Freedom of Association
by John Spritzler
July 20, 2017
The URL of this article for sharing it is https://www.pdrboston.org/freedom-of-association
I think people should be free to associate with whomever they wish, and free not to associate with those with whom they wish not to associate. This is what I mean by freedom of association.
Freedom of Association is a Good Thing
If there is not freedom of association, then that would mean that people can be forced to associate with those they don't want to associate with, or prevented from associating with those with whom they do wish to associate. It would mean that if you threw a party at your house, somebody could tell you whom you had to invite and whom you could not invite. Ditto if you were looking for a room mate or a traveling companion or even--to carry it to extremes--a spouse.
Having no freedom of association would mean that if you wanted to hold a strategy meeting to plan how to achieve some goal or a demonstration or a rally for that goal, and you wanted to invite only people whom you knew shared that goal and had the appropriate experience to contribute towards winning it, somebody could tell you you had to invite people whom you didn't trust shared that goal or who you felt didn't have the appropriate experience that was required. It would mean somebody could tell you that you couldn't invite some people whom you wanted to invite. Freedom of association is clearly a big part of what it means to be free.
Sometimes Freedom of Association Seems (Wrongly) to Be a Bad Thing
Freedom of association is a good principle, but there are situations in which it can seem to be a bad one. What makes freedom of association sometimes seem to be a bad principle is that in some situations freedom of association is connected to something else that is very bad, in a way that makes it seem as if the problem is the freedom of association when in fact the problem is something else. This results in an apparent paradox: a good principle seems to be a bad one. Here's an example.
In recent past decades in the United States, it was not uncommon for some all-white residential neighborhoods to prevent non-white people from buying a house in that neighborhood. Levittown, N.Y. is an example. In the case of Levittown the racial exclusion clause (which prohibited a home owner from selling the home to a non-white person) was inserted into the contract by the developers of the homes and not the first owners. But let's assume for the sake of argument that the white residents of Levittown approved of this racial exclusion. In this case the all-white Levittown was similar to the all-white parts of apartheid South Africa. There is even an exclusively all-white community in South Africa today, called Orania.
Here's the paradox. On the one hand the freedom of association principle seems to be a good one. On the other hand, apartheid was morally repugnant, and racially discriminatory laws in the United States (most obviously the Jim Crow laws) were also morally repugnant, and these morally repugnant practices involved racially exclusive residential communities that defended their racial exclusiveness on the grounds of freedom of association. Does this mean that freedom of association is actually a bad idea? Is a good thing paradoxically also a bad thing?
No. What was bad about the (formerly) racially exclusive Levittown and the all-white communities of apartheid South Africa was not freedom of association, but something else. What was that something else?
The something else was this: class inequality, strengthened by racial discrimination against non-whites to enable a rich upper class to dominate the entire population with divide-and-rule. Racially exclusive neighborhoods were not simply neighborhoods of people who wished to live together. They were racially exclusive because the divide-and-rule strategy of upper class domination required separating ordinary people by race and making conditions of life much worse for non-whites than whites to prevent solidarity between them from developing. THAT was what was wrong about these racially segregated communities.
Anything that an oppressive upper class does to divide-and-rule ordinary people is wrong. The American and South African upper classes were not "allowing people to have freedom of association." On the contrary, these upper classes used explicit (de jure) laws (such as Jim Crow and apartheid laws) and de facto measures (such as the notorious bank "redlining" of neighborhoods to create the black ghettos in the American north) to PREVENT people who wanted to live in non-segregated communities from having freedom of association and to force non-white people to live in neighborhoods made INFERIOR to white neighborhoods (by things such as inferior public services). Jim Crow was used to prevent black and white sharecroppers in the American South's Cotton Belt from having freedom of association to be together in their racially integrated union--the Southern Tenant Farmers Union--in the 1930s.
In an egalitarian society (that I advocate we fight to create) there would be no class inequality. There would be no upper class using divide-and-rule and no rich and no poor. The economy would be based not on money and buying and selling (which inevitably leads to class inequality) but rather on the principle, "From each according to reasonable ability, to each according to need or reasonable desire with scarce things equitably rationed according to need." (This is described in more detail online.)
What If People Want to Live Only With "Their Own Race"?
In an egalitarian society, if people wanted to associate only with people whom they considered to be "of their same race," and decided not to let people of the "wrong race" move into their community, then that action of theirs, while one that I would strongly disapprove, would not necessarily be carried out in a context in which it was implementing a divide-and-rule strategy of an oppressive ruling elite. If it were indeed implementing divide-and-rule, i.e., if it were indeed actually oppressing some people, it would be illegal in an egalitarian society because it was oppressing some people. If, on the other hand, these people's racial exclusion was not in the context of oppressing some people, then it would simply be the action of some people with what I would consider very wrongheaded ideas. The context is crucial!
If, say, in an egalitarian society an exclusively all-white community of egalitarians related to other communities with other races of people in a manner consistent with the egalitarian values of 1) equality (in the sense of 'no rich and no poor' and fairness) and 2) mutual aid (people helping, not competing against, one another, and fairness), then these people would be doing something foolish in wanting to remain an all-white community, but they wouldn't be doing something oppressive. (Note #1. If it were truly an egalitarian society then over time the people in the all-white community would stop thinking it was important to remain all-white. The reason for this is that there would not be an upper class that benefited from spreading racist lies to divide and rule people. Note #2. The leadership of white nationalist organizations in the United States today are absolutely NOT egalitarians; they have utter contempt for ordinary white people and use white nationalism to manipulate them, as I show here.) The question for egalitarians comes down to this: In the non-oppressive context considered in this paragraph, should we go to war against such wrongheaded people to force them--with violence or its credible threat, not just persuasion--to live with people they don't want to live with? I say 'No.'
If, on the other hand, these odd people who want to live only with people "of their same race" also did bad things (such as making non-white people have to live in places that are inferior to where whites live, or in any way treating non-white people with less respect and dignity than whites), then egalitarians would be perfectly justified in a) declaring them to be anti-egalitarians and b) forcibly preventing them from doing those bad things.
For example, if these odd people violated the principle of mutual aid by forcing people "of the wrong race" who lived in their community--peaceably and in obeyance of the community's just laws--to leave against their will, that would be an attack on the principle of mutual aid; it would be ethnic cleansing, which is morally wrong. This is why I sharply condemn Zionism, which is an ideology based on the notion that most non-Jews whose families have lived in Palestine for many generations must be forced to leave the 78% of Palestine that is now called Israel; and this is why I condemn those who advocate making all or part of the United States exclusively white. Egalitarians would be perfectly justified in using force to defend the people "of the wrong race" against such an ethnic-cleansing anti-egalitarian attack on them. Likewise, if the odd people in this community used force or the threat of force to oppress anybody in any way, then egalitarians would be justified in using force to prevent it.
The point is that freedom of association is a good thing. When it appears to be a bad thing then it is actually something else that is the bad thing. That bad "something else" is typically class inequality (some people oppressing others) or something an upper class does to enforce it, not freedom of association per se.
What about a Store Owner Who Won't Serve People of a Certain Race or Gender or Ethnicity or Sexual Orientation?
In an egalitarian society with a sharing economy (described here), people provide products they make (or services they perform) for each other by coming to mutual agreements based on the principles of a) "From each according to reasonable ability, to each according to need or reasonable desire with scarce things equitably rationed according to need" and b) no-rich-and-no-poor equality and c) mutual aid. I think it would violate the principles of equality and mutual aid if somebody wanted to participate in the sharing economy with the stipulation, say, that their product (or service) would not ever be made available to anybody of the "wrong" race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. I think egalitarians would/should not let somebody participate in the sharing economy with this stipulation. But I think it is perfectly reasonable for egalitarians to stipulate that their product or service will not be made available to an anti-egalitarian. In an egalitarian society, anti-egalitarians are rightly discriminated against. Let them decide to be pro-egalitarian if they don't like it!
People in an egalitarian society, however, are not forced to participate in the sharing economy if they don't want to. Such people may own as much economically productive property as they (or their family) can make use of personally, without hiring other workers as wage laborers (or using people as slaves!). And they may do with the fruits of their labor whatever they wish, including barter with individuals or enterprises in the sharing economy. If such an individual (or group of individuals) wishes only to barter with people of a certain race, etc., then I think they should be allowed to do so (it would only make life harder for them) as long as this practice does not result in sufficient hardship for the discriminated-against category of persons to constitute an egregious attack on the egalitarian principle of equality, in which case the Local Assembly of Egalitarians may very well decide (as is its right and duty!) to prohibit it. (For example, if the only nightclub in a community were operated by some people outside of the sharing economy and they did not admit people of a certain race or ethnicity, etc., then the Local Assembly of Egalitarians might very well and justifiably prohibit that discrimination, whereas if the nightclub were just one of many others that did admit the given category of persons, the Local Assembly of Egalitarians might reasonably decide not to prohibit its discrimination.)
When it comes to the question of freedom of association, however, there is an important difference between 1) producing a product or providing a service and making it available in a manner consistent with the values of equality and mutual aid, versus 2) creating a piece of art or an expression of some kind in the form of a tangible object (such as a CD with one's songs or a cake with one's special decoration or a book of one's poems, etc.) One should not be allowed to discriminate against racial, etc., categories of people to whom one will make such products or services available in a sharing economy. But at the same time one should be free to create whatever one wishes to create and not be obliged to create this or that just because certain other people want this or that to be created. Depriving somebody of this freedom (to decide what they will and won't create) in the name of "freedom of association" is aburd and an abuse of the concept of "freedom of association."
What about the Right to Limit Immigration?
I discuss the issue of the right to limit immigration in my article titled, "Yes, We Have the Right to Limit Immigration to the USA, and the Duty to Not Abet Oppression" online here.
The people in a Mexican town of 20,000 residents made an essentially egalitarian (in many ways at least) revolution that is shown in this video. The egalitarians (quite rightly in my opinion!) exercised their right to freedom of association by denying drug gang members and politicians and people with campaign literature for the major political parties from entering their town. This illustrates how sometimes denying people permission to immigrate is a very good thing.
As a general principle regarding immigration, I say we should let pro-egalitarian people immigrate and prevent anti-egalitarian people from immigrating.
Postscript November 28, 2018: An ultra-liberal columnist for the ultra-liberal Boston Globe writes in defense of people killing an intruder to their community because they wanted to be left alone, in this article.