This is a 26 letter back and forth conversation with two very eminent libertarians, leaders of our movement, who don’t fully understand libertarianism. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t spend so much time and effort on matters of this sort. After a back and forth or two, I send my correspondents this form letter:
“You may have noticed that I get many questions about libertarian theory addressed to me, and some about Austrian economics. I post many on the LRC blog. I try to answer all polite letters such as yours. In this and in so many other ways, I try to model my life after my friend, my mentor, my guru, Murray N. Rothbard. However, I can’t engage in too many back and forth letters. I get, oh, about 200 e mails every day, and I have to economize on time in some way. So, sorry, I can’t keep going on this. Also, I’m going to feel free, as I have long been doing, to post the conversations I have in this regard on this blog. I do so on the ground that, perhaps, other people will be interested in these conversations beside me and my correspondents.”
However, I made an exception in this case. I regard both A and B as friends. As I say, they are leaders of our movement. I thought it therefore worthy to try to convince them that my understanding of libertarianism was correct, theirs in error. Did I succeed? Who knows, not I. It all started with this note from Terry Kibbe, who is neither A nor B, my two correspondents who sent me Kibbe’s mistaken understanding of libertarianism, which they defended.
Don’t Hurt People and Don’t Take Their Stuff” by Terry Kibbe
“Don’t hurt people and don’t take their stuff.
“It’s really that simple. It’s what your mom taught you. And it’s the philosophy of liberty in a nutshell. Everyone should be free to live their lives as they think best, free from meddling by politicians and government bureaucrats and Nanny State Karens, as long as they don’t hurt people or take other people’s stuff.
“If we want to reach people outside of our bubble — the ‘liberty curious’ as we like to say – the language we use really matters. At Free the People, we work hard to connect with young people seeking answers, young people filled with idealism not wanting to settle for ‘the lesser of two evils…’”
Dear A and B
Kibbe is mistaken. But it is compatible with libertarianism to “hurt” people. Gossip about them, blackmail them, write negative reviews about their books, movies, etc.
Of course it isn’t compatible with libertarianism to hurt people. That’s what this article is all about. However, sometimes in the course of disagreeing with another person’s point of view, that person’s feelings might be hurt—however unintentionally. Gossip and blackmail are never compatible with libertarian values because one is unkind and the other is immoral, and both can be dishonest.
However, a negative review—as long as it is honest and supported by evidence in the text— would be compatible with the libertarian principles of honesty and doing no harm. To write a positive review of something when you don’t actually think it is good (for example, writing a good review of an Amazon product that fell apart after you bought it) would be harmful to one’s readers, because they might purchase the same product on your recommendation and suffer the same loss. In that case you would be hurting the single producer of the item, but you would be protecting the many consumers.
I often have to make the difficult decision of rejecting films from the xyz meeting, even though it hurts the filmmakers’ feelings, because my responsibility is to my viewers and my meeting’s reputation. I try to word the rejections graciously and kindly, however.
You and I have a VERY different understanding of what libertarianism is all about.
There is a tension, not to say a logical contradiction, between saying, on the one hand, that being hurtful is contrary to libertarianism, and on the other hand saying it is impossible to avoid hurting at least someone, as in the case of your xyz meeting. That means, it is not just difficult, by IMPOSSIBLE to be a libertarian.
I wrote an entire book making the case the blackmail and libertarianism are compatible:
Block, Walter. 2013. Legalize Blackmail. New Orleans: Straylight Publishing, LLC; http://www.straylightpublishing.com; https://gumroad.com/l/SzSd; ISBN 978-0-9910433-0-9 (hardcover), 978-0-9910433-1-6 (e-book). My publisher, bless his heart, is a bit weird. Well, more than a bit weird. He is willing to sell you this new book of mine for whatever price YOU decide upon at Amazon.com. If this isn’t weird, I don’t know what is. Of course, legalizing blackmail, rescinding all laws outlawing blackmail, it cannot be denied, is also a bit weird. Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Legalize-Blackmail-Walter-Block/dp/0991043308. Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/legalize-blackmail-walter-block/1117524839. Direct from the publisher: Legalize Blackmail is now available in all eBook formats for $9.99 across the board. The book may be obtained digitally in these formats: DRM-Free PDF, ePub, and MOBI — https://gumroad.com/l/SzSd; Kindle — http://amzn.to/1jkO5bE; Nook — http://bit.ly/1bDSNMJ; https://gumroad.com/l/SzSd; firstname.lastname@example.org; Greg Rome email@example.com
In my view, libertarianism is an attempt to promulgate just law; to pinpoint when violence is justified. That’s it. Being unkind should not be a crime.
Yes, I agree— I don’t understand what point you are trying to make.
I’m trying to make the point that Kibbe is wrong when he says hurting people is incompatible with libertarianism, and you are mistaken in defending this claim of his.
I thought you had, it’s been awhile since I read your book. Bribery is a slippery slope. How about the case of a business man paying a bribe to get a government contract?
I would answer in the same way as if you had asked, what about a businessman accepting money from government. If he is a libertarian, or at least not a member of the ruling class, then, yes. Ditto for bribing govt to the same end.
I’ve published a bit on this:
Block, 1972, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009A, 2009B, 2010, 2011A, 2011B, 2011C, 2011D, 2012, 2016; Block and Arakaky, 2008, Block and Barnett, 2008, D’Amico and Block, 2007
Block, Walter E. 1972. “The Polish Ham Question.” The Libertarian Forum. June-July, Vol. 4, No. 6-7, p. 5; http://www.mises.org/journals/lf/1972/1972_06-07.pdf; http://mises.org/daily/4054; https://archive.lewrockwell.com/block/block143.html
Block, Walter E. 2002. “Accepting Government Subsidies,” Fraser Forum, February, p. 27; http://oldfraser.lexi.net/publications/forum/2002/02/section_13.html
Block, Walter E. 2004. “Radical Libertarianism: Applying Libertarian Principles to Dealing with the Unjust Government, Part I” Reason Papers, Vol. 27, Fall, pp. 117-133; http://www.walterblock.com/wp-content/uploads/publications/block_radical-libertarianism-rp.pdf
Block, Walter E. 2006. “Radical Libertarianism: Applying Libertarian Principles to Dealing with the Unjust Government, Part II” Reason Papers, Vol. 28, Spring, pp. 85-109; http://www.walterblock.com/publications/block_radical-libertarianism-rp.pdf; http://www.walterblock.com/wp-content/uploads/publications/block_radical-libertarianism-rp.pdf; http://www.reasonpapers.com/pdf/28/rp_28_7.pdf; (death penalty justified, net taxpayer, ruling class analysis p. 87)
Block, Walter E. 2007. “Ron Paul and Matching Funds,” October 1; https://archive.lewrockwell.com/block/block86.html
Block, Walter E. 2008. “Replies to readers” September 23; https://archive.lewrockwell.com/block/block108.html (libertarians hypocrites for using public school?)
Block, Walter E. 2009A. “Libertarian punishment theory: working for, and donating to, the state” Libertarian Papers, Vol. 1; http://libertarianpapers.org/2009/17-libertarian-punishment-theory-working-for-and-donating-to-the-state/
Block, Walter E. 2009B. “Toward a Libertarian Theory of Guilt and Punishment for the Crime of Statism” in Hulsmann, Jorg Guido and Stephan Kinsella, eds., Property, Freedom and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, pp. 137-148; http://mises.org/books/hulsmann-kinsella_property-freedom-society-2009.pdf
Block, Walter E. 2010. “You are a rotten kid (rent control and libertarianism),” February 27;
Block, Walter E. 2011A. “It’s Ayn Rand Bashing Time, Once Again.” February 18; https://archive.lewrockwell.com/block/block172.html
Block, Walter E. 2011B. “May a Libertarian Take Money From the Government?” March 11; https://archive.lewrockwell.com/block/block175.html; https://www.lewrockwell.com/2011/03/walter-e-block/may-a-libertarian-take-money-from-the-government/
Block, Walter E. 2011C. “Toward a Libertarian Theory of Guilt and Punishment for the Crime of Statism,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 22; pp. 665-675; http://mises.org/journals/jls/22_1/22_1_33.pdf
Block, Walter E. 2011D. “Hoppe, Kinsella and Rothbard II on Immigration: A Critique.” Journal of Libertarian Studies; Vol. 22, pp. 593–623; http://mises.org/journals/jls/22_1/22_1_29.pdf
Block, Walter E. 2012. Yes to Ron Paul and Liberty. Ishi Press; http://www.amazon.com/dp/4871873234;
Block, Walter E. 2016. “Is It Compatible With Libertarianism to be a Banker? Yes!” September 29; https://www.lewrockwell.com/lrc-blog/compatible-libertarianism-banker-yes/
Block, Walter E. and Chris Arakaky. 2008. “Taking Government Money for Grad School?” May 23; https://archive.lewrockwell.com/block/block100.html
Block, Walter E. and William Barnett II. 2008. “Continuums” Journal Etica e Politica / Ethics & Politics, Vol. 1, pp. 151-166 June; http://www2.units.it/~etica/; http://www2.units.it/~etica/2008_1/BLOCKBARNETT.pdf
D’Amico, Dan and Walter E. Block. 2007. “A Legal and Economic Analysis of Graffiti” Humanomics Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 29-38; http://www.mises.org/journals/scholar/damico.pdf; http://www.emeraldinsight.com/Insight/viewContainer.do?containerType=Issue&containerId=24713; http://ssrn.com/abstract=1008525
So you favor crony capitalism?
Have you seen this chart, which shows a strong negative correction between development (standard of living) and bribery? http://fragilestates.org/2012/02/01/how-corruption-relates-to-development/
With all good wishes,
I oppose crony capitalism.
I take it you’ve not yet read what I wrote about these issues.
You remind me of my wife, who says frequently, “As I told you…..”
Has anyone read all your stuff? You are way too voluminous!
Bribery is a major element of crony capitalism. Did you look at this chart? http://fragilestates.org/2012/02/01/how-corruption-relates-to-development/
Okay, give me your best article on the case for and against bribery. I can’t read them all. Thanks.
Dominiak, Lukasz and Walter E. Block. 2017. “Libertarian Theory of Bribery and Incitement: A Reformulation.” MEST Journal; pp. 95-101
http://mest.meste.org/MEST_Najava/X_Lukasz.pdf; DOI 10.12709/mest.05.05.02.10;
Lovely chart. Thanks.
RE Defending the Undefendable: Do you ever defend slavery, apprenticeship, or being a bond servant (for a specified period of time) as long as it is voluntarily contracted?
Wow. We’ve gotten off Kibbe and his misunderstanding of libertarianism. He thinks hurting people is necessarily anti libertarian.
I defend voluntary slavery here: Try the one in green first. The one in blue is short
Block, 1969, 1979, 1988, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007A, 2007B, 2009A, 2009B, 2013, 2014, 2015;
Block, Walter E. 1969. “Voluntary Slavery.” The Libertarian Connection, Vol. I, No. 3, April 13, pp. 9-11.
Block, Walter E. 1979. Book review of Nancy C. Baker, Baby Selling: the Scandal of Black Market Adoptions, New York: The Vanguard Press, 1978; in Libertarian Review, January, Vol. 7, No. 12, pp. 44-45.
Block, Walter E. 1988. “Rent-a-womb market,” Thunder Bay Ontario Daily; June 26.
Block, Walter E. 1999. “Market Inalienability Once Again: Reply to Radin,” Thomas Jefferson Law Review, Vol. 22, No. 1, Fall, pp. 37-88; https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/794d/06bfb1186588c840ae3c68d09aa21e74732a.pdf; http://www.walterblock.com/publications/market_inalienability.pdf
Block, Walter E. 2001. “Alienability, Inalienability, Paternalism and the Law: Reply to Kronman,” American Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 28, No. 3, Summer, pp. 351-371; http://www.walterblock.com/publications/reply_to_kronman.pdf
Block, Walter E. 2002. “A Libertarian Theory of Secession and Slavery,” June 10; https://archive.lewrockwell.com/block/block15.html; http://libertariantruth.wordpress.com/2006/12/08/a-libertarian-theory-of-secession-and-slavery/
Block, Walter E. 2003. “Toward a Libertarian Theory of Inalienability: A Critique of Rothbard, Barnett, Gordon, Smith, Kinsella and Epstein,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol.17, No. 2, Spring, pp. 39-85; http://www.mises.org/journals/jls/17_2/17_2_3.pdf
Block, Walter E. 2004. “Are Alienability and the Apriori of Argument Logically Incompatible?” Dialogue, Vol. 1, No. 1. http://www.uni-svishtov.bg/dialog/2004/256gord6.pdf
Block, Walter E. 2005. “Ayn Rand and Austrian Economics: Two Peas in a Pod.” The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. Vol. 6, No. 2, Spring, pp. 259-269
Block, Walter E. 2006. “Epstein on alienation: a rejoinder” International Journal of Social Economics; Vol. 33, Nos. 3-4, pp. 241-260
Block, Walter E. 2007A. “Secession,” Dialogue. No. 4; pp. 1-14; http://www.uni-svishtov.bg/dialog/2007/4.07.WB.pdf
Block, Walter E. 2007B. “Alienability: Reply to Kuflik.” Humanomics Vol. 23, No. 3, pp. 117-136; http://www.emeraldinsight.com/Insight/viewContentItem.do;jsessionid=0685BBB744173274A5E7CE3803132413?contentType=Article&contentId=1626605
Block, Walter E. 2009A. “Yes, Sell Rivers! And Make Legal Some Slave Contracts” The Tyee. July 25; http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2009/07/24/SellRivers/
Block, Walter E. 2009B. “Privatizing Rivers and Voluntary Slave Contracts” July 27; https://archive.lewrockwell.com/block/block134.html
Block, Walter E. January 26, 2013. Podcast with Stephan Kinsella on voluntary slavery, debtor’s prisons; http://www.stephankinsella.com/paf-podcast/kol004-interview-with-walter-block-on-voluntary-slavery/; https://archive.lewrockwell.com/blog/lewrw/archives/132588.html; Wenzel: http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2013/02/why-walter-block-and-stephan-kinsella.html
Block, Walter E. 2014. “A Collection of Essays on Libertarian Jurisprudence: Alienability, once again; a libertarian theory of contracts.” Saint Louis University Law Journal; Vol. 58, No. 2, Winter, pp. 547-554
Block, Walter E. 2015. “On slavery and libertarianism.” Journal of Economic and Social Thought. Vol. 2, Issue 3, September, pp. 161-174; www.kspjournals.org; http://www.kspjournals.org/index.php/JEST/issue/view/42; http://www.kspjournals.org/index.php/JEST/article/view/346
Dear A and B:
I plan on blogging these conversations. Shall I keep you anonymous?
I thought your original message was sarcastic.
Our daughter is getting married tomorrow. We really don’t have time to read your excerpts right now.
You do not have my permission to quote me, especially because I misunderstood the tone of your original message and thought you were being sarcastic rather than straightforward.
Yeah, let’s just keep our conversation private. Thanks.
Maazel tov. Congratulations. May she have a long and happy marriage.
Dear A and B:
Does private mean I keep you totally anonymous? I’m fine with that.
On the other hand, if “private” means you don’t want me to use your words, I have a problem with that. Not for the past. I’ll now abide with your request if that’s what you mean. But I’ll have a problem with the future. I just put a lot of time into responding, substantively, to your queries. I’ll be a lot less inclined to engage with you that way in the future if I can’t even use your words. I won’t “disengage” from you, but I won’t be as willing to substantively engage, either.
Please let me know your thoughts on this.
Anonymous and unidentifiable will be fine.
It does come as a surprise to me that you use our private conversations among friends with deliberate plans to place them on social media. With few exceptions, that’s not my style.
Dear A and B:
I’ll comply. Total anonymity.
2:37 am on August 30, 2020 Email Walter E. Block