Segregation, Jim Crow Laws, and the State’s Involvement

A common criticism of libertarianism is that segregation and Jim Crow laws would still be in place if it wasn’t for the state’s intervention during the Civil Rights Movement. According to statists segregation and Jim Crow laws only ended because the federal government passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This argument sounds good on paper but it falls apart when you look at the history of segregation and Jim Crow laws.

The first thing that should be noted is the word “laws” in Jim Crow laws. How did Jim Crow laws come into existence? Through state decree. Statists seem to forget that segregation and Jim Crow laws were put into place by the state. In other words the state didn’t magnanimously bring civil liberties to the downtrodden, it merely repealed its previous laws. Slavery was no different. First slavery was legalized by the state only to later be repealed. Somehow statists equate the abolition of slavery as a magnanimous action on behalf of the state and ignore the fact that the institution of slavery was first legalized by the state.

Let’s look at a slightly different, albeit similar, scenario. If a schoolyard bully and his friends have been beating up on a classmate for years and suddenly, one day, the bully tells his friends to stop we don’t praise the bully for being magnanimous and protecting his classmate. Instead we rightfully point out that the bully and his friends shouldn’t have been beating up their classmate in the first place.

One does not get to call himself a protector if he was the aggressor who decided to stop his aggression. That state doesn’t get to call itself a protector of civil liberties because is stopped persecuting a group of people. To say that the state is responsible for abolishing slavery, segregation, and Jim Crow laws requires ignoring the fact that the state legalized slavery, segregation, and Jim Crow laws.