Monday, September 29, 2014

A Response to Walter Block on Rand Paul

By Robert Wenzel

Wow, I was half way through working on a point-by-point rebuttal of Walter Block's defense of Rand Paul (SEE: The Opening of Debate Between Robert Wenzel and Walter Block on Rand Paul), when something occurred that I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined.

Rand Paul delivered to me on a silver platter clear evidence of why he is dangerous for libertarianism.

Thus, I am going to halt my point-by-point rebuttal and take Rand's own words to show why Rand is a problem for libertarians.

I have written:
Indeed, I am not even convinced, that if pressed in the framework of political expediency, that there is any libertarian principle that Rand wouldn't sell out on. Rand is not his father, speaking truth to power. Rand is about seeking power....And therein lies the problem. Rand takes focus away from the hate of the state. Those who do not understand the nature of the state may see Rand as some sort of savior. He will not be. The only way the state dwindles is by more and more people, on at least a gut level, not trusting the state, and more and more people losing hope in the state. Rand, like Ronald Reagan did, drives an opposite point home. He brings false hope that somehow he will be the great state tamer, a kind of snake tamer that will tame the evil ones behind the curtains while allowing the state apparatus to be used and remain in tact. What he really does, in fact, is tame the radical revolutionary fires of individuals...
Do we have any evidence of Rand doing this? I believe there are many instances, but let's take a very recent example, the Silver Platter case, his smearing of Walter Block as a racist.

This is what Rand had to say about Walter, as reported in a major new profile piece on Rand in The New Yorker:
“I really was disappointed,” Rand said, his voice rising. There was a quote “from some guy who I’ve never met saying something about how slaves should have been happy singing and dancing because they got good food or something. Like, O.K., so now I’m in the New York Times and you’re associating me with some person who I don’t know.” He went on, “It’s one thing to go back and interview my college professor or groups that I actually was with. But I was never associated with any of these people. Ever. Only through being related to my dad, who had association with them.”
This is outrageous behavior on the part of Rand. I consider Walter deserving of the Nobel Prize. In 2012, I wrote:
Just a year ago, I would not have added Walter Block to this list [of those deserving the Nobel Prize], but the more and more I think about his book, Defending the Undefendable, and other writings where Block has written observations about extreme liberty and economics, I have begun to see the great service that Block has done. No one else has thought or written about liberty and economics from these perspectives.

One really has to think if he had not rushed to the defense of, from an economic and libertarian perspective, the prostitute, scab, slumlord, libeler, moneylender and others, would anyone else have, ever? It's a special kind of genius that can recognize such a gaping hole in theory and then on top of that make the defense of these "undefendables" look easy at a practical level. This is great thinking that makes an important contribution to society.

I believe that Friedrich Hayek meant every word when he wrote to Dr. Block about the book:
Looking through Defending the Undefendable made me feel that I was once more exposed to the shock therapy by which, more than fifty years ago, the late Ludwig von Mises converted me to a consistent free market position. … Some may find it too strong a medicine, but it will still do them good even if they hate it. A real understanding of economics demands that one disabuses oneself of many dear prejudices and illusions. Popular fallacies in economic frequently express themselves in unfounded prejudices against other occupations, and showing the falsity of these stereotypes you are doing a real services, although you will not make yourself more popular with the majority.
And how does Rand paint Walter Block? He distances himself from the man, though I am sure he has read Block (SEE: Rand Paul Sucker Punches Walter Block) and, in that clever wording style, Rand implies that the NYT characterization is correct, that Walter is a racist. And therein lies the problem with Rand, he will do anything to advance his steps towards the 8 Year Throne and behead anyone in the way. Walter Block was in the way.

Walter, who has toiled without end to advance the ideas of liberty, has been banished by Rand from public discussion. Anyone being introduced to libertarianism through Rand, who happens upon the major profile of Rand in The New Yorker, will now have the impression that Walter is a racist. In fact, the impression left will be that Walter is so evil that his name can not even be mentioned by Rand. That Walter does not even deserve a decent footnote in history, that he is an inconsequential person that need only be referred to as "some guy."

Although, I am not going to do a point-by-point rebuttal here of Walter's defense of Rand, in the wake of the Silver Platter delivery, I do want to comment on Walter's closing point in his defense of Rand Paul, he writes:
 Wenzel’s position reminds of Ayn Rand’s view in 1972. She supported Gerald Ford, God help us, so to speak. Who was also running in that year? Why, John Hospers, on the ticket of the libertarian party. Why didn’t Rand, for goodness sake, support Hospers? It is my understanding this was because of some minor differences she had with him over technical matters of aesthetics.  The distance between Hospers and Rand was miniscule, compared to the divergence between her and Gerald Ford, of all people. Similarly, the disagreements between Rand Paul and Robert Wenzel are as nothing, nothing I tells you, as those between Wenzel and Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton, for goodness sakes? Is nothing sacred? The political acumen of a man who would make such a gross error is not to be trusted.
This is a distortion of Ayn Rand's position. She broke with Hospers long before he was the Libertarian presidential candidate (SEE:  The Ayn Rand Cult by Jeff Walker).

According to Walker, it was a typical Rand break:
Inevitably, Rand fell out with Hospers, as she fell out with nearly all her close intellectual relationships, typically never again speaking to the erstwhile friend or that friend's associates.  The break with Hospers came after he had arranged for Rand to deliver a paper at a philosophy colloquium. The paper was 'Art and Sense of Life', which Hospers thought interesting and provocative. Unfortunately he was obliged by academic custom to voice at least some minor criticisms following her address. Rand exploded. 
It had nothing to do with a point of libertarian principle. Hospers was a minor player in the 1972 presidential campaign as will be the 2016 Libertarian candidate (Gary Johnson  again?). But further, Walter  has his facts wrong beyond the Rand-Hospers break(though he does end with an odd question mark).

There was never a choice between Hospers and Gerald Ford.

Ford did not run in 1972. Richard Nixon was re-elected that year. Rand supported Ford against Ronald Reagan in 1976 and 1980.  She knew that Reagan would be trouble and that's why she favored Ford.

From The Ayn Rand Letters, Volume IV, Number 2, November-December 1975:
Now I want to give you a brief indication of the kinds of issues that are coming up, on which you might want to know my views.
1. The Presidential election of 1976. I urge you, as emphatically as I can, not to support the candidacy of Ronald Reagan. I urge you not to work for or advocate his nomination, and not to vote for him. My reasons are as follows: Mr. Reagan is not a champion of capitalism, but a conservative in the worst sense of that word—i.e., an advocate of a mixed economy with government controls slanted in favor of business rather than labor (which, philosophically, is as untenable a position as one could choose—see Fred Kinnan in Atlas Shrugged, pp. 541-2). This description applies in various degrees to most Republican politicians, but most of them preserve some respect for the rights of the individual. Mr. Reagan does not: he opposes the right to abortion.
From Rand’s final public speech, “Sanction of the Victims,” delivered November 21, 1981:
In conclusion, let me touch briefly on another question often asked me: What do I think of President Reagan? The best answer to give would be: But I don’t think of him—and the more I see, the less I think. I did not vote for him (or for anyone else) and events seem to justify me. The appalling disgrace of his administration is his connection with the so-called “Moral Majority” and sundry other TV religionists, who are struggling—apparently with his approval—to take us back to the Middle Ages, via the unconstitutional union of religion and politics.
Boy was Ayn Rand right to oppose him. See Murray Rothbard’s "The Reagan Phenomenon," "Ronald Reagan, Warmonger," and "Ronald Reagan: An Autopsy."

The war promoter, statist, tax raiser Reagan has been hailed by the establishment as a hero that should be emulated. Meanwhile, Ford, during his stint as president is remembered as a bumbler.

That's who every anti-statist should want in  power, a person who will bring disgrace and/or bumbling to the office, or at least be easily hated, not some smoothy who will distort  the lines between liberty and interventionism, who will imply that Walter Block is a racist.

I stand by my original opinion, you just don't know when, where or how Rand Paul will abandon libertarian principle and muddy the water for those who are attempting to understand libertarianism.

Any other major presidential candidate Democrat or Republican will be much easier to hate, and it is very unclear in my mind that Rand Paul would be much different in the house of power at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue than the others. As the crazed warmonger John McCain put it:
“I’ve seen him [Rand] grow and I’ve seen him mature and I’ve seen him become more centrist," McCain told The New Yorker's Ryan Liaa.
"I know that if he were president or a nominee I could influence him, particularly some of his views and positions on national security. He trusts me particularly on the military side of things, so I could easily work with him. It wouldn’t be a problem.”
With any other candidate in power,  people may search out for alternatives and stumble on libertarianism, with the distortion man Rand in power, they will think that Rand is the libertarian option and that Walter Block is inconsequential to libertarianism. The perfect evil establishment set up.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of and author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics


  1. I gotta admit, your Rand call was 100% right from day one. I can't believe he'd say that about Walter Block and the Mises Institute to get his name in The New Yorker of all places! It will be quite funny to see the feces that The New Yorker and its ilk throw at Rand once his candidacy becomes official. He *richly* deserves it.

  2. poor old Walter. attempting to defend milky tea libertarian rand gets tossed under the Bus by Rand.

  3. While there is no excuse for Rand to have trashed the good Dr Block. I have a theory..
    Although its nothing more than a suspicion (and hope) that Rand is merely playing the propaganda of Washington dirty lying politics to win the election, and possibly do what he originally used to stand for. As Saul Alinsky taught the lefties, you cant implement change if you tell everyone exactly what is truly in your agenda. You cant make change if you dont win. His Dad, Paul lost the presidential election, but spread the message and teachings of Libertarianism. Can even more be accomplished by a Libertarian in wolf's clothing?

    1. No, education is more important than policy. People won't support libertarian policy now (they like Obama's bombs and bones. They like drug laws, seat belt laws, etc. They are afraid of freedom. All Rand will accomplish is to turn people way from libertarian answers. There are many ways he will do this, but the most obvious today is by supporting the racist slander of great libertarian thinkers who do what he can't, convert people to the ideals of peace and prosperity. And that's what we need more of right now (libertarian thinkers and educators), so, by all means Rand is an enemy of freedom.

      Also, I think it should be clear by now he isn't even a libertarian anyway, so why all the fuss over a standard Republicrat?

    2. No for one thing he would be utterly unelected at the next election after achieving nothing in particular except for uniting statist of all stripes against him. you saw what happened to Morsi in Egypt, that would be Rand's fate if he tried such a stunt.

  4. Bob,

    I am really enjoying the debates you and Dr. Block are having; you are both quite aggressive, but also mutually respectful of each other. Thanks to both!

    It is amazing to see the radical and principled Dr. Block backing up someone as flaky and increasingly establishment as Rand Paul, but I guess it is not surprising considering he enthusiastically supported (gag me) Obama over McCain and Romney. I understand his utilitarian approach to the issue, but I wonder what Block would say in light of his nemesis McCain saying in so many words, "I love Rand- I have no doubt he will take up an interventionist foreign policy that is to my liking..." Why would Block support someone who is more and more each day morphing into something far from libertarian- to views which are indeed the polar opposite of libertarianism? The sheep in wolf's clothing presumption mentioned above by Charles is the only possible way Block could rationalize such a position. Does Walter know something we don't know? I find it hard to believe that “some guy who (Rand) never met" would have such an inside scoop on the mind of Rand Paul.

    While I agree that Wenzel is particularly tough on Rand, Block's critique of this is misplaced. He cites Gary Johnson as a much better target for ridicule, as Johnson takes up non-libertarian positions while actively calling himself a libertarian, while Rand does not. The fact is, nobody cares about Gary Johnson- especially right now. Rand is being touted as a major candidate, and he has (and will have in the future) much, much more of the spotlight than Gary Johnson will ever have. Ripping Gary Johnson is the equivalent of criticizing the third string quarterback on a football squad. Who cares if he sucks?! He will never (or rarely) make it on the field!

    The public perception that Rand is a libertarian is strong, regardless of Rand's true philosophy; it is important to quell that myth as vociferously as possible, and I am glad Wenzel is carrying the torch. Harsh and venomous attacks on non-libertarian positions and quasi-libertarian positions are absolutely crucial to making that evolutionary step human beings need to attain to bring about a world based on the NAP. The utilitarian "lesser of two evils" approach is ridiculous and shameful; it is far below the normally high standard of rationale Block typically exudes.

    Finally, consider Rothbard's example of the abolitionist William Loyd Garrison:

    "...since most people and most politicians will hold to the “middle” of whatever “road” may be offered them, the 'extremist,' by constantly raising the ante, and by holding the pure or “extreme” goal aloft, will move the extremes further over, and will therefore pull the “middle” further over in his extreme direction. Hence, raising the ante by pulling the middle further in his direction will, in the ordinary pulling and hauling of the political process, accomplish more for that goal, even in the day-by-day short run, than any opportunistic surrender of the ultimate principle."

    (a must read essay)

  5. Soooooo.......

    What did the New Yorker say to the tape request? No?