All Articles

Cool Graphics



Who Rules America?


Is vs. Ought

Current World Events

The So-called "War on Terror"


Palestine & Israel

Culture & Values



Health Care


Global Climate Change

World Population

Peak Oil?



Contact or Donate to Us

New Democracy's Core Beliefs



printer-friendly version


Freedom of Association

by John Spritzler

July 20, 2017

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.

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.

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 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.)

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 be carried out in a context in which it was implementing a divide-and-rule strategy of an oppressive ruling elite. It would simply be the action of some people with what I would consider very wrongheaded ideas.

If, say, in an egalitarin society an exclusively all-white community 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' mentioned above) and 2) mutual aid (people helping, not competing against, one another), then these people would be doing something foolish in wanting to remain an all-white community, but they wouldn't be doing something oppressive. (I also think that 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.)

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 forcibly preventing them from doing those bad things. For example, if these odd people violated the principle of mutual aid by forcing people in their community who were "of the wrong race" to leave against their will, that would be an attack on the principle of mutual aid. Egalitarians in this case would be justified in using force to defend the people "of the wrong race" from the 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.




This article may be copied and posted on other websites. Please include all hyperlinks.






Articles by Dave Stratman

Articles by John Spritzler

Turn the World Upside Down (John Spritzler's blog #1)

End Class Inequality (John Spritzler's blog #2)



We Can Change the World: The Real Meaning of Everyday Life by Dave Stratman

The People as Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda in World War II by John Spritzler

NO RICH AND NOPOOR: The Populist Goal We CAN and Must Win

DIVIDE AND RULE: The "Left vs. Right" Trap