Barack Obama spoke of teachable moments. Libertarians who imagine their beliefs can gain political traction have just had a teachable moment. It remains to be seen whether the lesson will be learned.

Jan Brewer Vetoes
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer Vetoes SB 1062

Arizona Senate Bill 1062 that Governor Brewer just vetoed purported to reverse that aspect of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which outlawed discrimination against persons a commercial business — such as for example, a lunch counter in a Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina — did not want to serve. The newer reasoning — this time not with blacks in its sights — was that if the Bible labelled homosexuality an abomination a believing Christian operating such a lunch counter could invoke religious belief as a legal excuse not to serve a same-sex couple.

This controversy comes up in weeks following the legal case of a wedding cake designer in Colorado who refused to craft a wedding cake for a same-sex couple — declining on religious grounds — who has now been court-ordered to make wedding cakes for all comers.

On the pages of The Libertarian Enterprise L. Neil Smith has written in an article titled The Auction Block Comes to Colorado that “It is precisely as if some judge tried to force me, a lifelong libertarian, to write essays in support of gun control or Marxism.”

Neil is correct. Once legal compulsion is established in principle to be used in compelling a private business to serve any customer regardless of the proprietor’s beliefs, ethics, or esthetics — any request for service where there is no right of refusal makes the proprietor a slave to the customer.

But here’s the other thing. Decent people who object to the right of refusal being invoked on the basis of various bigotries — skin color, ethnic origin, religion, or sexual preference — would rather live in a legal and political system that outlaws certain rights of refusal rather than working against such bigotry relying completely on the tortoise-slow uphill climb of argument, picketing, boycott, and writing novels, plays, and movies that combat bigotry with mind and heart.

Political involvement on behalf of an abstract principle of protecting a private right is a trap for libertarians, because when we invoke our standards on behalf of the scum of the earth we make ourselves the targets of decent outrage — and discredit our principles among those who see only short-term gain and not the long-term loss that undercutting principle enables.

The grandstanding statist always wins these arguments because principles are invisible and have no sex appeal.

If there’s a lesson here for the libertarian, it’s that principle is a black-market commodity. The State’s ripping away the right of discrimination makes discrimination piratical — but we must remember also to discriminate against scumbags — kick their miserable asses back to the State — when we practice our liberty in our clandestine agoras.

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