucrat….

The prevailing attitudes about discrimination in employment, in friendships, or in anything else, are based on the assumption that discrimination leads to conflict, and that legislation against it is necessary to keep order and the peace. On the contrary, I believe that laws against discrimination generate rather than quell disputes and conflict…. Wherever personal rights to discriminate and choose are violated, either by a sweep of emotional sentiments or by law, peaceful solutions to Nature’s laws of limitations are replaced with chaos and conflict.

When the attempt is made to widen rights and create claims in excess of what is available to fulfill these claims, conflict becomes inevitable and persistent. Two or more claims to one job cause conflict. Two or more claims to the same land cause conflict. Two or more claims to the same husband or wife cause conflict.

Conflict in all these areas can be curbed only by some device which will restrict rights or claims to any desired object, so that there is the necessary equality between the supply of a thing and the valid claims against it. There must be only one right to one job; only one deed to one piece of property. The function of the device of private property, in contrast to the impossible socialist-communist concept that everyone owns everything under “ownership in common,” is to equate ownership with the property to be owned. The function of price in a free market, in contrast to a controlled price with rationing of an artificial shortage created by a governmental bureaucracy, is likewise to equate supply and demand for what is available.

The Judeo-Christian admonitions about the brotherhood of man and about loving one’s fellow men can hardly mean that man-made laws should be allowed to interfere with these methods of peaceful adjustment to human preferences and to the scarcities of desired things. Man should be allowed to continue his self-improvement on earth through the exercise of judgment and freedom of choice according to his conscience. When this concept of rights is combined with conduct according to the familiar guides of Judeo-Christian ethics, I believe the destiny of man will best be fulfilled and that peace will reign at its maximum.

If man is to continue his self-improvement, he must be free to exercise the powers of choice with which he has been endowed. When discrimination is not allowed according to one’s wisdom and conscience, both discrimination and conscience will atrophy in the same manner as an unused muscle. Since man was given these faculties, it necessarily follows that he should use them and be personally responsible for the consequences of his choices. He must be free to either enjoy or endure the consequences of each decision, because the lesson it teaches is the sole purpose of experience — the best of all teachers.

When one’s fellow men interpose force and compulsions between him and the Source of his being — whether by the device of government or otherwise — it amounts to interrupting his self-improvement, in conflict with what seems to be the Divine design. Man must be left free to discriminate and to exercise his freedom of choice. This freedom is a virtue and not a vice. And freedom of choice sows the seeds of peace rather than of conflict.

This is an excerpt from his essay, “Discrimination,” which appeared in Essays on Liberty, published in 1954 by The Foundation for Economic, Education, Irvington, New York.

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    F.A. Harper (1905-1973) was the founder of The Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia.