I had the distinct honor to interview one of my greatest philosophical influences by email this last week. I first contacted Dr. Walter Block a little over a year ago asking for intellectual help that I was unable to find anywhere else. He graciously answered my original emails and then shortly thereafter helped me to find the reading materials necessary to convert to anarcho-capitalism.
Since my conversion more questions have arisen that needed answering. This time I’ve decided to publicize the interview between myself and Dr. Block, with his permission of course. I’d like to thank Dr. Block for having given me his time and guiding me to anarcho-capitalism. Without further ado, the interview.
Seth: Dr. Block, you identify yourself not only as a libertarian and Austrian Economist, but more specifically as an Anarcho-Capitalist. Would you mind explaining to me exactly what Anarcho-Capitalism means to you?
Walter: The first part of this phrase, Anarcho-Capitalism, means that there shall be no government. Private firms will undertake all supposed government functions, such as protection from foreign and domestic enemies, adjudication, supplying supposed public goods such as light houses (in a by gone era), flood control, education, welfare, health, money, etc. The second part means that the law will support private property rights, money, etc., in contradistinction to left wing or socialist anarchism.
Seth: You’ve been a libertarian the majority of your life, but you haven’t always been a libertarian anarchist. Do you remember the year you converted to anarchism? How did you convert? Was it a specific book or books that did it? Did you have a philosophical teacher aside from books? Or was it both?
Walter: It was in 1966. Murray Rothbard converted me in about 10 minutes. There were arguments I learned from Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, and had applied to things like the post office, motor vehicle bureau, roads, etc., concerning why competition and profit seeking ensure a better product. Murray just forced me to see that this would apply, also, to government armies, courts and police.
Seth: Many individuals, including limited government libertarians, aren’t likely to run out and read books that make the case for a stateless society unless they feel intellectually compelled to do so. Do you have anything to say to the limited government libertarian crowd that might sew the seeds of doubt in their minds about the morality or efficacy of government? What are they missing in their current philosophy?
Walter: Yes, read the following:
Block, 2007, forthcoming; Hasnas, 1995; Higgs, 2009; Hoppe, 2008; Kinsella, 2009; Long, 2004; Molyneux, undated; Murphy, 2005; Rothbard, 1973, 1998; Stringham, 2007; Tannehill, 1984; Tinsley, 1998-1999.
- Block, Walter. 2007. “Anarchism and Minarchism; No Rapprochement Possible: Reply to Tibor Machan,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 21, No. 1, Spring, pp. 91-99; http://www.mises.org/journals/jls/21_1/21_1_5.pdf
- Hasnas, John. 1995. “The myth of the rule of law.” Wisconsin Law Review 199;
- Heinrich, David J. 2010. “Justice for All Without the State.” The Libertarian Standard. May 6;
- Higgs, Robert. 2009. “Why We Couldn’t Abolish Slavery Then and Can’t Abolish Government Now.” August 20;
- Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. 2008. “Reflections on the Origin and the Stability of the State.” June 23;
- Kinsella, Stephan. 2009. “The Irrelevance of the Impossibility of Anarcho-Libertarianism.” August 20;
- Long, Roderick. 2004. “Libertarian Anarchism: Responses to Ten Objections”
- Molyneux, Stefan. “The Stateless Society: An Examination of Alternatives”
- Murphy, Robert P. 2005. “But Wouldn’t Warlords Take Over?” July 7;
- Rothbard, Murray N. 1973. For a New Liberty, Macmillan , New York ; Free Online Version
- Rothbard, Murray N. 1998  The Ethics of Liberty, New York : New York University Press. Free Online Version
- Stringham, Edward, ed. 2007. Anarchy and the Law: The Political Economy of Choice (Independent Studies in Political Economy), Somerset , NJ : Transaction Publishers.
- Tannehill, Morris and Linda Tannehill.  1984. The Market for Liberty, New York: Laissez Faire Books; http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig11/tannehill1.html
- Tinsley, Patrick. 1998-1999. “With Liberty and Justice for All: A Case for Private Police,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1, Winter, pp. 95-100;
Seth: It took me a couple of years of visiting lewrockwell.com and mises.org before I realized just how many of today’s giants in economics self-identify as Anarcho-Capitalist. Could you give me a ballpark figure of the percentage of fellows and faculty at the Ludwig von Mises Institute that consider themselves Anarcho-Capitalist?
Seth: After having read Murray Rothbard’s For A New Liberty and The Ethics of Liberty as well as Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed I had my “Ah-Ha!” moment. The state had lost all of its legitimacy and I was a convert. But now I feel that reading other books on Austrian Economics has lost its flavor. Many of them seem to be addressed to those who need to learn the beauty of the free-market and how state intervention mucks it all up. But I get it already. The market is beautiful. The state is ugly. What books, if any, would you recommend to somebody like me who has already lost all faith in government and has a firm grasp of free-market economics?
Seth: I’ve been a libertarian my entire life but only recently converted to free-market anarchism. My perspective is that of a young, internet savvy, philosophical newbie to Anarcho-Capitalism. From my point of view it seems as if the libertarian anarchist movement is rapidly accelerating and because of that I am extremely optimistic about the not-too-distant future. From your point of view, have you also observed exponential growth in the Anarcho-Capitalist philosophy over the last couple of years, and if so, how does that make you feel for our future prospects?
Walter: There has been GIGANTIC growth since I got involved in 1966. Sure, this makes me optimistic. On the other hand, there are socio-biological considerations that mitigate in favor of pessimism: we are hard wired for socialism and government interventionism. But, these questions don’t much interest me, since I will do exactly the same things, pursue the same kind of life, etc., whether the case for optimism or pessimism is strong; namely, try to promote liberty, peace and economic understanding to the best of my ability.
Seth: I’d like to talk now a little bit about this thing called Agorism. Recently, I’ve come across the writings of a man named Samuel Edward Konkin III. I’ve read his works and it seems to me that Agorism is the logical conclusion, or next step, to Anarcho-Capitalism. Many individuals in the free-market anarchist movement, especially of my generation, feel that the state will never be ended through the electoral process. Only through principled, counter-economic(more commonly referred to as the underground economy) actions will the state be replaced by a voluntary regime. I would like to know how familiar you are with the writings of S.E.K. III and the philosophy of Agorism. Also, would you say that the faculty and fellows of the Ludwig von Mises Institute generally find S.E.K.III and Agorism to be consistent with Praxeology and Austrian Economics?
Walter: There are many means, techniques toward freedom: think tanks like the Mises and Independent Institute; there’s anti-war.com; the free state project; Ron Paul and principled politics; civil disobedience; attempts to set up a free society in the middle of the ocean; free market economics departments such as at Grove City, Hillsdale, G. Mason, Loyola New Orleans, Cal State at San Jose, Hampden-Sydney; and, yes, Agorism too. I liked and admired SEK III during his all too brief life. I count myself as one of his many friends. I’m very familiar with his writings and activities. But, I can’t say I’m a big fan of his methods. As well, there is a category mistake in your question: Praxeology and Austrian Economics are aspects of positive economics; these means and techniques are very different; they are would-be recipes for bringing about the free society. Not all of those who support Praxeology and Austrian Economics favor freedom. What I’m trying to say here is that there is a chasm between normative and positive economics.
Seth: You’ve publicly endorsed the Free State Project in the past. Is there any chance of you migrating to the geographical area commonly referred to as New Hampshire ? What would it take for you to move there? Perhaps if New Hampshire State nullified the federal income tax? How about if Louisiana passed some extremely draconian legislation? What if someone offered you a million dollars? Surely, there must be an incentive strong enough to entice you up north?
Walter: It would be difficult for me to move to New Hampshire . I like my job at Loyola very much; I have good friends here. Well, if you’re offering, I’ll take $100 million. I could do a lot in the direction of promoting Austrian economics and libertarianism with that kind of money. If I had it, I’d set up a graduate school in NH.
Seth: I think it’s safe to say that if a libertarian gets asked, anarchist or not, what the main form of activism is for the cause, the vast majority of the time the answer will be education. We need to continue to educate ourselves as well as others. But after that, it seems to me that a very large percentage of the population neither desires, nor has the ability, to substantively learn the philosophy of liberty or Austrian Economics. This is the position we libertarians have found ourselves in for quite some time. We often criticize Keynesians, and the like, for insanely repeating the same mistake over and over whilst expecting a different result. Could it not be that relying on the rest of the world to catch up to us through education is a recipe for failure? Civil disobedience seems to be rather contagious. I would imagine that the ruling elite and the rest of the state apologists fear civil disobedience more than any other tactic known to man. Could it be time for the free-market intelligentsia to endorse, promote, and practice this tactic as the surest way to abolish the state? What would it take for you to practice civil disobedience? Perhaps an unconscionable law being passed? Perhaps one million other resisters? Or will you wait until the day the state is completely abolished before disregarding the laws against nature?
Walter: Civil disobedience is but one technique among many. I’m not a big fan of that one, at least right now, because despite our stupendous growth, there are still far too few of us to make that a viable option.
Seth: I’d like to thank you Dr. Block for allowing me to grill you on issues that don’t exactly pertain to economics. If I may, let me throw you one more zinger. Over the next six years, do you think Murray Rothbard or Barack Obama will convert more people to anarchism?
Walter: That’s a very good question. I’d pick my man Murray on this, although I think it will be a close race.