Defending Walter Block, the Undefendable – Opting Out


Professor Walter Block is currently writing Defending the Undefendable Part 3, the third in the series where he defends, from a libertarian perspective, those underappreciated heroes of liberty that society largely scolds. Let’s assume he’s getting towards the autumn years of his prolific career. To conclude it nicely therefore, after “Bum in the Library,” and “The Cannibal,” he should include “Walter Block.”

There’s a lot to draw on. He might talk about: his 600+ scholarly articles, and countless students he’s turned into libertarians through his professorship at Loyola University and prior; his major contributions to economics and libertarian theory, such as his work tackling the “what about the roads?” question, and indeed, “what about the seas?”

Then there’s a great service he’s performed to humanity: deeply offending the “this is why we can’t have nice things” school of libertarianism.

He does this because, like his mentor Murray Rothbard, he is ill-content to tip-toe around controversial topics. Rather, he insists on taking the premise behind libertarianism as far as it can go. When he’s following the line of thinking to its logical conclusion, he’s not messing about. Naturally, the conclusions are sometimes galling.

Some wring their hands at this, frustrated that these conclusions are so radical, so politically incorrect, that discussing them with normal people becomes impossible. The majority of criticisms can be boiled down to, “This is why libertarianism will never be relevant in politics.”

Yet this is the classic error of judging a claim not by whether it’s true, but whether it’s marketable. Their issue is not that Block is wrong necessarily, but that they won’t be able to persuade the folks at the water cooler that he’s right.

Excuse me, but that seems like their problem, not Professor Block’s.

Listen up: evangalizability has no bearing on the truth value of any given claim.

Walter Block is a scholar. His main aim is to enlighten. He’s not a politician, and therefore has no obligation to cater to anyone. His first responsibility is to his students and readers, who follow him because of his ability to tell the truth.

Nobody can argue that Block isn’t trying to seek the truth. Most of his shocking conclusions are logically derived from principles that most people share. Or principles that at the very least libertarians should share.

You can argue that there’s problems with his reasoning arriving at the claim. I do with some things. I don’t think the “voluntary slavery” idea works (I agree with Rothbard — you can’t alienate the will). I think the evictionist theory of abortion is also unsatisfactory.

I believe Block’s heart is in the right place. The evidence for this is based on his track record of following the principle wherever it goes. I simply believe, on a handful of topics, he’s made mistakes in his reasoning.

What I’m not doing is assuming it’s wrong just because it’s a shocking conclusion, and therefore will “put people off.” Sure, “voluntary slavery,” divorced of context, sounds absurd and downright offensive. When you look at it more closely, it’s simply not that big of a deal, and applies to pheriperal cases that might only exist in the hypothetical.

The point is, it’s obvious that the good professor’s main aim is to tell the truth, which makes him a hero in my book. When you think about it, it makes him a hero in Jesus’ and Jordan Peterson’s books too. Whatever happened to telling the truth for the truth’s sake? Or did the world become a Machiavellian hellpit without me noticing?

Then there’s the Donald Trump endorsement, which confirmed in the capital L-Libertarian Trendies’ unthinking minds that Professor Block was an alt-right ideologue. One can only conclude that if you can’t concentrate on what is said.

Block’s Trump endorsement is derived from the principle that war is the biggest crime against liberty. This is a perfectly sound idea at its core — war is mass murder, mass theft (via taxation), and mass slavery (via conscription). Please consult War, Peace and the State.

Trump, in his 2016 campaign, was arguing for less intervention in foreign affairs and winding down current interventions. Hillary Clinton was not arguing in this way. It follows then that Trump’s policies were (would have been if he was serious) less bad than Clinton’s.

This shouldn’t be too much to cope with. Endorsing politicians is not my cup of tea personally, but I see where Block is coming from. Yet libertarians aren’t immune from Trump Derangement Syndrome. I’m not just talking about disliking Trump, which is healthy and normal, but the disproportionate Pavlovian rage at every aspect of his being.

People went mental when Block did this. But such types aren’t interested in looking into why somebody does things.

There’s a problem with any explicit endorsement — getting involved in politics requires compromise and almost guarantees disappointment. Trump has proven the rule. Here again Block follows in the wake of Rothbard, who seemed compelled to give an endorsement at any election, even if they’re not the most ideologically pure.

But really, if this is a mistake, it’s a mistake of naivety and has nothing to do with whether the claim “anti-war is the key to the libertarian project” is true or not, which is where he was coming from.

All of these things matter less when you accept the fact that we’re likely not to experience a free society in our own lifetimes, and that the politicking is not as urgent as one might think. A must-read: Stephan Kinsella on searching for truth for its own sake, rather than in aim of tangible gains in liberty in our lifetimes.

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James Smith

Writer and film-maker from the United Kingdom. Digital nomad. Author of 'The Shy Guy's Guide to Travelling'.


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