It appears to be a common misconception among critics that libertarians must wholeheartedly endorse the actions of any business or corporation. This shows a misunderstanding of what the ideas of liberty are all about.
Libertarianism, as a philosophy, supports the idea that individuals have the right to make their own decisions regarding their person or property, so long as these decisions do not prevent the right of others to do the same. This does not mean that all individuals will always make the right decision, or that their decisions should be free from criticism. Freedom is not just the ability to make smart choices, but also the ability to make stupid ones. Therefore, it’s in line with the philosophy of liberty to criticize a decision, so long as this criticism does not recommend force to stop it. Figures in the liberty movement like Dave Rubin have clarified this distinction many, many, many times.
Let’s use social media censorship as an example. If it’s true that social media platforms are unfairly targeting certain users (possibly for political reasons), then it’s perfectly justified for a libertarian to criticize these platforms for not upholding principles like freedom of speech, equality, or fairness.
The only exception to this would be for criticisms demanding government action as a solution. At the moment, there are numerous nonviolent solutions and alternative platforms available for those concerned about this issue, thus making calls for government action not only unjustified, but also unnecessary.
Another example would be the usage of drugs. Libertarians argue for bodily integrity, that individuals have the right to put whatever they want into their body, including harmful substances like alcohol, tobacco, and even cocaine. This does not mean that libertarians must then praise cocaine and heroin addicts for their choices. It only means that libertarians must advocate against the War on Drugs, which is a coercive response to an action that people have the right to do.
There is a significant difference between recommending against cocaine usage and recommending decades of incarceration as punishment for cocaine usage.
The former recommendation says that using cocaine is a bad decision. There are significant inescapable consequences that reality will bring about. The natural consequences are inevitable, and these are the reasons that this is a bad decision. The latter says that using cocaine is itself a bad decision, and therefore an artificial punishment, like incarceration, needs to be forced upon you as a consequence of your decision.
Now let’s look at the ‘cake baker’. The bakery is the property of the cake baker, which means the baker can decide how it should function. If the baker decides to refuse service to a lesbian couple, he has every right to do so. He has not violated the rights of the lesbian couple, because nobody has a right to service at his bakery. He has the right to manage his property, but this does not mean he is free from criticism.
His libertarian friend could criticize him for multiple reasons. The baker’s friend could argue that even though forceful retaliation is not justified, refusing service to a whole demographic is morally wrong. His friend could also argue that it’s a poor business decision to turn away paying customers, and that this will hurt the bakery’s public image. Despite these criticisms, the libertarian acknowledges the baker’s right to make poor decisions.
Context matters. If a libertarian is arguing against a decision made by a private company, this is not necessarily hypocritical. It’s likely that he or she is not arguing against the company’s right to do so. Rather, he or she is simply arguing that the decision was the wrong one to make.
If your philosophy states that the initiation of force is wrong, then words become the primary tool of influence. Spoken criticism is a much more preferable method of change than brute acts of violence.
* Nathan A. Kreider is the host of The Conversation, a podcast about ideas and how to spread them. His video and written content can be found on nkreider.com.