Monday, September 12, 2016

Walter Whiffs

Regarding paying library fines, Walter Block replies:

…if you don’t pay a private library fine, you’re a criminal. If you don’t pay a fine from a public library (which shouldn’t exist in the first place) you are a heroic Ragnar Danneskjold.

Maybe, maybe not.

Ragnar is a bad example; not at all applicable in the manner which Walter suggests.  I will come to why after Walter swings and misses two more times.  First, a follow-up from the questioner, MW:

Walter, You wiffed that one. If one considers the “library card” to be an agreement / contract between the borrower and the library, then one is obligated to honor the terms. It does not matter if said library is government owned or privately owned. There is an agreement in place with a penalty clause for late return of borrowed materials. The only morality involved is the honoring of the agreement. If you absolutely do not like (or hate) the library owner, then do not patronize said library. Regards, MW

The questioner understands libertarian theory better than does Walter in this case.  First, Walter’s reply:

…we’ll have to agree to disagree.  In my view, there are no valid contracts with robber gangs. It is entirely legitimate to sign a contract with one of them, and not honor it. You see governments as legitimate institutions.

There is so much gray area on this topic that it is unfortunate that Walter stooped to that last sentence.  My point is not that government is a legitimate institution, but that the puritanical contradiction is in the very first step – agreeing to take a library card (even walking on the premises).  In other words, Walter assumes much – and incorrectly – by making this accusation.

In any case, this can be Walter’s view, but this doesn’t mean it is the only possible libertarian interpretation or even that it is well-grounded in libertarian theory. 

Walter goes on to cite a passage from Rothbard – a passage that does not inform regarding the question.

So, what about Ragnar?  He recovered stolen property from those with whom he had no previous agreement.  Ragnar did not first agree to provide security for the government ship before he “recovered” the property from the ship.  Now, Walter might say this is OK; but it is a different scenario than the one presented via the library card.  As the questioner points out, the book borrower agreed to certain terms before borrowing the book.  There is a contract (and more on contracting with the government momentarily).

Further, Ragnar returned the retrieved stolen goods to the original owners – the individual taxpayers, proven via tax returns.  Walter proposes no such thing.  Instead, Walter proposes further damaging the property that – while not “owned” by the public library – is certainly owned by someone.

Is there something libertarian in this?

As to “It is entirely legitimate to sign a contract with one of them, and not honor it.”  Why?  On what basis?  I suggest it is a dangerous game for libertarians to suggest that voluntarily agreed-upon relationships are not valid.  We cannot pick and choose which voluntary agreements are to be honored…or not.  (While not directly on point, I have addressed this issue here.)

Let’s take this a step further.  What the government possesses is stolen goods – on this, we agree.  This would include books at the public library.  Once stolen, they remain stolen until returned to the rightful owner.  In other words, the borrower is borrowing stolen books.

Let’s play this out with Walter’s salary – earned at a public, taxpayer-supported, university.  Walter is certainly in receipt of stolen goods.  I guess it is OK for me to take Walter’s wallet next time I see him, move into his house, take his car for a spin around…oh, Texas.  I might even hack into his financial accounts and initiate a transfer or two – after all, I paid the taxes to support his salary.

How about Walter’s students walking into his office and taking the books from the shelves, his computer from his desk, all materials from the drawers?  Why not?  What about burning down his place of employment?  After all, the public-university does not “own” the buildings.

Walter might argue – and this time properly cite Rothbard (as I recall) – that a position such as teaching at a university is OK even if government funded, because it is both a) a profession that would surely exist in a free market and b) the government has created a virtual monopoly for those who choose to teach (I am not going to look for the cite).  He might then argue that because of this, the buildings should not be damaged either.

The same applies to a public library.  Precisely the same.

Of course, the question touches on some gray areas, as does Walter’s work as a professor in a publicly-funded university.  There is only one completely principled answer, and MW has pointed it out:

If you absolutely do not like (or hate) the library owner, then do not patronize said library.

After all, merely checking out a book places the borrower in receipt of stolen goods – stolen from the taxpayer who paid for it.  At which step of the process does “violation” occur?

Therefore, the same can be said of Walter in his chosen profession.  There is only one perfectly principled answer: don’t teach at a publicly-funded university.

Walter, apply your interpretation of libertarian theory: quit your job.


  1. According to one libertarian theory, government cannot have or own property which would include books

    and as for any contract made in the lending of books from a provate library, how does the enforcement of the contract work? at what point do you suspend patronage to the delinquent borrower, indeed, how do you get the books back from the library looter?
    a solution is to make all borrowers pay a deposit. Yet lacking some enforcement, the library looter will be able to make a steal by not returning even these books
    And is this a victimless crime? after all, who is really going after the book thief?

  2. Ah, the Bionic Skeeter praxeolgizes again, powers through the fuzzy thinking and explodes the mark.

    LOL, well done.

  3. Did Walter leave Loyola, a nominally private university?

  4. Very well written and I look forward to Mr. Block's response. From what I see so far, I think that you (BM) have the stronger argument.

  5. I will preface this by saying that I respect Block insofar as he has dedicated his life to an idea and never seems to tire of making the same arguments over and over and over again. The problem is that when I hear these arguments I reach for my revolver 10/10 times. The irony of Block is that he argues with liberal academics who really should have no grounds to oppose what he is saying since he is arguing for hardcore liberalism and they accept all of the premises of the liberal world-view. (My take on that contradiction is that it is inherent in liberalism, or in other words, that liberalism leads to outcomes that liberals object to, which should cause them to question to their assumptions but that never happens and the joke goes on.)

    I frequently make the criticism here that it is neither viable nor just to attempt organize society around purely economic and legal categories. These categories are ancillary to the political and the cultural, and cannot simply take their place. Furthermore, morality and metaphysical truth stand above all the categories of human organization. To attempt to subordinate them to economic and legal doctrines is totally perverse.

    The "question" of the library fine really encapsulates Block's entire career. How can we take a simple matter that poses ZERO problem for a NORMAL person and turn it into a bizarre libertarian polemic? Just ask Block, he will do it free of charge.

    I feel absurd even answering this "question" but here goes: man has a hierarchy of obligations, first is to God/Truth, then to his people (nation/race), then to his family, then to his friends, and then to his local library. (there is actually a hilarious episode of Seinfeld where Jerry is hunted down by a library cop because he forgot to return a Henry Miller novel that is like 20 years overdue). If ever a lower-tier obligation conflicts with a higher one, preference should go to the higher one. So while a man should pay his debts under normal conditions, he can be forgiven for neglecting them if they conflict with his other obligations.

    Wow, what a remarkably easy question. How about I ask a harder one? The same question BM appeared to hint at following this statement by Block:

    "In my view, there are no valid contracts with robber gangs."


    What is it about robber gangs that "invalidates" a contract with them? Is it their moral status as thieves? In that case is it legit for me to refuse to pay debts to sodomites? Maybe its their position of power in relation to the hapless victim? In that case can't I refuse to pay a bank or a landlord in Ultra-Capitalist libertopia on the grounds that they are committing usury against me?

    Block thinks these categories (valid, invalid) are somehow self-evident and derived from axiomatic reason. News flash goyim. They aren't. They are based on power. Power decides what stays and what goes, what is valid or invalid in the realm of human organization.

    Allow me to introduce a different, superior, Ragnar- Redbeard.

    "Human rights and wrongs are not determined by Justice, but by Might. Disguise it as you may, the naked sword is still king-maker and king-breaker, as of yore. All other theories are lies and — lures."

    (And what do we do with these lies?)

    "Wherever, therefore, a lie has built unto itself a throne, let it be assailed without pity and without regret, for under the domination of a falsehood, no nation can permanently prosper. Let established sophisms be dethroned, rooted out, burnt and destroyed, for they are a standing menace to all true nobility of thought and action. Whatever alleged “truth” is proven by results, to be but an empty fiction, let it be unceremoniously flung into the outer darkness, among the dead gods, dead empires, dead philosophies, and other useless lumber and wreckage."

    - Ragnar Redbeard, Might is Right

    1. Hello, where have you been all summer?

      Did you take the time to see the O.J. documentary?

      Liberty Mike

    2. Man I am sorry. I thought I responded to this but it didn't go through or I screwed up.

      I was on hiatus for a bit but I am back now. Have not watched the series yet but still plan on it. Unfortunately it doesn't appear to be on Netflix. What is the title again? I may be able to find it elsewhere.

      Hope you are doing well and that you continue to stick around BM's fine site.


  6. Excellent technical analysis. Then there is the practical analysis:

    "Welcome to our show. Today's guest is Walter who wants us all to abandon our safe and beautiful affluent suburbs for something he calls "Anarcho-Capitalism". And, by the way, he thinks it's OK to steal library books. What do you ladies think about that?"

  7. I think I have always been a proto-Hoppean perhaps before Hoppe discovered libertarianism. I always viewed the short run and long run goal to be private neighborhoods with private streets and schools where all inhabitants would have could have signed “morals clauses” for lack of a better term. The anti-gun types could ban guns. The evangelicals could ban dopers. “Racial purists” could ban whomever they like. Other people offended by a particular set of rules could boycott the people with the bad rules, all determined by culture. As such, I suppose my book would be called “Banning the Undefendable” which could include people who steal library books. Of course, there could be no initiation of force against the “undefendable”. However, that is the ONLY limitation upon the sanctions one might try to impose upon them.

    1. Bob,

      Your scheme could only ever exist on paper. You ignore geo-politics. You ignore the implication of sovereignty. You ignore the existence of tribal groups that are at odds with each other. You ignore money-power. You ignore the existence of messianic ideologues. You dream of a pacified world without civilizational conflicts, without politics. You are a utopian.

  8. Anonproof

    If a gang steal from me, i have the right to steal from them, at least for the same amount. Or if you prefer if a gang tax me I have the right to tax them. If you, as Rothbard, and every big libertarian i Know of, think that State is the worst criminal gang of all, is elementary logic that you as someone who is costantly robbed have the right to steal back from the State. I know this doesen't sound too good, and may be impractical but is logically correct.

  9. Careful, BM. Arguing with Walter can make you become as tedious as he is.