Bryan Caplan  

A Libertarian Defense of Blacklisting at The Nation

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Ilyse Hogue has a shockingly libertarian piece on the Limbaugh boycott at The Nation.  Not "civil libertarian," but hard-line my-money-my-choice libertarian.  Background:
Bill Maher spent a significant portion of last Friday's Real Time defending Rush Limbaugh. Well, not defending the man, whom he calls repulsive. And not defending Rush's statements over the last few weeks, which he vehemently objected to on both political and rhetorical grounds. But Maher defended Rush's right to say those things, invoking free speech and the ACLU, and in the process missed the point completely.
Hogue's objection:
[V]iolating Rush's First Amendment rights would require state action. Rush has not been jailed for his views, nor has anyone even whispered a suggestion to that effect. There have been no calls for his radio transmitter to be jammed. No one is even demanding he be fined, which might be possible under the FCC's arcane and arbitrary decency laws. Instead, what his critics are doing is exercising one of their own fundamental American rights, their right as consumers to frequent the businesses they choose.
Her conclusion:
The power of the pocketbook has the wonderful potential to crowd-source our cultural norms. The last two weeks have shown just how far outside of our cultural norms Rush resides. That does not mean he should shut up. He should keep on speaking his beliefs. The First Amendment guarantees him the right to say whatever he likes. It does not guarantee him the right to be paid to say it.
I wonder how she'd react to my isomorphic defense of Hollywood's blacklisting of Communists and Communist sympathizers:
A free society does not use the government to punish "thought criminals." This does not, however, mean that free people had no acceptable way to express their disapproval for Stalin's apologists. One route, of course, was to take up the pen in defense of the victims of Stalinism. A second - and equally legitimate - course was to exercise one's freedom to not associate with Communists. Not to befriend them, buy their magazines, or hire them - and to urge other people to do the same. In short, to blacklist them. Far from being a violation of anyone's freedom, the blacklist is merely an exercise of the freedom of association, just as a peaceful strike is an exercise of the freedom of association.


...Yes, Communists have the right to defend the extermination of the kulaks, just as Nazis have the right to alternately defend and deny the Holocaust. This does not turn them into heroes. True, Communists posed little threat to national security, just as Nazis are unlikely to seize power anytime soon. This does not mean that someone is paranoid if they ostracize them - personally, socially, and/or economically - and encourage others to do the same. Everyone is entitled to your tolerance, but not everyone is entitled to your respect - or your business.

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COMMENTS (16 to date)
david writes:

But large organizations are not price-takers; they can harm your material welfare substantially through boycott. Indeed that is the whole point of a boycott, yes?

How does one get the title, "Social Chance Practitioner?"

I see the first lineof her bio:
Ilyse Hogue | The Nation
"Ilyse Hogue is a social change practitioner ..."

I hope this comment isn't too off-topic. But I almost can't get beyond that. Is that a title you give yourself? Or is it bestowed by some authoritative agency? What are the criteria?

Kevin C. writes:

Hogue's comment that you quote second, that "There have been no calls for his radio transmitter to be jammed. No one is even demanding he be fined, which might be possible under the FCC's arcane and arbitrary decency laws." is no longer correct. Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan have, in fact called for the FCC to remove Limbaugh from the air, by pulling the license of any station that broadcasts him, on the grounds that stations must use their license "in the public interest."

Roger Sweeny writes:

Actually, Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, and Robin Morgan did call for the FCC to ban Limbaugh from the radio.

shecky writes:

Government involvement in the blacklisting complicates the comparison. Limbaugh has yet to be called in front of the the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

rapscallion writes:

"Rush has not been jailed for his views, nor has anyone even whispered a suggestion to that effect."

Did Hogue miss the headlines about Gloria Allred calling for Rush's prosecution?

steve writes:

If we can blacklist Communists, can we do that to anyone else we choose? Jews, women, Catholics, etc. I suppose you will try to make the case that in the long run, this will work against those who engage in this behavior, but the long run can last for many decades.


jh writes:

Did I miss when Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, and Robin Morgan became part of the government? Pretty sure people asking the government to violate someone's first amendment rights isn't actually a violation of those rights.

The most important word of the first amendment is the first word of the first amendment.

Dave writes:

I agree in principle, however:
1. A society that is hostile to people exercising their free speech is one that is more likely to put limits on it.
2. What is the social loss of people who misuse this power (aka shakedown artists)?

Patrick R. Sullivan writes:

In addition to the recent calls from Fonda et al. to have Limbaugh banned, there are regular calls to have the 'Fairness Doctrine' reinstated which would have that effect.

But I'm amazed at this;

True, Communists posed little threat to national security....

We wouldn't have fought a war in Korea (and probably not in Viet Nam) but for the role the likes of Communists like Harry Dexter White, Lauchlin Currie, and John Stewart Service--all high govt. officials--played in undermining the Kuomintang in the 1940s.

PrometheeFeu writes:


Let's turn that around. Why should such black-listing be prohibited? Why should I not be allowed to freely to chose whom I want to associate and trade with?

@Bryan Caplan:

As I understand it, part of the reason for the black-listing of communists was a fear that not doing so would invite the wrath of the government. That somwhat changes the calculus.

Greg James writes:

I don't think Hollywood blacklist is isomorphic for two reasons. The first is that the catalyst of the blacklist was the House Committee on Un-American Activities, a government institution. It makes a difference whether the impetus is crowd- or government-sourced.

The second is that the Right of Association (when used to decide who not to associate with) does not extend to labor law. You don't get to ask about party affiliations during an interview and only hire Republicans. Similarly, you don't get to discriminate against (alleged) Communists.

PrometheeFeu writes:

@Greg James:

I'm not sure what you mean regarding your second point. First, the Equal Employment Opportunity provisions of the Civil Rights Act dates from 1964. So it probably was legal to discriminate based on political affiliation during the period in question. (I may be wrong... It's been known to happen)

Second, while the Right of Association has been narrowed to not extend to labor relations, that does not imply that the narrowing was proper or legitimate. In fact, there is little difference between the way it was narrowed here and the way it could be narrowed in the Limbaugh case.

PrometheeFeu writes:

@Greg James:

Employment discrimination based on political affiliation and activities is only banned in the District of Columbia, New York and Puerto Rico. Colorado and North Dakota ban discrimination based on any lawful activity which would presumably cover political activities and affiliations. Given that the film industry is largely based in California, discriminating against Communists is most definitely legal and most likely was back then.

Greg James writes:

The point was not to declare the job discrimination was illegal and therefore should not be tolerated (since this is probably specious). The point was to show that association via hiring and via advertising with are not close enough to be considered evidence for isomorphism.

John Donnelly writes:

Personal choice is a good important right and value to uphold (libertarian or otherwise). However, the banding together to create a list of those we think others should avoid in their personal dealings and commerce is a sticky mess ethically speaking. I say this because the impetus behind "blacklisting" seems to me to be coercive and punitive and not an exercise in personal choice.

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