Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What On Earth Is Walter Block Talking About?

Libertarian anarchist heavyweight Walter Block has recently penned a series of articles at attempting something of a debrief of Ron Paul's recent appearance on Chris Matthews show (article 1, article 2). In the clip, which I will reproduce below, Ron Paul is essentially savaged by Matthews. Of course, this is how Matthews treats all his anti-statist guests so it's not as if Ron Paul was treated to a special dose of inconsiderate ignorance and naivety.

Block sees the clip as an opportunity for libertarians to study Ron Paul's method for responding to and dealing with stubborn, offensive non-libertarian debating partners while perhaps looking for ways to improve upon Ron Paul's technique.

I know Block, via Rockwell, has a long and storied past with Ron Paul and as a result is particularly enamored with the man. What I find puzzling, however, is Block's choice of language in describing Ron Paul. It's a bit confusing to watch a hardcore anarchist describe a politician, even a liberty-minded one, as if he is nearly divine. Consider the following examples:
Ron, after all, is by far our best spokesman. He has probably brought more ordinary people to libertarianism than any other person in the entire history of the known universe, with the possible exception of Ayn Rand.
Ayn Rand isn't a possible exception, she's a definite one. She has sold many times more books than Ron Paul has. She is essentially a household name. Many people who haven't read her works and haven't taken the time to study her thought nonetheless condemn her and their conception of her ideas by name. To your average leftist (an ordinary person, not even an "intellectual" one), Rand is practically a curse word.

If "best" spokespeople are those who are alive and have a lot of exposure for their views, sure, Ron Paul might be considered best. But if the "best" spokespeople are those who are the most intelligent, eloquent and consistent in intellectual and personal practice, Ron Paul would probably be lucky to be in the top ten.

And if you're a believer in Ludwig von Mises theory of the transmission of ideas throughout society (I am), then you'd wonder whose advocacy of liberty has been more important over time-- Mises and Rothbard, who have converted members of the intellectual leadership of society to libertarianism, as Block notes, or Ron Paul, who has (temporarily) captured the imagination and the zeitgeist of the unreliable common man.
On the other hand, we learn methodological individualism from our study of Austrian economics. In this vein, it is possible that what works best for Ron will not be the ideal response for all of the rest of us who are trying to promote liberty and rational economics, in support of Ron.
I don't understand the sentence fragment tacked on at the end, "in support of Ron." At best, Ron Paul is a representative of certain people and in such capacity he is promoting liberty and rational economics for them, not vice versa. The idea of promoting the opposite of political power being of benefit to or in support of a politician is, on its face, self-contradictory. But even going beyond that, nobody in the libertarian movement (if that's what you want to call it) is there for Ron Paul's benefit above all others, including themselves.

This kind of singling out and insistence of "Ron Paul uber alles" is appalling coming from an individualist anarchist. Unfortunately, it only gets more bizarre in Block's follow-up post:
I wrote this column, in an attempt to explore techniques the NEXT PRESIDENT OF THE U.S. could have employed, and, also, I assessed how well he did in this one instance (very well indeed, in my humble opinion).
Why the sudden caps? It comes across to me like, "HIS MAJESTY, THE KING...", as if there is something eminently glorious and honorable about having the title of POTUS. At least Block is being consistent, as he has previously opined that almost anything government related is more tolerable, sometimes even libertarian, if done by a libertarian instead of a statist.
In what follows I offer some of the very best of these letters, with commentaries from yours truly. I do this not because Ron Paul needs any advice from the likes of us. It is not for nothing that he is now libertarianism’s best spokesman. If we could all be one hundredth as good as him in this sort of thing, our attempts to promote liberty would be far better than they are now. No, I offer these comments since many readers of are called upon, in our relatively more modest ways, to do public speaking, radio and television interviews, and these thoughts might well help all of us to a better job in transmitting our philosophy.
This one really got me. "The likes of us"? What are "we", now, commoners? Mere peasants in the presence of this great and noble man?

If we could even be a fraction as worthy as Ron Paul at this sort of thing? I find that insulting! Everytime I watch Ron Paul interrogate one of the central scammers on Capitol Hill I nearly leap out of my seat in frustration at yet another wasted opportunity to quickly, simply and easily hammer these fraudsters into submission! Ron Paul often spends so much time yammering away in some esoteric, tangentially-related rant that by the time he finally gets to asking the liar on deck a question (which is itself of so many different parts that it's almost not worth asking when he finally stops to breath), there's just enough time left for the shyster to reply, "I don't recall" before smirking into the camera in a smug manner.

If the rest of "us" wee little libertarian folk live such relatively modest lives, then I suppose that means Ron Paul is the great altruist for setting down his personal life in order to fight for liberty on our behalf? Sorry, but I don't buy the "Selfless Ron Paul" story and neither should you. Many libertarians could put up with the fat paycheck, primo health benefits and retirement package (which Ron Paul, great master of liberty that he is, rejects the use of-- even though it'd be totally libertarian for him to do the opposite if he wanted), taxpayer-funded staff, postal frank privilege and made-in-the-shade work schedule, amongst numerous other perks and benefits of the job that they'd enjoy while sacrificing their life and personal ambition in the name of serving the people. Not that you'd necessarily need to sacrifice your personal ambition though, because you could always run for higher office, like Ron Paul.

Am I the only one who finds the anarchist Block's near-worship of politician Ron Paul to be a bit over the top?

Anyway, here is that video clip, as promised:

Look, Ron Paul is cool in a lot of ways. But you watch that clip and tell me you couldn't have done better with a total buffoon like Matthews. These are basic, socialist fallacies he trots out one by one and any principled libertarian should've been able to quickly and easily blast them out of the water and make Matthews look like the plutocratic maniac he is in short order, even in spite of how rude of a host he happened to be.


Lest I come across as too critical of the whole affair, I would draw your attention to the 6m mark in the clip. That was probably the most coherent, consistent and powerful libertarian point Ron Paul made in the entire interview (especially after a number of tragic pragmatic errors like saying he wasn't in favor of getting rid of Social Security). Matthews genuine, sputtering shock was evidence that it hit home and the only opportunity Ron Paul missed was following it up with an intellectual hammer blow to Matthews pea-brain by advising Matthews that many other libertarians might be inconsistent in their application of libertarian principles but that is a fault of their own, not the libertarian ideology and logic itself.

BAM! Matthews would've been out and down for the count after that one.


  1. TC - I agree, Blocks "near-worship" of Ron Paul seems excessive. Well actually it seems desperate. The desperation of a person who has dedicated his life to an idea that is intellectually and emotionally compelling. An idea that seems to offer the possibility of unimaginable levels of human welfare. And that was explained and commmunicated by many absolutely brilliant people AND reality itself gave the greatest lessons in the colossal failures of socialism throughout the 20th century while those societies that implemented even a small part of lassez faire showed incredable success. Yet here we are witnessing the rebirth of socialism as progressivism...its enough to make a grown man weep.

    So cut Prof Block a little slack and aim your formidable talent at the likes of Matthews. But beware,an "intellectual hammer blow" thown at these types can be like punching a tar baby.

  2. Efinancial,

    Of course you're correct that less infighting and more outfighting is a good thing. But I can't help but wince when I see decidedly unlibertarian language and semantics from a libertarian.

    If you replace the specific themes of liberty with themes of statism, and Ron Paul's name with Obama's, it'd read about the same and many libertarians would probably be disgusted by such idolatry of a statist thug. But many are willing to give a pass if it's done "in the name of liberty." My point-- let's just be consistent.

    That's all. Thank you for the comment