walter block
We all know the arguments against the notion, but somewhat reluctantly I conclude that libertarians are indeed human. After all, our species contains the incontinent, the mentally disabled, the incurably giddy, and Mr. Walter Block.

Mr. Block is an elderly academician inspired by Ayn Rand, Nathanial Branden and Murray Rothbard. Libertarians find him pleasant and even jolly. He teaches economics at Loyola University (Jesuit) but in Louisiana (America’s historical epicentre for demagogues) so call that a draw. He is of the Austrian School (no bad thing), but styles himself an anarcho-capitalist and “a devout atheist” (is one out of three a passing grade?).

He has (in his words but my italics) “strengthened libertarianism to make it more consistent.” He may have overlooked Emerson’s thought that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” as, busy with the big stuff, he asserts peoples’ right to sell themselves into slavery.

Presumably the voluntary contract may include comfy manacles and selecting the whip (come to think of it, a lot of this may occur already in Mr. Block’s native Brooklyn especially after Fifty Shades of Grey). Less certain is what happens when Massa pays 100 doubloons to the sloe-eyed Jemima and then repossesses her cash because, well, she’s now a slave and needs his phone to call her lawyer from the cotton fields. However, I’m sure that Mr. Block has worked this out in a consistent fashion.

walter blockHe begins discussing abortion by defending a woman’s right to evict a fetus from her womb like an unwelcome tenant in a rented apartment (presumably if the kid has a lease, he stays).

Pregnant women may slay the unborn, he maintains, if (a) the foetus is “not viable” outside of the womb; then (b) if the mother abandons her right to “custody” of the little person lurking inside her, and (c) “no one else has ‘homesteaded’ that right by offering to care for the foetus.” (I am not making this up). By “not viable” he presumably means if the foetus can’t get a credit card until the third trimester.

So if Mom runs a classified ad in The Village Voice telling her unborn little tyke that his tenancy is over and he has to scoot, can some other woman “homestead” by offering a rent-free womb-with-a-view? If so, who pays the moving company? Or can she promise to adopt and force the biological Mom to carry the unborn baby to term, or does the homesteading wannabe mummy need to pay womb-rent to the real mother and if so does that include water and electricity? All food for thought.

Then, he explains, if “no one else in the world” wants the foetus, the unborn youngster can be used by his or her custodian for lab experiments. No kidding. It is admittedly economical because, if caught early enough, unborn humans eat less than hamsters and lab-rats. I am less sure how eight billion people get rights of refusal, but presumably “the market will take care of it.”

You may think this is nuts, but please, get serious here: libertarian consistency is at stake.

Mr. Block may even be a traditionalist. America has a venerable record of crackpot ideologues beginning with the communist Christian-Taliban on Plymouth Rock, leading to the Jacobin elements among the Founders, to every entrepreneurial huckster of poisonous patent-medicines in the 19th Century, to the racist eugenics-freaks of the early 20th, to modern global-warmist moon-calves and Paul Krugman. What they have in common is internal consistency.

Mr. Block’s modus operandi may be simple; in modern times saying something profoundly daft guarantees you media publicity to help sell your new, say, nasal-spray laxative, or get a job teaching at Loyola.

Yet he is also a walking advertisement for the kindness of a relatively free society. Think about it; if you found yourself on a crowded airplane sitting next to this pest you’d pay good money for an upgrade. Beside him on a barstool you’d settle your bill before you tasted your first drink. But instead of him suffering hideous loneliness, instead of him being run out of town after town having a big red “A” spray-painted on his t-shirt (not for Adultery but for a southerly body-part), he flits around nationwide to meetings in junior high-schools after-hours, where similarly ideological but presumably odoriferous autodidacts yearn to hear him. This is mercy after a fashion.

But it’s another matter altogether when someone traduces Bangladeshis, whom God knows are already busy enough traducing one another. I like them. Yes, Bangladesh is one of the poorest and most miserable, corrupt, crowded, dysfunctional and disorderly nations on earth, but its people are often excellent company, and besides working there a few times I’ve gone back on holiday.

Although Muslims, the vast majority aren’t obsessive; their almost universally beautiful ladies wear saris and bindis (the little red dots) because it is a cultural tradition, not particularly Hindu (wearing that rig in public may get a Muslim girl lynched in parts of Islamist Pakistan). Their rich culture is tolerant and their culture comes first.

They are full of merriment and argument, of gentle poetry and lively prose; the average newspaper goes through eleven pairs of hands before it wraps fish in equally Bengali Calcutta next door. They are rather like tanned Irish. They also hold artisanal picnics, taking you on a small boat to their lush green ancestral villages where relatives lay in wait with bushels of fattening delicacies; Bengali sweetmeats, in particular, are the supper-party gifts for which every South Asian hostess longs. They can be inspired artists and craftsmen. Yet it can be a ghastly cut-throat place, and I am ever as grateful to be a visitor as I am relieved not to be a Bangladeshi.

This is where Mr. Block swans in. Recently, more than one thousand Bangladeshi garment workers died as their ramshackle factory high-rise collapsed in Dhaka. The Wall Street Journal blamed it on American consumers insisting upon cheap clothing made, by supposed necessity, in substandard high-rises (weird: if you want expensive clothing why not buy it from Paris instead of Dhaka?). Mr. Block, of course, blamed it on (wait for the organ music) the state. From a self-confessed anarcho-capitalist, I mean, who’d have guessed? His ideology confers blame even Acid-Reflux Syndrome on dark governmental conspiracies.

walter blockUnfortunately his analysis here is not even up to his usual standard on, say, convincing Jemima to sell herself down Ol’ Man River or foetal condo rentals in utero. He says that government safety codes and building regulations fool everyone into believing that the erections (so to speak) are safe. This implies that he has neither spoken to a Bangladeshi nor set foot in that country where mocking politicians and bureaucrats is an art-form. He might have condescended to meet a Bangladeshi beforehand, but that may have spoilt his fun.

Next, (“surprise, surprise!” as Gomer used to say) he declares that all they need is a libertarian state sans government, where their production costs will be so low that they’ll all become prosperous. I can’t wait to tell my Bangladeshi friends, who usually have funnier jokes than I do.

If you want to sell chewing-gum or pens or shoelaces on the mean streets of Dhaka, you must pay weekly for the privilege. These sums go to muscular gangsters operating per block or even by portion thereof, who are part of bigger networks of bigger scoundrels. Private construction firms skimp on materials unless you are expert in such things and scrutinise them day and night. Shopkeepers routinely adulterate milk with river water and flour with sawdust. Deadly fake pharmaceuticals slip past even the most virtuous and attentive pharmacist. Families, even whole villages, die from contaminated cooking oil. An Australian underwear buyer for J.C. Penney once told me that he had to visit every six weeks or his manufacturers started cutting corners and the underwear started creeping down one’s anatomy. To anyone but an ideologue, somewhere in this mess it sounds as if they need some government.

Where government does provide service is by curtailing the riots that burn cars and shops and beat people to death on the streets; the politically partisan gangsters who riot wouldn’t give up were government and parties abolished, they’d merely slug it out under different labels. Who would stop them then? Maybe “the market would take care of it” and the poor would buy off the sharks? And the next sharks, and the next.

walter block

Bangladesh’s problems, imply Mr. Block, get solved by eliminating government; by giving the system a massive cathartic dose of libertarian mineral oil flavoured with Rand and Rothbard. He means anarchy. Yet the slippery underwear factory-owner has virtually nothing to do with his government apart from paying small bribes to avoid taxes. The shoelace vendor, too, already lives in a state of anarchy, and it costs him dearly not to have his shoelaces wrapped around his neck and tightened slowly. Their cities are in approximate anarchy already; and not the fuzzy-bunny fictional kind espoused by the Randroids and the incurably retarded but the real thing, the Hobbesian State of Nature “red in tooth and claw.”

When I tell my best Bangladeshi pal about Mr. Block’s prescription, his comely, bright and vivacious wife will run to the bathroom lest she have an accident during the giggle-fit.

If you followed this carefully you may have drawn four conclusions. First, our morals and ethics form the circumstances under which we live, more than government or lack thereof. A Dutchman or a Canadian or a Japanese may approach work and community and citizenship more conscientiously than perhaps a Greek or Libyan or a Bangladeshi. Shrink it prudently indeed, but stripping away too much government may remove one set of problems to exacerbate another.

Second, in economics or politics or even underwear, one size never fits all. Different cultures are, well, different and change slowly, if ever. One could posit that the day-to-day perfidy and brutality of Bangladesh stems from overpopulation, or unemployment, or crushing poverty, or moral lassitude in commerce and politics, or a culture abusive to the weak, or in extended families that always apply insuperable pressures to misbehave on behalf of poor or greedy cousins. Or all combined. It doesn’t matter. While change may be possible one day, even a full century of draconian discipline or market incentives won’t overturn 2,000-year-old habits. Get over it. Love them for their picnics. Feed their hungry.

Third, parking on one’s backside in an endowed chair at Loyola is a license to talk rubbish, based on any quantity of sheer ignorance and egotism, to anyone fool enough to listen. It helps, however, to be an ideologue. Then you swallow your own hog-slops; you may believe that your wholly concocted, feel-good, fairy-tale take on life still holds an iota of merit because you are, um, intellectually consistent. Marx, you may recall, was consistent without ever condescending to hobnob with his beloved proletariat, comfy in his leather-upholstered chair in the British Library, and his nifty ideas killed more than a hundred million people. If anywhere was foolish enough to follow Mr. Block’s wholly “thunk up” bull-goose-loony prescriptions, perdition would follow apace.

Fourth and finally, you may recognise that most people who call themselves libertarians are normal conservatives who are either confused or who are humiliated by the egregious fascists who lay false claim to the title. But if you are like me, sometimes you also find real libertarians as arrogant as Milton’s Satan, as dark as the night and as malodorous as brimstone.

Those are men like jolly Mr. Block, and while they are human they are anything but humane.

Books on the people and topics discussed in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

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