Most people unwittingly consider laws against private discrimination one of the greatest social achievements of the modern times.  In this article I will explain how these laws are nothing more than a tool of everyone’s enslavement. Before you dismiss this “road to serfdom”1  argument, consider the words of Goethe: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free”.

We lead our lives by constantly making choices. A few seconds ago, out of millions of other things, you chose to start reading this article. By doing this, you discriminated against all those other things that you chose not to do at that very moment. Every time we choose to exercise our judgment – we discriminate. Discrimination is nothing more than preferring some things or people over others. There is nothing inherently wrong with it. As Christopher Hitchens put it, “It especially annoys me when racists are accused of ‘discrimination.’ The ability to discriminate is a precious facility; by judging all members of one ‘race’ to be the same, the racist precisely shows himself incapable of discrimination.”

For as long as humans are not brought into this world by mass-cloning, there will never be two identical human beings. We are all different – there are old and young people; male and female; kind and evil; tall and short; smart and stupid; black and white; blonde and bald; pretty and ugly; industrious and lazy; rich and poor; healthy and sick; ambitious and inert; those who are fans or Britney Spears and those who are not; those who use Twitter and those who don’t. It is possible to subdivide people into innumerable categories such as race, Zodiac sign, age, preferred diet, sexual orientation, income, family status, shoe size, religion, number of characters in one’s last name, etc.

Some of these categories or characteristics are more relevant than others in our everyday choices. Complete prohibition of discrimination would mean a ban on exercising judgment. The question then becomes, should there be situations when it is appropriate for governments to restrict our freedom to differentiate among people, things and causes based on our own values, good or bad? My answer to this question is an emphatic ‘no’.

In reality, the typical legal framework for all laws against discrimination (often these laws take the form of human rights codes) is that governments introduce rules that forbid distinguishing between people on certain “prohibited” grounds in certain contexts, such as provision of services or employment. The usual so called “prohibited grounds for discrimination” include race, religion, physical or mental disability, age, gender, family status etc. The idea is that, for example, an employer is legally prohibited from refusing to hire a person of a certain race because it is a person of a certain race. Likewise, a store owner is legally prohibited from refusing to provide service to homosexuals because they are homosexuals.

Most people dismiss the most extreme examples of application of anti-private-discrimination laws reprimanding business owners for refusing to deal with certain categories of patrons as political correctness gone mad. I submit that these examples are not an exception to an otherwise good rule. They are the expected manifestation of the rule. I submit that the goal of the prohibition has very little to do with protection of the oppressed and everything to do with forced devaluation of personal responsibility and an attack against the morality of capitalism. To illustrate this point, I will spend a few paragraphs to describe the anti-capitalist and anti-freedom agenda of which anti-discrimination laws are only a part, albeit a crucial one.

In the broader sense, capitalism is not simply an economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and operated for profit, it is a system where individuals endowed with inalienable individual rights are free to pursue their individual interests without any regard for any mythical “common good” or the “interests of the whole society”, as long as their actions do not violate individual rights of others.

All individual rights are of the same nature: they all relate to one’s right to be left alone and to not have anybody interfere with one’s life, mind or property. By definition, individual rights do not cover anything that imposes a positive obligation (i.e. any obligation going beyond mere abstinence from interfering) upon others. In a truly free society, all interactions between the individuals are voluntary in the sense that no one can use coercive force (either on private or on the government levels) to order some people to deal in a certain way with other people.

No one (including the government whose powers theoretically cannot go beyond the scope of authority individuals delegate to it) can initiate the use of physical force against others. The government’s proper role does not extend beyond protecting individual rights from being violated.  Taking care of the “less fortunate”, any other form of forced redistribution of wealth, or making sure that no one feels hurt or offended is beyond the scope of proper functions of the government in a truly free society.

While a truly laissez-faire capitalist society has never existed, generations of collectivists of sorts have virtuously manipulated the public opinion to create a straw man out of the free market. According to them, all inadequacies resulting from the government regulation are presented as failures of the evil free market. The same pattern is used over and over again: first the government introduces a regulatory solution to what it claims is a serious problem. The regulation has unpredicted negative side-effects, which inevitably arise when the market attempts to correct the distortion created by the government. The government reacts by producing more and more regulations. Finally, when these regulations become incomprehensible and self-contradictory, the government starts blaming the free market for the resulting unfair and inefficient system. This is just like saying that JFK died because he liked golfing and despite the bullet that penetrated his skull.

The attack of collectivists (communists, socialists, statists, progressives, the so-called liberals, etc.) against the laissez-faire principles has been perpetrated on many fronts.

It all started, very subtly, with redefining “freedom” from being at liberty to do anything that does not infringe individual rights of another to having a positive right to do it at someone else’s expense. The first tangible result of the change were the antitrust laws2, whose only purpose (especially in their today’s version) is to allow companies otherwise incapable of offering competitive goods and services at competitive prices, to enter the market with a view of competing against the company that had achieved its market share because it was capable of satisfying its customers more than everyone else. In a truly free society, the only thing the government needs to do with respect to monopolies is what the governments fail spectacularly at, which is to make sure that anyone can enter the market without any barriers, be it tariffs, licenses, arbitrary taxes, permits and without the risk of being mobbed off the market through physical violence of one’s competitors.

Another line of attack against laissez-faire capitalism is all forms of mandatory licensing as mandatory membership in unions or professional associations. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.” Government-issued certificates is just a form of the search for temporary security at the expense of freedom to deal with whoever we may choose. As long as a professional (a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, an engineer, anyone) makes it clear that he does not hold a license or a certain certificate, and as long as there are people willing to use his services, there is no reason why he should be prevented from offering these services.

There are two interrelated reasons why people have grown to tolerate the abundance of mandatory licenses and permits. On the one hand, it is a baseless assumption that the government, in its unlimited wisdom, knows everything better. On the other hand, it is the desire (cultivated by all nanny-state governments among its electorate) to avoid any responsibility for choices people make. 

For the same reason we have grown to tolerate mandatory EI and pension payments (which deny us, at our own expense, the option of taking a risk of ending up without government handouts when our employment comes to an end); minimal wage laws (which have a direct result of making millions of unskilled workers unemployable); rent control laws (which result in limited availability and awful quality of rental units).

Taxpayer-subsidized education (usually referred to as “public education”) and taxpayer-subsidized healthcare (usually referred to as “free universal healthcare”), present us with the same wonderful approach – the government knows best. It knows best who must teach our children; what our children should be taught, using what textbooks and curricula; what lies de jour our children need to be indoctrinated with. The government cannot trust a sick person to make a determination which specialist the patient needs to see. The government’s concern is not the well-being of a particular patient, but the impact that the treatment of a particular patient will have on the scarcely-funded system in general.

Those who do not want to take any responsibility for their own lives deserve nothing better than public education and public healthcare. But even parents who do not entrust their children to the public education system are still taxed for some other children to go to a “public” school. The general attitude that “the government is there to take care of the people” is the predominant reason why Canada has such a horrible health care system, especially if the quality of care is determined not by accessibility, on average, of some standardized package of services to the general population but by availability of high quality services to a particular individual at a particular time.

People are being trained to think: why would I need to take any responsibility for the choices I make in my life, if the all-knowing government already figured out a way for everyone to be happy? How ironic it is that this system of governance is based on the assumption that the lowly people down there are incapable of running their own lives without a ruler (either in the form of a dictator or in the form of a parliament legislating the issues going far beyond its proper mandate), but yet are fully capable of voting for the ruler.
The examples above demonstrate many deadly sins of statism, but I submit that the most hideous crime the collectivism has committed against freedom was the introduction of laws prohibiting private discrimination, i.e. discrimination by anyone other than government institutions.

Discrimination, however unfair and immoral, reflects one’s system of values, even if it is a very flawed system of values3.

Every time I raise my voice against anti-discrimination laws, I get the response: “So you would prefer to go back to segregation, you racist?” My answer is, “Would you support segregation if all anti-discrimination laws were repealed today? I wouldn’t.”

A white supremacist hates blacks because in his system of values his being white automatically makes him a better person. What does it say about the system of values of the racist if he holds as his highest achievement the fact that he was born with a certain colour of his skin?

Formation of values is the most important part of one’s individuality. Legal prohibition of discrimination deprives everyone of the responsibility for forming one’s own system of values and superimposes an arbitrary system of values. What this leads to is that the simple answer to the question “Why is it bad to be a racist?” becomes, “Well, because it is illegal”. The answer to the further question “Why is it illegal?” becomes, “Because the government said so!”

Do we really think that the only thing that stops people around us from being openly racist is because it is illegal? People who believe that anti-discrimination laws governing the conduct of private parties are a good thing, act (even if unbeknownst to themselves) on the assumption that they are the only ones who understand that it is wrong to be a racist, a homophobe, a Holocaust denier, a bigot, or whatever other label they are so quick to hand out to those with whose values they disagree. They ascribe to themselves the higher value (which happens to be derived from their agreement with the system of values currently dictated by anti-discrimination laws) based on the assumption that everyone around them would immediately engage in hideous discrimination towards everyone who looks different from them.

This, of course, is not true. If everyone around us was racist to the point that they would refuse to do business with people of a colour different from ours, on what basis could we claim that it is socially important to prohibit racism? How can something that no one is prepared to support voluntarily, be called “socially important” other than in the same old paradigm that the government always knows better?

If there are enough people who truly believe (as I do) that they do not need a legal prohibition to deal on equal terms with blacks, Asians, whites, Indians, wouldn’t it be sufficient to ostracize those whose system of values tells them otherwise? Are we afraid to exercise our own judgment?


What do we do then? Those who find such signs inappropriate (inappropriate according to their personal values, not according to arbitrary human rights codes) will stop frequenting those stores or will engage in some other (legal) form of shame campaigns. How long will the store’s policy last if, indeed, the majority of population truly believes that these signs are inappropriate?

Let us imagine an absurd situation that every single privately owned store in the city comes up with a sign like that. First of all, this, of course, would mean that the society (as a multitude of individuals) does not share the values of anti-discrimination. Second, assuming that anyone is free to enter the market (see above regarding monopolies and licensing) and assuming that unlike greedy capitalist store owners, all consumers are against discrimination, wouldn’t it be obvious to anyone that opening a store with an “EVERYONE WELCOME” sign would immediately draw large crowds of consumers disgusted with the discrimination in all other stores? The person who opened such a store would immediately become rich on the wave of his anti-discrimination stance, if on nothing else.

When people are allowed to take responsibility for their own actions and when the government’s role is properly reduced to protection of individual rights5, people can govern themselves. If someone wants to be a racist, let them be a racist. As long as in their hate they do not violate individual rights of others (and, according to the definition in the beginning of this article, no one has a right to shop in a particular store, or work for a particular employer, or ride a particular privately owned taxi, or have someone photograph your wedding6, etc.), the government should not be involved.

Anti-discrimination laws destroy morality in yet another way. Not only do they replace the “we judge people by their character and achievements, not the colour of their skin” with “because it’s illegal”, what they do is they make liars of everyone whose system of values is different from the one mandatorily imposed on everybody. An employer who hates Russians would need to come up with a politically correct reason to refuse employment to a Russian. How is this better than allowing the employer to “offend” the potential candidate by telling him or her, “you know what, you may be a perfect match, but I just can’t stand that you are of Russian descent?” In this situation, at least the employer is being honest to himself and to the candidate, and the candidate’s confidence in his or her individual achievements would not be undermined. If the employer hates Russians, what good would it serve if he is forced to employ a Russian employee? If the employee is otherwise a valuable candidate, he or she would have no problem being employed elsewhere.  What impact on the self-esteem of both the racist employer and the employee rejected under a false pretext (or, alternatively, hired only to comply with the legal prohibition) do anti-discrimination laws have?

What values will the employer teach his children? Not only will he teach them how he hates those Russians who for some reason think that they are legally entitled to equal treatment, he will also teach them that lying is the only way to stand for one’s values, however hideous they may be. Instead of allowing the employer to fail through openly defending his values (if, indeed, most of the people would repel the idea of refusing to hire a good candidate because of his nationality), now the employer is reassured in his ideas even stronger, because he is forced to do what he detests. In fact, this is the same thing as trying to force someone to change their “failed business models” by racketeering.

Just as forced redistribution of wealth justifies in the minds of some people theft committed by the poor, anti-discrimination laws legitimate hypocrisy.

The paradox is that anti-discriminatory laws are in fact discriminatory in that they do not allow individuals to clearly understand the reasons why it is wrong to discriminate based on someone’s belonging to a certain group. The reason why it is wrong to hate blacks is not because they have been historically disadvantaged, not because it is illegal, not because they are not on average any worse than whites, not because it offends them, not because “there are also some good black people”. All of these reasons are in fact racist. The only real reason why group discrimination is bad, is being carefully hidden from the public, and that is that belonging to a group does not make a person better or worse. Ayn Rand called this “the quest for the unearned”. The only thing that matters is one’s own individual achievements and values, and how they compare with someone else’s individual achievements and values. However, it is only possible to judge one’s achievements and values, if one is allowed to freely adopt a system of values, to judge others based on that system of values, and to bear the risk of being thus judged by others.

There was a period in my five year-old daughter’s life when she would not want to play with kids who wear glasses. I told her, “It is perfectly OK to dislike all people who wear glasses, but only if you admit that your not wearing them is the only thing that makes you better. You must understand that by doing this you are claiming your better vision as your greatest achievement.” She knew she had many more reasons to be proud of herself, and did not want to devalue those other reasons by surrendering them to something unimportant and over which she had no control.  This allowed her to more clearly understand her own system of values and realize that it is impossible to value certain qualities in oneself if one dismisses them as unimportant in others.

By taking away the right to discriminate through legislating arbitrary moral standards, we are depriving individuals of their inalienable right to form their own systems of values. This is a crime much worse than to open a store and refuse to serve people belonging to a certain group. Not only is this enslavement of the minds of those who disagree, it is also a complete devaluation of the minds of those who voluntarily agree with a particular set of values.

This is why abolishing private anti-discrimination laws should be at the top of the agenda of anyone who believes that free individuals can govern themselves through their values and personal responsibility and that they do not need the machinery of the state to scare them into obedient compliance with arbitrary rules, even if these rules are seemingly benevolent.

The fight is not going to be easy. The naive feelgood assumptions about these laws are firmly ingrained in most people today. The least we can do is to reveal the true roots and consequences of these laws and to openly stand up against them.

This article is my statement in support of this fight.