Monday, May 11, 2020

Scattering the Remnant

Isaiah 1: 9 Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.

Walter Block is well known for making significant contributions to libertarian theory.  His volume of writing is overwhelming in this regard.  Unfortunately, Block also writes a few pieces that do ten times the damage of all of the good he has done. 

Block will often use extreme examples to make some esoteric point – a point meaningless in practice and having no application in a world of imperfect humans, where we know the failings and even corruption of those who hold political power.  In other words, Block takes what should be considered a broad guideline and turns it into a precision instrument.  He gives the surgeon an axe, and asks him to rid the patient of brain cancer.

A million commies come into your open-borders’ town?  No problem.  Martian invaders demand that you murder someone in order to save thousands?  Sure, why not – sounds plausible.  And his apologia for the State of Israel speaks volumes.

Frankly, of all of the controversial and even wrong-headed positions he takes (when considered against the non-aggression principle) his incorrect position on abortion is probably the least wrong and least damaging to the cause of liberty.  Which really says something about these other views of his.

And now we have forced vaccinations – all perfectly compatible with the non-aggression principle.  Read that again: it is not aggression to forcibly and without consent stab someone with a sharp object and inject a concoction into the body.  He defends this absolutely undefendable act by considering the possibility that you might sneeze and thereby infect someone thousands of miles away.  Don’t believe me?  Here is Block’s example used to justify his application of libertarian theory:

A has a virus. He can get a vaccination injection guaranteed not to harm him, which will prevent it from spreading to others. For some reason, work with me here, B cannot get the injection (he’ll die from it), and will also perish if infected by A. This virus can travel thousands of miles. There is no way to protect B if A is not vaccinated. Under these admittedly extreme circumstances, if A refuses to get vaccinated, and B dies as a result of contagion from A, and we can prove this, I’d consider A a murderer. Murder is incompatible with the NAP. QED.

There is absolutely nothing about this scenario that is applicable in any world occupied by humans.  Using such examples only convinces normal people that libertarians are loons – as if there isn’t already such damage done by libertarians stretching from Cato to Reason.

Further, Block’s logic here can be used to justify intervention in even the most remote possibility of pre-crime (is there a possibility even more remote than the one Block offers here?).  I won’t get into examples, because this whole thing is just silly season.  Pre-crime is now a violation of the non-aggression principle.  Let the implications of that sink in.

In the same forced vaccination post, Block offers the following regarding the government’s actions in shutting down countless businesses and churches and putting forty-million (and counting) people out of work during this corona:

My own thought on this, not speaking as a libertarian, is that the government has done a reasonable job in warding off the virus, but that soon, more like days than weeks, we ought to be opening up things gradually, and the elderly, those with immune problems, should be very careful, continue to wear masks, don’t get out and about too much.

Goodness.  Block takes advantage of his privilege in freely posting at the LRC blog, apparently without reading a single one of the hundreds of articles Rockwell has published over the last ten weeks on this crime of incomprehensible proportion unfolding before our eyes.

Block considers himself as continuing in the tradition of Rothbard.  I will leave this for others to decide.  My one observation here: while I do not agree with everything of Rothbard (I am thinking of abortion; there might be one or two other areas, but none jump out at me), I don’t recall reading anything from Rothbard that I would describe as silly-season libertarianism. 

Now, I haven’t read everything Rothbard has written (I am not sure this is humanly possible), but everything that I have read has been adult content.  Not from Block.


One of the best and most important statements made by any libertarian on any topic in recent years has been made by Block – and I know Hans Hoppe made a similar point eighteen months ago at his PFS conference.  Block would write:

…the real, more basic, understanding of libertarianism is not the NAP. Rather, it is our libertarian punishment theory. A more sophisticated understanding of libertarianism does not say, with the NAP: “Thou shalt not murder, initiate violence against innocent persons or their legitimate possessions.” Rather, it states, that if you do, you will be punished in accordance with libertarian punishment theory.

The non-aggression principle works perfectly well in this capacity.  It is insufficient for liberty when used in any other manner.  It is turned into nonsense when it is used to defend against Martian invasions or used to justify forced injections.

Block could have used this statement of his as his guideline in his forced vaccination example.  “A more sophisticated understanding of libertarianism… states, that if you do [violate the non-aggression principle], you will be punished in accordance with libertarian punishment theory.”

There is no such thing as pre-crime in libertarianism – whether in a sophisticated understanding or not.  It is a punishment theory; punishment comes only after the crime and after proper evidence has been weighed and after a guilty verdict is rendered.

So, what about scattering the remnant?  Even I – as sympathetic as I am to libertarian theory and as much as I can appreciate much of Block’s other work – am driven away by what can only be considered the lunacy of libertarians if Block’s work is considered the proper framework for liberty. 

If Block’s applications such as these describe libertarianism applied, count me out.  I am focused on liberty.


  1. According to Block (a friend whom I otherwise greatly admire), forcing a woman to put a foreign substance into her body (a vaccine) is okay, but forcing a woman to keep a natural substance (a baby) in her body somehow violates the NAP. Inconsistent madness.

  2. Block does seem very wacky. I think he just likes to say crazy things to get a reaction. He uses logic, but in vastly nonsensical ways, to me. I tend to ignore him.

    1. I think many of the questions he receives are bait, intended to get him to say crazy things in order to make libertarianism seem crazy.

  3. I think - well, have always thought - that the trouble with Block is how he tries to apply pure logic without weighing the magnitudes. Quality is crucial but quantity is what gives things substance - separates a caress from a shove, interesting from silly.

    Quantity is where the gray zones of any political theory lie. They're impossible to account for completely but also impossible to eliminate; any attempt to do so ends in silliness.

    For example, what's the difference, in principle, between knowingly walking down the street with the flu, and doing so while carrying a bottle of nitroglycerin? In both cases you're endangering other, presumed innocent persons around you. The difference, obviously, lies in how likely the risk is to become reality, and how destructive that would be.

    It's interesting that you mention Hoppe in relation to Block because the former also relies heavily on sheer logic to arrive at his conclusions, but he tends to stick to matters that... matter, whereas Block tries to apply the NAP to every conceivable situation.

    I agree that the latter approach tends to make for many conclusions of questionable value. Which is fine, it also makes for some interesting thought experiments. But logic alone isn't enough to justify or judge real world action, especially violent State action, that should be obvious.

    1. Hoppe recognizes that human beings are human, that culture and cultural context matter and these matter for peace and peace is necessary if one is after liberty.

      In other words, Hoppe applies logic that incorporates the human condition.

  4. "...if A refuses to get vaccinated, and B dies as a result of contagion from A, and we can prove this,..."

    The biggest problem with this is that we cannot prove this. Did B die as a result of A's refusal to be vaccinated? How would we know? How could it be determined except by specious arguments--A refused to be vaccinated against a disease, B died from the disease, therefore A caused his death and is guilty of murder.

    I suppose in very rare circumstances, guilt could be proven by indisputable evidence. In the world of common sense and justice, however, this would probably be thrown out as circumstantial.

    1. Circumstantial doesn't bother Block. Per Block: Jews today, with whatever tenuous connection they may or may not have to Jews from 2000 years ago, have a better claim on what is known as Israel than do displaced Palestinians, many of whom are still alive or are otherwise just one or two generations removed.

      Proof and weight of evidence (and justice in the most virtuous sense) are irrelevant.

    2. With due respect, I don't recall Block saying a "tenuous" connection to property in Israel would take precedence, but rather that previous ownership of said property would have to be be proven.

      That said, Block does appear to jump off the deep end in certain of his recent publications, namely that people are "hard-wired" for socialism, and not freedom. Reading that paper more than once, at least for me, failed to convince. I doubt they are "hard-wired" for either of those.

      I agree that Block has done much excellent work, but perhaps at his advance age, it's time for him to retire his pen.


    3. "…if modern day Jews can prove descent from the original Jewish homesteaders, which we demonstrate they can both culturally and genetically…"

    4. Thank you Bionic, I stand corrected. In my defense I did at the time of reading think the Futerman, Farber, & Block article was a bit of nonsense, but had forgotten the specifics. Mea culpa.

      Here's another gem, which may be relevant to Block's and other libertarians argument for open borders:

      Copied from the above link:

      The Cloward–Piven strategy is a political strategy outlined in 1966 by American sociologists and political activists Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven that called for overloading the U.S. public welfare system in order to precipitate a crisis that would lead to a replacement of the welfare system with "a guaranteed annual income and thus an end to poverty".[1] Peg

  5. "I support forced quarantines for the coronavirus." - Block

    If Block contends that quarantines are compatible with libertarian theory, isn't he then contending that a political community with closed borders is justifiable as well? If not, why not?

    I would say closed borders aren't even half as draconian a policy as quarantines, where people are often forced to shutter their livelihoods, forego religious gatherings, and are sometimes arrested for just being outside their homes. And closed borders are probably 50x more effective at stopping the spread of viruses.

    And yet I'm willing to bet Block maintains his open borders ideology alongside his quarantine advocacy.

    "and parents should be required to vaccinate their kids" - Block

    This is a new low for Block. He's clearly spent too much time around the "undefendable", because he's becoming that himself.

    Perhaps Block is exemplar par excellence of the pitfalls of liberty without religion, of reason without faith, of ethics without ecclesia.

    I found these quotes and the one below while digging through the threads of this conversation at LRC.

    "But what is the precise point at which B may properly shoot A and claim self defense? I don’t know. I think you need (private!) courts to make such determinations. All I’m saying is that libertarian principles alone cannot determine the precise spot at which offense becomes defense"

    Why can't he devote more energy in developing libertarian theory on this incredibly important point?

    No, instead we get open borders, abortion, quarantines and mandatory vaccines (along with all his defenses of slum lords, slanderers, and pimps). With libertarians like these who needs statists?

    1. Closed borders at least come with the consent of the property owners, so you are right to state that forced quarantines are significantly worse.

      Regarding parents being required to vaccinate their kids...they are not even required to bring them to term in pregnancy, nor to take care of them after birth. But they are required to vaccinate them. Go figure.