The following letter originally appeared in The Maroon, the student newspaper at Loyola University, New Orleans,
I thank the Rev. Kevin Wildes, S.J., for his letter to the editor of The Maroon of Feb. 7, 2014, titled “Walter Block has made too many assumptions and contradictions”. I do not think I can do full justice to the very important issues he raises about slavery in the U.S. and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the brief few words allotted to writers of letters to the editor such as this.
In any case, I have already done much of this in my response to The New York Times. There, I made the point that of course slavery was horrid and despicable, and that as a libertarian who is against all acts of violence against innocent people I certainly opposed this institution. My intent, rather, was to pinpoint exactly why this is so.
Precisely why do all men of good will oppose this “curious institution”? My conclusion was that this has nothing to do with picking cotton or singing songs or eating gruel. Rather, that it is solely and entirely due to the fact that slavery was invasive and compulsory. Slavery was an act of initiatory violence properly proscribed by the libertarian code. I never, ever, not once, perish the thought, said that slavery as it was actually practiced was not “so bad.”
I write this letter “more in sorrow than in anger,” as Shakespeare phrased the matter.
The “problem” with the presidency of Fr. Wildes, if I may be so bold, is that he speaks publicly to the campus community, mainly, on matters such as the renovation of Monroe Hall, the addition of two floors to our parking garage, pathways, strategic plans, fund-raising, etc. These are important, all of them, of course. But there is another side to him, other than the administrative, one that he shows to his students and colleagues all too seldom in my humble opinion: the academic side of him, his philosophical side.
Fr. Wildes may not remember this, but he once gave a lecture to my students in a course on economics and religion at my invitation where he brilliantly spoke about several of the Papal Encyclicals, the main readings for that semester. My students and I were all enthralled. I urge him to do more of this sort of thing. Fr. Wildes is not only the lead administrator of Loyola University. He is also a professor, an intellectual leader at Loyola.
I would like to turn this so far unhappy experience regarding slavery, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, etc., into something positive. I can think of no better way of doing this than him joining with me for a panel discussion on these issues.
I think the reason for his critical letter stems from a misunderstanding. I, too, would have been “dismayed” at hearing that any colleague of mine thought that slavery was not “so bad.” I have spent my entire professional career promoting liberty. Slavery is the polar antithesis of liberty. To think that I favor or even tolerate slavery is just plain foolish.
What would be the benefits of holding such an event? For one thing, we might together get that proverbial one millionth of an inch closer to the truth. How else can we accomplish this goal other than through dialogue? It is entirely likely that in this way we will find much more common ground once each of us understands the thinking behind the other’s respective views, and we come to agree at least on definitions.
For another, a panel discussion comprised of the two of us could help clear the air. At present, this is not at all this case; bad feelings are all too rampant. Further, such a seminar would help with student retention. I am sure we could fill up the largest venue on campus with such a discussion and our present students will one day tell their grandchildren about it. Then, too, such an event cannot but help with recruiting. It will be widely covered by the media, and will put our school on the map as a place where not only is diversity on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual preference, nationality, etc., welcomed, but also intellectual and ideological diversity, something very rare on a university campus. We don’t have a football team. We need some sort of equivalent. This is it! Everyone — students, faculty, media — would enjoy a full-blooded discussion, and this modest proposal of mine would surely fit that bill.
What would we discuss? Certainly not the propriety, the morality, the legitimacy of slavery. Nor whether actually practiced slavery was not “so bad.” This is no disagreement, there can be no disagreement, between him and me or any other rational person about that.
Rather, we will together demonstrate that a great university has intellectual diversity. We do, perhaps, have substantive disagreements about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and whether or not it violates the law of free association. Other possible avenues of discussion are affirmative action, the pay gap between males and females, the glass ceiling, Take Back the Night marches, etc. These subjects deserve a full campus-wide, no-views-barred airing.
I hope and trust Wildes will take up this olive branch of dialogue I offer in an attempt to heal wounds, based on what can only be considered an unfortunate misunderstanding.
Walter Block, Ph.D.
Professor of economics
The Harold E. Wirth Chair of economics