Nigel Farage is getting used to the eruption of ‘storms’ and ‘rows’ whenever he dares to speak sense, and last week was no exception. “I think you should be able to choose [to employ someone] on the basis of nationality” Farage said, before going on to argue that racism in the jobs market is nowhere near as serious a problem as it used to be, and that employers in general should be allowed more freedom of choice. The usual critics promptly jumped on the bandwagon to condemn him: Sadiq Khan found his arguments “shocking”, The Prime Minister was “concerned”, Ed Miliband thought the comments were “dangerous”, and I think Nick Clegg had an opinion as well—possibly.
At any rate, Farage raises a point worth discussing. Should we, in fact, allow employers to discriminate on the basis of attributes such as nationality, age, gender and ethnicity? Is it necessary, is it even desirable, for the government to attempt to engineer a less discriminatory society?
I think it’s worth noting at the outset that government institutions themselves have been responsible for many of the most damaging acts of racism and discrimination in human history. Genocides are not carried out by private individuals, but by racist political groups who have seized control of a bloated state apparatus; the Nazis of course are the most prominent example, but also the Hutus in Rwanda, the Bosnian Serb Army in Yugoslavia, and the Bolsheviks in Russia. When the size and scope of the state increases, a loaded gun is handed to future generations. Those generations may not use the gun wisely. Anyone who cares for freedom and human rights should remember that the growth of government has generally not correlated with their protection. “This is an outage. The government must do something!” is a popular cry, but not a prudent one. In general, I think, anything that can be solved by private means ought to be—let’s leave the state out of it.
Can the problem of racism be solved by private means? Not only do I think it can, I would go further: the problem can only be solved by private means. Legislating against discrimination will not stop it. If it is illegal to refuse to employ a person based on their gender, for example, sexist employers do not stop being sexist; instead, they carry on not hiring women (or men) and simply lie about their reasons for not hiring them. Or, the employers do hire members of the group they dislike, but then purely as tokens. The sexism itself does not actually go away. Neither does outlawing discriminatory speech achieve anything constructive; racists do not stop being racist, but merely take their opinions underground. This is a serious problem. When people are permitted to express their opinion, those who find that opinion repugnant can exercise their right not to associate with such people; when opinions are forced underground however, such practice becomes impossible.
Racism is an ideology, and any state lead attempt to stamp out racism ultimately becomes an attempt to regulate speech and ideas, an attempt to draw a line between the acceptable way of thinking and the unacceptable way of thinking. In this instance, I think we should heed the words of French philosopher Michel Foucault: “Nothing is more dangerous than a political system that claims to prescribe the truth”. Before a government can say “this opinion is false”, “this opinion is dangerous”, “this opinion is prohibited”, it must first be able to say “I am the forceful arbiter of public opinion”. Do we want the government to be the forceful arbiter of public opinion? Do we want such a precedent set for the future? I for one think that ideas, like goods (and for the same reason), should be left to the realm of free, voluntary exchange.
To say that racism is wrong is to say that a rational human being is capable of understanding its impropriety. To say that government must use force to eliminate racist ideas and opinions is to either (i) contradict the first statement, or (ii) imply that members of the public are stupid and irrational, and hence not to be left to form their own judgments. Either course is unacceptable in a liberal democracy.
What counts as racism? How do you spot it when you see it? The vagueness of the term has created a cloud of fear and confusion in British society. We see councillors ignore child abuse because they fear they would be branded racist for challenging it, defenders of British values branded racist for opposing radical Islam, and anyone who raises the issue of immigration labelled as a bigot. “You’re a racist!” becomes a near meaningless and yet near insurmountable counter-argument for leftists to spit at anyone who disagrees with them.
In the end, it will not be the legislation of governments that sounds the death knell of racism; it will be the common sense of the average individual. “A free economic market“writes David Bernstein, Professor of Law at George Mason University, “protects minorities from discrimination […] because business people have an economic incentive to hire the most productive workers and to obtain the most customers. By contrast, individual voters and political activists have no corresponding incentive to overlook or overcome their personal prejudices”. Young people understand that racism and sexism are nonsensical, not because the state tells them so, but because the evidence is all around them—other people, though different, are quite clearly still human.
Anti-discrimination law does not create a more tolerant society, but merely a less free and candid one. It grants the state the right to regulate opinion, as well as to infringe on the right of contract and free association. In the end, it is the free exchange of ideas that will eliminate racism; UKIP recognises that, and wants to build a freer and more honest society, rather than a society of bureaucratic thought policing.
Photo by Neets & Dre