[This morning’s reading brought me two exceedingly striking articles. I dithered over which one should serve as the launching pad for today’s tirade, but only for a moment. I’ve decided to save the one with wider scope and farther-reaching implications for tomorrow. I promise you: it won’t spoil between now and then. -- FWP]
Hearken to Kevin Williamson:
One of the remarkable aspects of the recent spate of infantile left-wing protests that caught Jim Geraghty’s attention is that they are directed at private life and private spaces rather than at public institutions and public affairs. One expects protests at city hall; in New York, we even endured the unseemly spectacle of one of those shut-down-traffic protests conducted by the city council itself, as though its members did not do enough to inconvenience the residents of that city. Protests in front of the police station or the (hideously fascist-looking) Federal Reserve building are part of the normal course of affairs in a democratic republic with free speech and a strong tradition of lively discourse....
In New York City, protesters invaded the Pershing Square Café across the street from Grand Central Terminal, which is one of the more diverse spots in heavily segregated Manhattan, catering as it does to commuting 53-year-old lawyers from Fairfield County, who check any number of different demographic boxes.
The message these protests send is that there is no private space — and, therefore, no private life — so far as this particular rabble is concerned. It’s the familiar Trotsky conundrum: You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.
Do you know what the victimists fear above all else? Being ignored. It’s why they put so much time and effort into getting in front of every microphone, every camera, and every so-called journalist in the world. If a sufficient preponderance of us were simply to ignore them, their influence would drop to approximately zero. Indeed, the power of that tactic – what Arthur Herzog called in The B.S. Factor the “mass yawn” – is so staggering that it can even nullify state and federal laws, without recourse to the political process....
The political class and its hangers-on fear exactly the same things as the victimists: being ignored. Were they to become aware that no one is paying any attention to their enactments and decrees, they would soon slink away. Some might even enter productive trades, perhaps as cheap prostitutes.
(Dear Lord, please strengthen me against the rising inclination to post a simple “I told you so” here each and every morning. It’s so wearying to be out in front of the curve all the time. Yours truly, Francis W. Porretto, Curmudgeon Emeritus to the World Wide Web.)
The pole star of the politician is the same as that of the political activist: politicization. Both of them want to destroy any notions the rest of us might have about whatever matter they/re hot and bothered about being a matter for private decision-making, in which politics and government have no place. After all, how could they possibly be significant if we refuse to allow them to coerce us about a matter around which they’ve wrapped their hearts and souls?
Ignoring them is getting harder all the time. But that’s not their fault; it’s ours.
Quite a long time ago, at the late, much lamented Palace of Reason, I penned an article about a friend of a friend – a hairdresser – who reported being at her wits’ end because of customers whose behavior would once have gotten them the “bum’s rush,” with neither apology nor consequences. I mentioned an old sign that once appeared in every commercial establishment, but which one never sees these days:
To Refuse Service To Anyone
The reason those little signs are no longer commonplace is that it’s illegal to refuse service to the members of various state-protected groups. Indeed, the enforcers of that law – the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – are so vicious and so relentless that there’s almost no behavior short of felony assault that the law will concede as a justification for refusing service. Worse, even when the justification is indisputable the shopowner who tries to enforce his will personally will always be on the dirty end of a lawsuit – civil, criminal, or both.
It’s often been said that “Hard cases make bad law.” There is some truth in the concept, but at least as often it’s the attempt to make law to redress some condition that’s generally deemed undesirable that elicits the hard cases. That’s given rise to an alternative maxim: “Bad law makes for hard cases.”
What constitutes a “bad law” is the question before us.
Let’s return to Kevin Williamson’s article for a moment:
During the Civil Rights Movement — the real one, not the ersatz one led today by Jesse Jackson et al. — politics did genuinely intersect with brunch. On one side of the issue were people who argued that the social situation of African Americans at the time was so dire and so oppressive that invasive federal action was necessary. On the other side were well-intentioned conservatives such as Barry Goldwater and any number of writers for this magazine, who argued that if the reach of Washington were extended into every mom-and-pop diner in the country, it would constitute a step toward the abolition of private life, that the natural and inevitable extension of the principle at work would ensure that rather than being treated as private property, businesses reclassified as “public accommodations” would be treated more like public property, that the greasy snout of politics eventually would stick itself into every last precinct of what had been considered the sphere of privacy beyond the public sector.
As it turns out, both sides were right.
That last sentence undermines an otherwise near-perfect exercise in punditry. It’s impossible that both sides could be right, by the very nature of things. Either a “mom-and-pop diner” is private property or it isn’t; you can’t have it both ways. Williamson’s desire to find some way of accommodating two inherently contradictory positions is untenable. It expresses a desire not to offend that the conflicting demands of the “two sides” have made impossible.
The politicization of commerce didn’t start with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, of course. It has much deeper roots than that. But every stroke in that direction has weakened the most important protection of individual rights this country possesses: the principle of unfettered private discretion over one’s private property.
And every last speck of it was deliberate.
”Bad law” is an envelope that subsumes many more specific sub-categories. However, laws that should not have been made in the first place because they infringe on private rights are surely included therein. The problem here is twofold:
- A strong consensus among the citizens that “something must be done” about some situation;
- Politicians’ eagerness to politicize whatever they can get their claws around.
When I wrote about the importance of the black market a few days ago, I thought principally in terms of specific goods and services that political forces had chosen to ban, control, or restrict by regulation. Yet there’s a form of “black market” that’s arisen in response to supposedly well intentioned “anti-discrimination” statutes. It poses the greatest of frustrations to the politicizers, because it’s inherently beyond their reach. It’s the exercise of “consumer discrimination:” individuals’ personal decisions to live here rather than there, to work at this firm rather than that one, and to patronize or not to patronize a commercial establishment according to the personalities and characters of the frequenters thereof.
Is there a racial correlation? Of course. Is that deplorable? Not necessarily. Think about it:
- Would you willingly drink in a tavern whose other patrons habitually view you as hostile?
- Would you willingly work among persons who consistently treat you with contempt?
- Would you choose to live in a neighborhood overwhelmingly populated with such persons?
- Had you the means to avert all those conditions, wouldn’t you use them?
- Would the skin colors or ethnic heritages of those hostile, contemptuous persons matter to you?
Only a completely totalitarianized nation can overcome “consumer discrimination.” It must dictate every decision made by every one of its subjects. It must leave them no power to resist. It must punish attempts to deviate so surely, swiftly, and harshly that the very thought of nonconformity is all but erased from the nation.
I doubt there are any left-liberals among the regular readers of my screeds, but if there are, tell us all, please: What do you, whose political allies are constantly screaming that “the personal is the political,” propose to do about any of that? And what will you say when the goring of oxen gets around to yours?
Think it over.