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Freedom, Inequality, Primitivism
and the Division of Labor

Murray N. Rothbard
Group Quotas

Indeed, one radical change since the writing of this essay has been the rapid and accelerating transformation of old-fashioned egalitarianism, which wanted to make every individual equal, into group-egalitarianism on behalf of groups that are officially designated as "oppressed." In employment, positions, and status generally, oppressed groups are supposed to be guaranteed their quotal share of the well-paid or prestigious positions. (No one seems to be agitating for quotal representation in the ranks of ditch-diggers.) I first noticed this trend in a paper written one year after the present essay at a symposium on The Nature and Consequences of Egalitarian Ideology. There I reacted strongly to the quotal representation for designated groups insisted upon by the McGovern movement at the 1972 Democratic Convention. These victorious Democrats insisted that groups such as women, youth, blacks and Chicanos had fallen below their quotal proportion of the population as elected delegates to previous conventions; this had to be rectified by the Democratic Party overriding the choices of their members and insisting upon due quotal representation of these allegedly oppressed groups. I noted the particular idiocy of the claim that youths aged 18-25 had been grievously "under-represented" in the past, and indulged in what would now be called a "politically inappropriate" reductio ad absurdum by suggesting an immediate correction to the heinous and chronic under-representation of five-year-old "men and women." [6]

And yet, only two years before that convention, another form of quotal appeal had met with proper scorn and ridicule from left-liberals. When one of President Nixon's failed Supreme Court nominees was derided as being "mediocre," Senator Roman Hruska (R., Neb.) wondered why the mediocre folk of America did not deserve "representation" on the highest Court. Liberal critics mockingly charged the Senator with engaging in special pleading. The self-same charge, levelled against denouncers of "logism" would drive such critics from public life. But times, and standards of Political Correctness, have changed.

It is difficult, indeed, to parody or satirize a movement which seems to be a living self-parody, and which can bring about such deplorable results. Thus, two eminent American historians, Bernard Bailyn and Stephan Thernstrom, were literally forced to abandon their course at Harvard on the history of American race relations, because of absurd charges of "racism" levelled by a few students, charges that were treated with utmost seriousness by everyone concerned. Of particular interest here was the charge against Bailyn's course on race relations in the colonial era. The student "grievance" against Bailyn is that he had read from the diary of a southern planter without giving "equal time" to the memoirs of a slave. To the complainants, this practice clearly amounted to a "covert defense of slavery." Bailyn had patiently explained during the offending lecture that no diaries, journals or letters by slaves in that era had ever been found. But to these students, Bailyn had clearly failed to understand the problem: "Since it was impossible to give equal representation to the slaves, Bailyn ought to have dispensed with the planter's diary altogether." [7]

Spokesmen for group quotas in behalf of the "oppressed" (labelled for public relations purposes with the positive-sounding phrase "affirmative action") generally claim that a quota system is the furthest thing from their minds: that all they want is positive action to increase representation of the favored groups. They are either being flagrantly disingenuous or else fail to understand elementary arithmetic. If Oppressed Group X is to have its "representation" increased from, say, 8 to 20 percent, then some group or combination of groups is going to have their total representation reduced by 12 percent. The hidden, or sometimes not-so-hidden, agenda, of course, is that the quotal declines are supposed to occur in the ranks of designated Oppressor Groups, who presumably deserve their fate.

[6] Murray N.Rothbard, "Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature," in Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays (Washington, D.C.: Libertarian Review Press, 1974), pp. 7-8.

[7] Taylor, "Are You Politically Correct?", p. 33.

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