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<A HREF="http://www.zolatimes.com/V2.41/pageone.html">Laissez Faire City Times
- Volume 2 Issue 41</A>
The Laissez Faire City Times
December 7, 1998 - Volume 2, Issue 41
Editor & Chief: Emile Zola
Defending the Undefendable:

Walter Block, Twenty Years Later

an interview by Alberto Mingardi

If someone asks a libertarian to indicate a sparkling classic of
laissez-faire thought, the answer might be: Defending the Undefendable.

When Defending the Undefendable was first smuggled off the presses in
1976, it hit libertarians and others.

Walter Block's original book rose to defend "the pimp, prostitute, scab,
slumlord, and other scapegoats in the rogue's gallery of American
society." But that was not all: twenty-eight other groups and activities
came before Block's liberating gaze. The drug addict, drug pusher,
blackmailer, slanderer, libeler, "person who yells 'Fire!' in a crowded
theater," dishonest cop, (non-governmental) counterfeiter,
non-contributor to charity, speculator, ghetto merchant, litterer . . .
well, the list goes on and on.

About this book, Murray Rothbard said that: "Until this book, no
economist has had the courage of Professor Block in tackling head-on the
moral and economic status of dozens of reviled, scorned, and grievously
misunderstood professions and occupations in our society: those whom he
rightly calls the 'economic scapegoats.'" But because Block's own
personal libertarian ethic did not extend beyond the prohibition of the
initiation of force, the "non-aggression principle," Block essentially
saw no difference between his heroes and those of Atlas Shrugged.

The commotion! More ink was spilt over Defending than over any other
libertarian work up to that time, save Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and
Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia. It wasn't only reviewed but
reviled, debated and denounced, again and again. Everyone recommended
reading it, but practically no one would stand shoulder to shoulder with

The reason wasn't so much Block's argument that these people and their
illicit activities should be legal, but rather his wider contention that
they were positively heroic in the first place! Upholders of everything
from traditional morality to the Objectivist ethics began to gag.

Looking at Defending the Undefendable twenty years later, it holds up
well, and it's no wonder why intellectuals as broadly diverse as F.A.
Hayek, who said "Defending the Undefendable made me feel that I was once
more exposed to the shock therapy by which, more than fifty years ago,
the late Ludwig von Mises converted me to a consistent free market
position. Some may find it too strong a medicine, but it will still do
them good even if they hate it," and Robert Nozick, who endorsed it at
the time as challenging and liberating. Ayn Rand once said--in her
attack on the censorship of pornography--that it was important to defend
the least attractive instance of a principle, and that is what Block
did. The fact that he seemed to warm to the task once he got started
made his book seem somewhat comical.

The Laissez Faire City Times interviewed Professor Block, now Chairman
of the Department of Economics and Finance at The University of Central
Arkansas, twenty-two years after the publication of Defending the


How has your thought changed these past 22 years, if it has changed? In
particular, regarding your "defense" of prostitution and pornography?

No, I have been stuck in a rut for the past few decades. I have
broadened my knowledge, and come across many more arguments, but I still
hold to the libertarian view that the law should only prohibit invasive
violence or the threat thereof. Since pornography and prostitution are
not physically aggressive, they should be legalized. I don't think too
much of them on moral grounds, but that is an entirely different issue.

On moral grounds . . .?

I take no position on the moral aspects of these characters [in
Defending]. I am only defending them as a libertarian. They should not
be put in jail since they do not initiate violence.

I know the book, but why did you include that Afterword (1991 edition)
in which you said your moral position had changed? In fact, your book
aroused a lot of controversy and argument when it was first published in
the '70s. Is there any major contention or claim you would want to
modify or withdraw in light of the criticisms?

The book Defending took absolutely no view of the morality of these
actions (e.g., prostitution). The Afterword did. Thus, there is no
"change" involved in my views. I do wish I had more clearly clarified
this distinction in the original work, though.

Then, what is the reason for your conservatism in "cultural" issues?

Just a matter of taste, I guess.

About libertarianism and entertainment. I was fascinated by yours and
David Friedman's books when I was very young, not only because they were
interesting and clever, but also because they were fun. Machinery of
Freedom and Defending the Undefendable in my opinion can turn someone
onto libertarianism without boring them with overly technical arguments.

You also, in introducing a comic book (Elvis Shrugged) asked yourself :
"Why is that there are so few libertarians?" (This, after the
Libertarian Party had been in existence for 20 years.) And answered that
"we need to develop a cadre of young artists and writers that can press
home the case for freedom in the cultural milieu".

Now, five years further along, and after the Net's "boom", what's your
assessment? What is the role of entertainment in the libertarian fight
for freedom ?

Dave Barry is perhaps the funniest person now writing from a libertarian
perspective. I very much appreciate his work, and his contribution to
the cause of freedom. As well, he makes my own life more enjoyable. It
would be great to have more people like him, but Mozarts of Humor only
come along very rarely.

What is be the importance of entertainment in creating an "heart" for
the libertarian movements? (In particular, how important was Ayn Rand
for you, for example, if at all?)

Ayn Rand was very important to me. Without her, I might not have been
converted to libertarianism. Her book Atlas Shrugged sold millions of
copies and it was a great inspirational novel.

Why was your first approach to Ayn Rand difficult?

I first met her when I was a senior in Brooklyn College in 1963, when I
was 22 years old. I was a socialist then. Her follower Nathaniel Branden
changed my mind on these issues by recommending two books (Hazlitt's
Economics in One Lesson and Rand's Atlas Shrugged) plus talking about

What was the impact of Hazlitt's classic on you as an economist, and as
a man?

My book Defending is modeled in Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson. You
might almost say that Defending might have been called Libertarianism in
One Lesson. Each book starts with a lesson (in my book: the libertarian
non aggression axiom; in Hazlitt, the seen and the unseen) and give a
few dozen examples.

As a man, Hazlitt was a friend. My son, aged 10, wrote him a thank you
letter after he finished reading the book, and Hazlitt was kind enough
to reply.

About the elections in U.S.A. What's the right strategy for Walter
Block? No vote? A vote for the libertarian party? Or a vote for the
libertarian-wing of the GOP?

I advocate voting for the Libertarian Party. I would do so myself were I
to vote, but I'm much too lazy to do any such thing. Also, juries are
selected on the basis of voting, so that is another reason for people
such as myself, who like to write a lot, not to vote.

The only member of the Republican party I am aware of who is a
libertarian is Ron Paul, representative from Texas (and former LP
presidential candidate). Otherwise the GOP is a wasteland, from a
liberty point of view. As to the LP, they aren't perfect (e.g., every
candidate doesn't always agree with me on everything -- I'm just
kidding). But by and large they have remained true to libertarianism,
and I am very pleased with them. I speak at LP functions, and donate
money to them.

Is the Internet only "a nice tool", or is it perhaps a society in which
anarco-capitalism runs well?

In my view it is both. Certainly, it is a great tool of communication.
Also, it was created without any help from government, only hindrance
(e.g., the anti-trust law suit against Microsoft.)

About libertarianism and secession: all over Europe, secessionist and
independent movements are increasing their numbers, using ethnic and
libertarian-leaning arguments (for example, against taxation and
welfare). How should libertarians and libertarian intellectuals judge
these phenomena?

I think very positively. Surely an element of libertarianism is the
right to secede, on any grounds. When you add in opposition to taxes and
welfare, this makes it even more libertarian.

Your personal recollection of Murray Rothbard and libertarian movement's
early years?

Murray was the person most influential on my (professional) life. I
remember him with affection and a bit of awe. I was amazed that such a
great man would have time for me, let alone would actually be my friend.
My greatest recollection about being with him is one of continually
getting stomach cramps from laughing at his jokes. Murray was once
called by Bill Buckley the "joyous libertarian" and I think no words
better described my and many other people's personal interaction with


from The Laissez Faire City Times, Vol 2, No 41, December 7, 1998
The Laissez Faire City Times is a private newspaper. Although it is
published by a corporation domiciled within the sovereign domain of
Laissez Faire City, it is not an "official organ" of the city or its
founding trust. Just as the New York Times is unaffiliated with the city
of New York, the City Times is only one of what may be several news
publications located in, or domiciled at, Laissez Faire City proper. For
information about LFC, please contact [EMAIL PROTECTED]

Published by
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Copyright 1998 - Trademark Registered with LFC Public Registrar
All Rights Reserved
Aloha, He'Ping,
Om, Shalom, Salaam.
Em Hotep, Peace Be,
Omnia Bona Bonis,
All My Relations.
Adieu, Adios, Aloha.
Roads End

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