In his recent article [February] John Hospers asks: "Unless you are in the very seat of power, how are you going to dismantle it?" I would answer: by cutting off the legs that support the seat. Our present government operates only because most people support it. If a large enough number stopped believing in this kind of government, and it probably wouldn't require a majority even, and if they began to treat it like any other criminal conspiracy, then the government could no longer function.
What Hospers misses is that for libertarian ideas to spread throughout the culture is both a necessary and sufficient condition for a free society. He sees that no armed revolution would then be necessary. But equally, no political action would then be needed either, because the government would be rendered impotent. The existence of a libertarian culture implies that many bureaucrats and military people would also be libertarians. They would prevent government from enforcing its edicts against noncoercive people. And that, combined with individual defensive actions, would effectively nullify coercive government.
Hospers mentions the situation of a Jew in Nazi Germany to show that there are instances when a government cannot be ignored. Of course that's true, just as there are instances when the weather shouldn't be ignored. But Hospers implies that the only way to fight government is by political action. And that isn't true; direct and individual defensive measures are often more cost-effective. For example, surely Hospers wouldn't have told a German Jew to defend himself through political means. With the benefit of hindsight, I would recommend that he get out of the country, or arm himself and kill Gestapo.
Similarly, an OSHA or ICC victim, for example, should calculate whether political action is the most effective means of resistance. Often underground business activity is a better alternative. I have personal knowledge of a number of counter-economic businesses that operate quite successfully, illegal, untaxed, and unregulated. More and more tradespeople, e.g. carpenters, painters, mechanics, etc. are operating under the counter and most of them aren't even ideological libertarians. This choice has a certain risk, but the benefit is that at one stroke all present and future taxes and regulations are eliminated. And the real risks are often less than you would think because the government's power to enforce is not unlimited. One should calculate the present cost of the real future risk and compare that with the cost of complying with regulations.
Hospers' casuistic defenses of government restrictions and welfare payments is particularly disgusting. This kind of argument can be used to justify almost any government usurpation. If the government has any contractual obligations, the contract binds only those who agreed to it; that is, the elected politicians who voted for it. In particular, those thieves in office are not my agents. I didn't vote for any of them, and they have no power to make contracts binding on me.
When is Hospers going to realize that money paid in social security taxes is simply gone, already spent, as effectively as money taken in any other swindle? If a con man defrauds a victim in a phony stock scam, would Hospers hold that others in the community are obligated to compensate the victim? The case is identical regarding social security. Government is just like any other criminal.
If the social security welfare payments are stopped, I'll help take care of those persons I'm concerned about. Others will have to make do as best they can. If Hospers is so concerned about the poor, he can contribute to their support at his own expense, but he'd better keep his hand out of my pocket. In this he sounds like every bleeding heart liberal who is so eager to be charitable, but always at someone else's expense. Let me reiterate that property belongs to the productive person who creates it, and that is an absolute. If you can't stomach the consequences of that, then don't call yourself a libertarian, because you are not.
As a general comment on Hospers' entire approach, I'd like to remind you of a quote from the black liberation movement: gradualism in theory, is perpetuity in practice.
ON HOLDING POLITICAL OFFICE
"What is wrong," Prof. Hospers asks "with [holding political office] as long as the libertarian…uses his office to curb the power of government, never expand it?" He argues that dismantling the State from the inside is better than "sitting carping on the sidelines every time Congress leads us further down the path to Statism;" it is better to dismantle the State from the inside than to cry "The ship is sinking, but don't you dare put your hands on the tiller!"
The manipulation of the steering controls of a sailing vessel might, for all I know, actually be the proper response to a sinking ship. It would not be my response, but then, from yachts-manship I know nothing. I would have thought, however, that it would be more appropriate to say "The ship is sinking, and if you put one more hole in her bottom, I'll blow your head off!" Nor is it obviously true that "carping on the sidelines" is less preferable than holding political office. We are convinced that it would be nice to "curb the power of government;" we are so convinced of that that we may be easily misled into believing that therefore the use of political office to "curb the power of government" is also a proper moral activity. But if the holding of political office is illegitimate in the first place, then what do we say? Any libertarian, who holds, or seeks to hold, political office, ought to answer these questions: Will he accept tax money in payment of his salary? Will he accept tax money in support of his office staff, rent and supplies? Will he enter the buildings of government, as a member of that government, and proceed to make use of such facilities as are necessary for the prosecution of his duties? Will he say to himself: "Let me see. How best can I make use of these funds, which have been given to me by this organization, and which have been extorted from innocent people? Shall I use this money first to feed and clothe myself? Or for taxi fare to and from the Senate, that place where other members of this organization of thieves and meddlers regularly congregate? Or for printing up a colorful booklet to send to the people whom I represent, but do not really represent, in order to keep them informed of the purposes to which I am putting their money, which I have willingly accepted from the thieves who took it; or shall I send them an inexpensive note in order to remind them that, although I have willingly joined this band of robbers, I am not really one of them myself?" Will he, when the time comes, stand up and advocate the abolition of all taxes? Or will he vote "Yes" to a proposal which would only reduce taxes, but which would nevertheless tax people, by that very amount for which he voted? Will he, when the voting is done, and when the vote has gone against him, report to the innocent people whom he does not really represent, and who may not even have wished him to hold office in the first place, that he is so sorry, but that the organization, of which he is a willing member, has decided to continue stealing money from them, and that he has decided to stay on, whether all those innocent people wish him to or not, and accept so much blood money as will enable him to maintain a comfortable existence as a willing member of that organization of thieves and bunglers?
If exercising political power is at the very best a morally suspicious activity, then the holding of political office for any purpose is morally suspicious. If a libertarian cannot join a group of thieves without also doing a little robbery himself, then it is his duty to refuse membership. Let him kill the thieves or unmask their true character. But let him not betray the very victims he thinks he will save. It would be far more in keeping with his principles to carp on the sidelines.
David B. Suits
Dept. of Philosophy
University of Waterloo
Dr. Hospers' defense of political activism overlooks an important point. Dr. Hospers writes as if there were two choices: political activism or self-liberation efforts. In fact, there are three: political activism, self-liberation efforts, or doing nothing. Leaving aside the question of whether Dr. Hospers is correct in supposing that self liberation cannot produce freedom (in fact, he seems to equate it with doing nothing, and I doubt that he has explored its possibilities very fully), this supposition does not mean that we should all become political activists. It still has to be shown that political activism can produce freedom; if it cannot, then it is preferable to do nothing.
More specifically, we can compute the expected payoff of political activism by standard mathematical methods. Multiply the probability that my performing an act will make the difference between success and failure, and the value of that difference to me: the product is the expected payoff. Compare this with the expected cost, computed by similar methods. By this result, voting, party activism, and the like simply do not pay; the benefits are too widely dispersed, and they can only be successful if so many people take part that my involvement is unnecessary anyway. Such methods as bribery, exploitation of legal loopholes, and so forth, are preferable; or simple lawbreaking, carried on carefully enough to evade detection.
Further, it is not obvious that the Libertarian Party can produce freedom at all, never mind the cost. Certainly, it may be a political success. Let us remember, though, that there is always a demand for the corruption of political leaders, coming both from the desire of those leaders to secure their power and privileges, and from the desire of interest groups to get privileges. Dr. Hospers' evident wish to avoid stepping on the toes of people who have relied on government offers an entrance for such corruption. Sufficient moral fervor might prevent such corruption, but history shows us what moral fervor can lead to: fanaticism, a warped perception of the universe in which all but a few elect figures are under constant suspicion of wrongdoing. I wonder how fair a trial acidheads and homosexuals would get in an Objectivist court, or whether the liberty to criticize Libertarian Party positions would be protected as carefully as the liberty to support them? In fact, all too often, both faults are found in the same person: the idealist who sacrifices the powerless to his cause, while being bribed by the powerful into accepting "necessary compromises" while "consolidating" his position.
I do not hope to create freedom through my own efforts. I hope to protect myself from the worst excesses of statism, within the constraints of loyalty to my friends and my own integrity; and perhaps to see continuing technical and economic change leave the government impotent. But working with the Libertarian Party or similar groups will not speed this, and it will impose on me an additional tax: my money, work, and loyalty will be drained to give the leaders a larger dose of power and prestige. If I wanted to do that I would support the present government. Admittedly it pays off for leaders such as Dr. Hospers to work for the Party, but for followers and supporters the only reward is the fraudulent currency of moral satisfaction.
William H. Stoddard
Chula Vista, CA
Dr. Hospers replies: It would take many pages to reply in detail to all the points raised in the letters. I shall be able here to touch on only a few of the important ones.
More than one letter attacks me for saying that political action is the only way of implementing libertarian ideals. Far from saying that, I explicitly said that political action is at best a supplement to the educational task of libertarians, since if the latter is not done the former would never succeed. Need I say more?
Mr. Stumm writes, "If a con man defrauds a victim in a phony stock scam, would Hospers hold that others in the community are obligated to compensate the victim?" Of course not—as if that question needed answering. My point about social security was that many people were forced against their will to pay into it, if they were to be employed at all. Mr. Stumm would not want to compensate even these people, the innocent victims. But the matter cannot be so summarily dismissed—there is surely a problem here: either one set of victims is sacrificed (those who were forced to pay in), or another set of victims (taxpayers) will be levied an increased tax to indemnify the members of the first class of victims. If this were the situation, there would indeed be a real problem.
But I do not believe that this problem need arise, because I do not believe that the innocent victims of the social security system need be paid out of tax money. As long ago as 1971, in my book Libertarianism, Chapter 9, pages 388-391, I suggested that government assets be sold to pay for these things. The U.S. government owns 40 percent of the land in the United States (national forests, national parks, deserts, oil-shale deposits etc.); why not another Homestead Act? Government wrongfully owns all kinds of enterprises, such as the Post Office, which could and should be sold to the highest private bidder. The proceeds could be used to do such things as compensate victims of the system. This suggestion was not original with me even when I wrote the book; anyway I see no reason why this should not be done. Not only would it reimburse the victims, but it would render profitable many enterprises which are now losing money (the deficit being paid by increasing general taxation) because they are being operated by an inefficient and wasteful government.
Mr. Stumm further writes, "[Hospers] sounds like every bleeding heart liberal who is so eager to be charitable but always at someone else's expense." There is, of course, not a word in the article which provides the slightest basis for such an allegation. But if the best that can be said about the so-called liberals is that they place a value on human life, then fine, I accept that premise at least.
To receive a pro-libertarian letter from a professor of philosophy is indeed a refreshing experience. After years of constant rejoinders from philosophers such as "I suppose you wouldn't even agree that the government should license professions" (or care for the poor, or enforce anti-trust, etc.) I am so delighted at finding one philosopher who is skeptical of government that I would almost be tempted to grant him his whole case. Let me make clear, though, that if it is a matter of concern to me that a physician must sometimes inflict pain in order to heal a patient (and it is), it would be far more of a concern to me that a libertarian president would accept tax money even to eliminate coercion through the wise exercise of (and final abdication from?) his office. However, as indicated above, there is an alternative. The sale of government-owned enterprises, which the State should not have owned in the first place, would yield an enormous asset that could be used not only to repay innocent victims but to finance the president and Congress in dismantling the government's present coercive activities.
Professor Suits' analogy of the holes in the ship seems to me mistaken. The government's hand is indeed at the tiller, only it is steering the ship very badly. That will probably not be changed until someone steers the ship well. Carping on the sidelines won't succeed in doing this, at least not until enough people carp to elect a libertarian Congress, in which case they'll no longer be on the sidelines.
"Gradualism in theory, perpetuity in practice," writes Mr. Stumm. If there are interim measures, they will last forever, he says. This is a possible consequence, but a perfectly avoidable and unnecessary one. There is no reason in the world why an interim period should last forever; on the contrary, such a period should be as brief and painless as possible. But it cannot be overnight, any more than the recovery of a very sick patient can occur overnight. From the fact that he can't recover overnight, it does not follow that he has to stay in the hospital forever.
If there is no interim period, what would most likely happen? Starting tomorrow morning, no municipal police force, before private ones could be organized; no welfare payments, before private enterprise was able to get into gear to solve the unemployment problem; no social security payments or veterans benefits to those who depended on them for their existence. A portion of the most likely scenario would be: massive strikes, riots in the streets with no one to curb them, hunger riots and civil disorder, starvation in the cities, with such extensive terror and insecurity that a fascist-type government would probably take over to restore "law and order" and we'd be even worse off than before. I wish it were not so; but as an inhabitant of the real world and not some imaginary world contemplated by some libertarians, I must say that every evidence points to its being so. Not one of the letters received gives any evidence to the contrary; not one of them even touches upon this vitally important issue. A certain amount of gradualism (as short as possible) is the only alternative that takes any consideration of human life. Why has the opposition not addressed itself to this crucial issue? There are several possible answers, but the most plausible one that I can come up with is: They don't really give a damn what happens to actual human beings in the real world—this is of no concern to them as long as every detail of their theory remains intact. —J.H.
I was extremely pleased to read Sharon Presley's review of Walter Block's Defending the Undefendable. It is the most well-reasoned review on that controversial book that I have seen yet. Unfortunately, I cannot agree with her conclusion that "It is a positive menace to the libertarian movement…"
I agree strongly that the characterization of these undefendables as "heroes" was wrong. The mixed nature of the book does indeed weaken its total effect. And I am grateful that Ms. Presley so strongly criticizes the overwhelming reliance on economic arguments in the near vacuum of humanistic considerations.
But, given all of these faults, does the book really deserve such condemnation? I think not. So what if the book utilizes mostly economic arguments? Is not a defense of these people, using any argument, an important addition to the libertarian literature?
I regard this as an important point, because the emerging popular (liberal) opinion, particularly in regard to victimless crimes, is horribly inconsistent. How is it, for example, that we have strong popular support for personal users of marijuana, but almost no support for growers or distributors? And how can people push for the rights of prostitutes (including some prostitutes themselves, through groups such as COYOTE), while not defending pimps?
Of course many libertarians are revulsed by many of the activities discussed in Dr. Block's book. We cannot, as libertarians, attempt to defend or condemn any particular action, but we must defend the right for these activities to occur between consenting participants. Since Defending the Undefendable does this, I think it should be welcomed.
As to the argument that it will harm the libertarian movement, I find this a dangerous criticism. In dealing with non-libertarians, I have found my greatest success by consciously avoiding using the word libertarian, because it already has many bad connotations (as perceived by outsiders). If I used this personal belief to judge others, I would have to conclude that even REASON is a positive menace to the libertarian movement.
The libertarian spectrum is broad enough to encompass many "heretics." Should we attempt to silence Bob Lefevre or Karl Hess because they aren't in the mainstream of current thought? Rothbard himself was considered on a lunatic fringe a few years ago, and now he is "Mr. Libertarian."
If all the book does is evoke emotional responses, then it will have failed, but the fault will lie with the reader, not Dr. Block. If it causes even one person to think about the issues involved (and it has), then I consider it a success.
In her review of Walter Block's Defending the Undefendable [February], Sharon Presley attacks not only the book but its endorsers, especially those indulging in the sin of "economism." Since practitioners of "economism" are presumably economists (what else?), and I am both an economist and an endorser of the book, I would like the space for a brief comment.
I do not propose to engage in a point-by-point defense of the Block book, which I have done at length elsewhere. But Miss Presley raises a wider issue in her review, of contrasting something she calls mechanistic "economism" and her own "humanism" as competing approaches for a libertarian.
In the first place, in lumping together alleged libertarian "economism" with the Marxist version, Miss Presley misunderstands the Marxist use of the term: it applies, not to the view that economics is all, but to a trade-union, bread-and-butter approach that ignores general ideological considerations.
More importantly, Miss Presley echoes other fuzzy-minded anti-economists of the past in misunderstanding the claims of economics and praxeological analysis. Economic logic and experience tell us, for example, that when the price offered for a product falls, the supply produced and offered on the market will be reduced. It tells us that investors and businessmen seek to increase their monetary profits and avoid monetary losses. It tells us, for example, in our current natural gas "shortage," that if, due to Federal price control, a Texas natural gas producer will be offered a lower price to ship gas to the East than he can attain on the free-market in his own state, precious little natural gas will be shipped. Are these truths simple or simplistic? Mechanistic? Whatever they are they are correct, and offer vitally important information about human action. In no case, does the economist claim that all of human action can be reduced to the monetary motive, but nevertheless these insights are both important and true, violate "humanism" through they may.
I must confess that I don't understand what Miss Presley and her like-minded confreres mean by "humanism." Webster's dictionary seems to provide little help: it offers, man-centered concerns as against religion, and devotion to the Greek and Latin classics, neither of which seem to be relevant. Does it mean that we should be nice to people, and avoid elbowing aside little old ladies in our rush for seats in the subway? If so, we can all agree without getting much further in social analysis. Does it mean William Graham Sumner's "friends of humanity," who adopt the "poor" and the "weak" as social pets, and proceed to push them and the rest of us around for their alleged "benefit?"
Who knows what Miss Presley and others mean by "humanism," since they employ it as an emotional catchall term unsupported by rational analysis, with which to praise themselves and denounce views that they dislike? If this is being unfair to the humanists, then let one or more of them sit down and write a book expounding "libertarian humanism," and thus allow the rest of us to be convinced or not on rational grounds. So far, they have conspicuously failed to do so, and have, as in the case of Miss Presley, simply used the term as a bludgeon for a hit-and-run attack. As it is, I will have to rest with Sumner's brilliant defense of his exposition of economic law against those who accused his logic of being "cold" and "hard-hearted": Namely, that it is just as sensible to accuse the physicist for being "hardhearted" for expounding a law of gravity that applies equally to a baby as it does to stones.
The one concrete case in which Miss Presley contrasts her humanism to Walter Block's analysis does not bode well. She is outraged that Block asserts that "the prostitute obviously prefers her work, otherwise she would not continue it." Far from being "out of touch with social reality" or being "mechanistic," Block is here asserting a praxeological truth which is founded on the insight that individuals are not behavior mechanisms, but persons with purposes and choices, who employ means to achieve ends. That means that everyone, not simply prostitutes, prefers their current actions to their alternatives. Miss Presley then proceeds to dehumanize prostitutes by a psycho-smear, implying that they are determined mechanisms rather than free choosers. When she says that prostitutes choose their profession out of financial "desperation," this is another way of saying that everyone chooses his or her profession partly out of financial considerations. So? As for her charge that they do not choose their careers on the basis of "rational planning," whatever that may mean, then who does? How many psychologists, for example, choose their careers in the manner that Miss Presley would like?
At any rate, when it comes to the murky area of psychology, I rest my case with Thomas Szasz, another endorser of the Block book. For there at least, is one libertarian psychologist whose works I always find logical, rational, and crystal-clear.
Murray N. Rothbard
New York, NY
LIMITS OF LIBERTARIANISM
In her review Ms. Presley points out, quite correctly, the controversial nature of my book, Defending the Undefendable. I would go so far as to say that it is probably the most controversial libertarian book-ever written. She attributes this to its unevenness, "schizophrenic nature," "Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde" aspects, which are based on "a fundamental division within libertarianism into 'economistic' and 'humanistic' approaches." I agree that the controversial nature of the book is due to a split within libertarianism, but Sharon, I fear, is quite wide of the mark when she refers to "economism" (all human action can be explained in terms of economics) and "humanism" (other factors also need to be taken into account). If this is all there were to it, "humanism" would obviously be correct, for surely all human action cannot be accounted for in terms of economics alone. Actually, "humanism," as employed by Presley, is just a substitute for serious analysis. For example, she takes me to task for saying that "the prostitute obviously prefers her work, otherwise she would not continue it" on the grounds that "serious sociological and psychological literature shows that women are far more likely to become prostitutes out of financial and psychological desperation…and are not all 'happy hookers'." But my statement in no way implied that prostitutes do not have reservations and qualms about their work; only that given the wages, hours, working conditions, and their other opportunities, they prefer prostitution to other professions, in spite of its obvious drawbacks. This is part and parcel of what Ludwig von Mises meant by human action; choosing and setting aside, picking the one opportunity out of all those available that one prefers the most, after the good and bad points of each are weighed. What's so schizophrenic about that?
No. The split in libertarianism concerns one of definition. In my view, a necessary and sufficient condition of our philosophy is adherence to the principle of nonagression against nonagressors. In the view of Ms. Presley and some of my other critics, this is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. In addition, all sorts of other things are also required, depending upon whom you talk to: benevolence, niceness, kindness, humanism, psychological awareness, openness, love, understanding are some of the more usual requisites. In the limited view of libertarianism that seems correct to me, an obnoxious, uncooperative, unliberated, prejudiced, hateful person could act in accordance with our principles, provided only that he scrupulously refrained from the initiation of force against noninitiators.
One thing that always drives Sharon to apoplexy, in her several reviews of my book is my use of the word "hero" to describe such as the blackmailer, litterer, speculator, profiteer, slanderer, and some other dozen of their ilk. She objects on the ground that a heroic act implies the attainment of intrinsically great values, and not merely the riskiness, great benefits conferred, and opposition to wrongful statist prohibitions that many of my examples can lay claim to. But Webster's defines "hero" as "a person of distinguished valor or enterprise in danger or fortitude in suffering"—surely in keeping with my usage. And what of the objection that some of my own examples do not even fit my own criteria? ("To suggest that the miser, inheritor, and litterer undergo great risk is just plain silly.") I would recommend that Sharon attend a college economics course on Keynesianism to see how the miser is treated; read any Marxist on what to do with the "problem" of inheritance, and see what they have done with inheritance taxes in England; and travel on any of our highways, where litter is punishable by $100 fines, jail sentences, and the scorn of the community.
Ms. Presley attacks Defending the Undefendable for not including a chapter on the racist as hero. Surely this must rank in the annals of book reviewing as anomalous: criticizing not what is in it, but what is not. She might as well have demanded chapters on nudism, vegetarianism, or nazism, none of which were mentioned. She also rues my "implication that the use of coercion among pimps is no more serious a problem than the occasional bank embezzler" as "truly bizarre." I agree. This is truly bizarre. But this was nowhere implied, much less stated. What I did say was that "the (coercive) actions of any one, or even of all pimps together, cannot legitimately be used to condemn the profession qua profession, unless the action is a necessary part of the profession," and then went on to deny that this was so.
Then there is the accusation of unclarity on the issue of charity, and of "coming along and saying that charity is evil." But on page 137 I say "Contributing to charity is not in itself evil. When it is a voluntary decision on the part of responsible adults, it does not violate an individual's rights." What could be more clear? I do not contend, however, that the Darwinian laws still apply to modern society; but that unlike in the past, when hand-to-hand combat skills and other "cave man" abilities were selected out for continuation, survival characteristics nowadays include non-allergy to smoke and other strains of modern living, but not necessarily good eyesight and healthy teeth. Why is this "collectivistic, repellent, inhumane, and nonlibertarian?" It's true, for goodness sake. Sharon doesn't seem to realize that "survival" in Darwinian theory means only success in leaving children behind, not in killing anyone else. Mice and butterflies were more successful in leaving progeny behind than were the dinosaurs; but they certainly did not kill them! Her comment about "Block expecting large sections of the populace (to be) eliminated" is thus a misunderstanding. Nor does "evolution work through the population group, not the individual." It is surprising that someone so concerned with individualism should fail to grasp the methodological individualistic point that all social science phenomena can work only through individuals, not groups. Only individuals can make choices, decisions; only individuals are capable of human action. So-called "group action" can only be undertaken by the individuals that compose the group.
I cannot accept Ms. Presley's continual over-concern with "humanism" and her fears that I am "ruining things" as far as converting the bleeding heart liberal types who hate property rights and love charity above all else. There may have been a time, although I doubt it, when it made good strategic sense to downplay our commitment to property, the free market, capitalism, etc., and to avoid a frank appraisal of charity, etc., out of fear of trampling upon the tender sensibilities of the liberal do-gooders. If there ever was, I think that time is past. Now that we are a mature political movement, I think we can well afford to give vent to our own methods of analysis and modes of expression.
But this is all beside the point. I am personally not interested in converting or convincing anyone. I am only concerned to start with the libertarian principle of nonaggression, and to trace out the logical implications of this glorious premise. In Defending the Undefendable, I try to "follow my own libertarian star." I am sorry that the book has "sparked quite a bit of controversy" and vituperation. When I wrote it, I never anticipated such a response. When Hayek wrote me, in response to an early draft of the book, saying that "popular fallacies in economics frequently express themselves in unfounded prejudices against other occupations, and in showing the falsity of these stereotypes, you are doing a real service, although you will not make yourself more popular with the majority," I thought he meant the majority of nonlibertarians. I never imagined that people calling themselves libertarians would even question the general thrust. Trite as it may sound, I can only say to Ms. Presley: I write the truth as I see it, offensive as it may appear to some people.
Ms. Presley replies: In their responses to my review, Rothbard and Block merely repeat the standard invectives which they have previously leveled at even the slightest hint of deviation from the Block-Rothbard plumbline. The amazing combination of straw men, misdirection, sly innuendos and worse to be found in their most recent efforts is typical.
The "point-by-point defense" Rothbard claims he has made elsewhere does not exist, if what he means by this is a refutation of my arguments in Laissez Faire Review. In Rothbard's chief opus on the Block book (Libertarian Forum, Oct., 1976), he dismisses my LFR review in three sentences as an "embarrassment" and "hysterical verbal overkill." Point-by-point, you see. Yet my LFR review contained substantive points similar to the REASON review and has been praised by a large number of libertarians, including Rothbard's associates, Leonard Liggio and Joe Peden.
Re: "economism." Just as scientism, as discussed by Hayek, is the uncritical application of the methods of the natural sciences to problems for which they are inappropriate, so economism is the uncritical application of the methods of economics to issues for which they are inappropriate. An example of the absurd extremes to which economism can go is the claim by one prominent libertarian that in a free market society, where prostitution would be legal (and sex presumably more available), rape would no longer be a problem.
A humanist is "one who rejects the attempt to describe or account for man wholly on the basis of physics, chemistry and animal behavior." Individuals are seen as "irreducible organic wholes rather than a mechanical assemblage of parts" (quotes from The Idea of Man by Floyd Matson). Analogously, libertarian humanists recognize that some human actions require explanations that are not wholly economic and that some human actions cannot be explained in economic terms at all. Libertarian humanism attempts to understand the full range of human motivations and sees individuals as real human beings, not just textbook abstractions. It does not of course deny the existence of the supply and demand process; nowhere do I imply this and Rothbard is absurd to claim so.
Nor does libertarian humanism "require…niceness…openness, love," etc. as Block so cutely implies. But while it is at least theoretically possible to have a libertarian society full of misanthropes, I frankly doubt that a society where most people are authoritarian or misanthropic would long remain libertarian. One cannot artificially separate personal psychological values and attitudes from one's action and values in the political and social realm. But by these comments, I do not demand or require particular values of any individual, I simply state a sociological prediction. However, a libertarian society could no doubt support a few Walter Blocks without serious damage.
Block's appalling use of an out-of-context quote is the major defense he offers for his position on charity. The paragraph following the quote he mentions on p. 137 begins: "One of the great evils of charity…is that it interferes with the survival of the human species." and on p. 138, he continues "…charity of this type is undeniably harmful…" What could be less clear?
Further muddling this argument is Block's profound ignorance of biology (beginning with his astonishing identification of natural selection as a social science phenomenon). He seems totally unacquainted with the revisions made in evolutionary theory since The Origin of the Species. The "population group," for instance, is a term referring to the group of related individuals who among them constitute a gene pool of similar characteristics within a species—the chance survival or death of an individual thus only statistically increases or lessens the possibility of survival of the qualities in question, hence my remark about eliminating "large segments of the populace."
The fact of natural selection is not "repellent, inhumane and…collectivist" (even his quote is inaccurate); using "survival of the fittest" (something that concerns only a group, i.e., Homo sapiens) as a goal to justify condemning the individual act of charity does reek of collectivism.
A sterling example of economism in action is Block's remark about "methodological individualism," which is a tool of analysis appropriate for the social sciences but totally irrelevant to biology. Genes don't engage in human action. Mouthing century-old pseudoscientific cliches, he grapples with an idea in which he apparently has neither practical experience nor theoretical knowledge. Practical experience would tell him that a large part of the American social structure runs on charity and volunteer work, and that anywhere human beings are left to their own unregulated devices, they generally behave well towards one another (for their own self gratification, of course). In the realm of theory, Block might study to advantage such passages as this one from Badcock's Slaves to Duty: "…voluntary help is a kind of natural selection…for the helpers select whom they will help, and to what extent…"
A word is in order here about the continual misuse of language and context by Rothbard and Block in the course of this feud. The term "prefer," for example, in economic parlance means only that one performs a particular action or makes a certain purchase; "prefer" is not a synonym for "like" or "desire." Thus when Block says that prostitutes "prefer" their work to the presumably dazzling career alternatives open to them, he either states a triviality, true by definition, or else builds platonic free markets in the sky, where, free of the psychological influences of our past and our present, we can choose without limitation.
Block's claim that I am attacking the book for not including a chapter on the racist as hero is not only dense but stupid. Obviously my point was not to demand such a chapter but simply to make a rhetorical point about Block's inconsistency by his own standards. The "logic" used in the male chauvinist pig chapter is more clearly applicable to the racist than the mcp but apparently Block would rather offend women than blacks.
And if one wants to speak of "the murky area of psychology," I might add that Nathaniel Branden was asked to endorse the book and refused.
But to further attack this book is simply to mar the corpse. Since I have no desire to help publicize this book any further and I find necrotomy rather tedious, I hope that this exchange will be the last of our debate. —S.P.
Tibor Machan, in his February Viewpoint, calls the "union shop contract" a voluntary practice and he also implies that "right-to-work" laws abridge freedom. These are the most astounding deductions ever peddled by the libertarian ivory tower (an ivory tower so fastidious about drugs and kinky sex)—(are working and eating, like money, too important to trust to liberty?). On what other subjects do libertarians support tyranny-of-the-majority? If a majority of workers can use state violence to enforce contracts between two bloodless creatures of the state (a union and a corporation) where can we fault any other majority force? It is an unfortunate consequence of legislative history that right-to-work has to go begging to state legislatures.
I am aware of the anti-right-to-work platform position of the Libertarian Party; but this awareness came too late to affect my joining, my contributions to the MacBride campaign, and my petition-bearing activities. The Party will likely see the light before the next election, but in the meantime be careful how you speak if you call me a libertarian.
Ira E. Marvin
Dr. Machan replies: Shortly after my column went to press I read Prof. Thomas Haggard's excellent paper in The Journal of Social and Political Affairs, "The Natural Right to Work," and became convinced that in the main, with definite exceptions, right-to-work legislation is better than nothing in the context of the current situation in national and state labor law. The idea that in a free society, not in ours, it would be illegal for owners of a business to make an employment contract with a group of individuals, so that those not part of this group might not then be hired by the owners—this idea is clearly a contradiction. But it is indeed another matter how those already subject to various coercive laws might most effectively regain at least portions of their liberty. "Right to work" laws could, I now believe, constitute such a way with no violation of anyone's rights implicit through them.
I am sorry if I mislead reader Marvin and others. —TRM.
I noted in the March "Washington Watch" column a reference to Idaho's two conservative Republican Congressmen, Steve Symms and George Hansen, "who at least recognize the word 'libertarian' and are sometimes sympathetic."
Unfortunately, Symms and Hansen are illustrative of that breed of statist Republican who is only interested in individual freedom and limited government when it comes to protecting private profit. On most civil liberties issues, they are among the most Big Brother-oriented Congressmen in Washington.
Both Symms and Hansen, for example, are outspoken advocates of laws which make criminals out of persons who choose to use marijuana. Not only do they favor continuing the repressive marijuana laws of their home state of Idaho, but they support the current Federal (!) laws which prohibit the private use of marijuana in homes throughout the United States.
I cringe every time I see a reference to either of these politicians as "libertarian." They espouse the rhetoric of individual liberty, but the substance of their politics belies any belief in it.
Gordon S. Brownell
West Coast Coordinator, NORML
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".