On the Freedom to Associate or Not to Associate with Others


This article discusses the freedom to associate or not to associate with others. Associational issues are pervasive in the law, and arise on both an individual and a societal level. Within societies one party may want to have an association with another who doesn’t want the association, or parties may want to have an association that others find objectionable or may want not to have an association that others favor. In all of these situations society as a whole must decide whether to empower one party to impose an unwanted relationship on others, and whether to prohibit associations that parties want or impel associations that parties don’t want. Similar issues arise among societies, where parties may resort to international law to resolve associational conflicts or in the absence thereof will have to work out associational conflicts among themselves. The thesis of the paper is that there is no general moral or legal principle for resolving such associational issues. Rather their resolution depends on historical and social context, and ultimately on societies’ ever evolving values. In particular, associational issues will affected by the extent to which a society’s values are more individualistic or collective. By way of illustrating the point the article discusses the factors that might come in to play in a variety of associational contexts, including marriage, race relations, emigration and immigration, and others.


Constitutional Law

Date of this Version

January 2004