The Libertarian Big Tent

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by Walter Block and Tennyson McCalla by Walter Block and Tennyson McCalla

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Statement of Walter Block

There is precedence for publishing, on a co-authored basis, conversations, or letters between two parties, and this present correspondence is brought to you on this basis. It began with a very complimentary letter sent to me by Tennyson McCalla. On most such occasions I merely write a brief letter of thanks, and let matters go at that. Rarely, I receive a letter that touches me so deeply that I ask its author to tell me a bit about himself. In the present case, in response to such an inquiry not only did I think the correspondence was worthy of greater circulation, but, as its author was a young black man, this made it even more important for me to share this with others. Why? Because I am of the opinion that the freedom philosophy is valuable for all peoples, and that it is a crying shame that so few members of the black community are even willing to give libertarianism a hearing, let alone embrace it. In my opinion Mr. McCalla still has some way to go before he can be considered a full libertarian, but, as he is well on his way, and so eloquently expresses his views, I thought it well worthwhile to publish this correspondence on LRC with him.

Statement of Tennyson McCalla

This is a record of correspondence between Dr. Walter Block and me. It began with this e-mail I originally wrote to Dr. Block on November 14th. After the last e-mail between us Dr. Block recommended that I edit this correspondence, and contribute it with him to LRC. I thank him for the opportunity.

11/14/06 To: Dr. Walter Block Subject: The Patience of a Saint

I just had the opportunity to watch the episode of “Our Story” in which you appeared via a media link at the Mises Institute.  I must say you have the patience of a saint.  I guess that quality either comes from years of being a successful professor, or is a pre-requisite for becoming a successful professor.  The thick-veil ignorance displayed by your two interlocutors and that first caller was almost palpable through the monitor.  Believe when I say I sympathize with your situation.  I have to go through inane discussions like that all the time as the only black adherent to the philosophy and economics of Capitalism / Classical Liberalism / Austrian Economics that I personally know.  The black “community” seems to be masters of isolating, ostracizing, and demonizing people who don’t conform to their “groupthink."

I’m certainly not as good at handling the situations as you are. Watching the video and hearing the spurious “known facts” that the host and his “brother” spout, or seeing them lose track of their own spiel and switch talking points, brought out in me such a feeling of frustration that I thought I would scream.  I have trouble dealing with blatant racists like the host of “Our Story"; I wish I had your ability to coolly, calmly deal with them.

Keep fighting the good fight for freedom Prof. Block, Tennyson.

~ If we don’t stand for anything we will fall for everything

11/16/06 To: Tennyson McCalla Subject: The Patience of a Saint

Dear Tennyson:

Thanks for your very kind comments. Please tell me a bit about yourself. Are you a student? How old are you? What do you do? How did you come to your present views? Would it be okay with you if I shared this correspondence with some black friends of mine who are also free enterprise types like us? Do you know of any other black libertarians?

Best regards, Walter

11/18/06 To: Dr. Walter Block Subject: The Patience of a Saint

Thanks for the quick reply, I must say it was unexpected.  You deserve every word of kind comments for that display of patience and unwavering logic.

About myself?  I’m 23 years old, I live in NY.  I attended a CUNY school (Hunter College), and became dissatisfied with the intellectual atmosphere I encountered.  By the time I graduated high school I had internalized that perennial victim mentality that so many people of my hue exhibit.  What I did have as an advantage over so many others was an immigrant’s love for America, its founding philosophy of Liberty, and the resultant opportunities only available in Liberty.  At the time I didn’t know anything about economics, Mises, Rothbard, Reisman, or the enemies of free enterprise.  I certainly didn’t know about Capitalism or Socialism/Communism except as buzzwords.

I found college intellectually dominated by Marxism and Chomsky.  The most active groups around were the ISO, the ISM, and some Green groups.  They set the agenda and I didn’t begin to question any of it for a while.  I took only one economics course there, and though the class in retrospect had a decidedly Keynesian-Neo-Classical bent to it, I found it fascinating.  My professors (e.g. anthropology, psychology, and black and Latin studies) pushed disdain for Western civilization and at times engaged more in propaganda than instruction.  I became so jaded with the prevailing mood expressed by the Socialist or Third Way teachers, students, and TAs that I eventually just left.

Today I’m a professional photographer, and I have no desire to get back in the clutches of the education industry.  I had my first introduction to Austrian economics on the internet.  Plenty of conservative and libertarian forums gave links to the LvMI website, and at first I rejected it’s “radical” conclusions.  What really changed me over was in trying to argue against it.  I was never a subscriber to Socialism or a Western thrall to the Soviets so I tried to argue against points made by Rothbard, Reisman, and Mises from a hampered Capitalist point of view.  It didn’t work.  The force of reason, and the evidence of history brought me to where I am.

Now I do what I can to cement my thoughts on the complete separation of money and state, school and state, business and state etc. before sharing them with others.  It’s hard work, especially on my own, but it’s worth it.  Reading Rothbard’s What Has Government Done to Our Money?, Education: Free and Compulsory, George Reisman’s articles on Capitalism.net, and parts of his (enormous) book Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics are some of my preparation.  Bastiat has become a favorite author of mine to recommend.

I don’t mind if you share any of this info with others. Suggestion on "black libertarians": Google it.

Thanks again for the reply Dr. Block, Tennyson.

p.s. I downloaded audio of yours earlier this year, specifically “Gold is free enterprise money” and “Interventionism."  I still refer back to them to get the words and phrases I need to present a case for liberty person to person.

11/20/06 To: Tennyson McCalla Subject: The Patience of a Saint

Dear Tennyson:

I am taking the liberty of sending you some readings that might be of interest to you. This piece by Roderick Long is, as far as I’m concerned, the best short explication of the anarchist position.

I would like you to consider co authoring this correspondence with me. Please feel free to add to it, if you wish. I think it important that people realize there are at least some black libertarians — more than they realize — and these letters of yours would certainly help demonstrate this.

What a moron I am for not thinking to Google "black libertarians."

What disagreements do you have with LRC authors?

Best regards, Walter

11/22/06 To: Dr. Walter Block Subject: The Patience of a Saint

Regarding differences between Austrians, I wouldn’t have imagined that there were so many differences of opinion on certain things. The only disagreement that I had been aware of was the split between Dr. Reisman and Dr. Rothbard after Ayn Rand. I have always been more aligned with Dr. Reisman than with any of the other authors on Mises.org. I know that he disagreed with Mises about moral subjectivity. I disagree with Dr. Reisman on the importance of Böhm-Bawerk’s idea of the labor theory of value. I disagree with Rothbard and his followers about the Civil War. I disagree with pretty much everyone about abortion. Objectivists that I’m in contact with find all this disagreement among libertarians as proof of their hopelessness. Of course, I disagree with the Objectivists.

World Wars One and Two, I feel were defensive wars. In both, the government would have been derelict in their duty had they not defended the lives and liberties of Americans. I could make the argument for Korea, but Vietnam is slightly beyond me. The current “war on terror” if it were fought the right way, I could be behind 100 percent. Since it isn’t being fought the right way, I’m only supporting it about 60 percent.

Thanks for the link to the Anarchist piece by Roderick Long, it’s very convincing, and it even addressed my personal complaint about final authority. I’m still not entirely convinced, but I suppose I’ll have to think about it for a longer time. The other links are icing on the cake.

You’re not a moron. Thinking to Google “black libertarians” would only occur to the desperate.

Disagreements with LRC authors? I hate bringing up disagreements with someone I’m just getting to know, but you asked:

I’m not anti-war. Well, let me clarify that, I am not against any and all wars, as I conceive of going to war for defense, justice, and retribution to be legitimate. Wars of conquest, wars for tribute, wars for enslavement and domination that have nothing to do with a collective expression of self-defense are illegitimate and I do not support them. I cannot agree with Murray Rothbard (and perhaps yourself, Prof. DiLorenzo, and Mr. Rockwell) that the only legitimate wars have been the Revolution and the Civil War (on the CSA side).

I do not believe that there can be no success in the political realm.

Many libertarians divest themselves of their “Capital L," and reject the political process altogether. I have not come to that stage as of yet. I believe that the LP can be a legitimate vehicle for Liberty in our struggle for intellectual and cultural dominance. I believe that the GOP and the DNC are more often than not the same party when it comes to betraying the philosophy of Capitalism or Laissez-faire, but I at least appreciate the GOP’s words in favor of the market.

I am not an anarcho-Capitalist. Though I have already ceded the moral argument to the anarchists when I refer to the government as a “necessary evil." The anarcho-Capitalists need only disprove the necessary part, and they have won. Since I’d like to minimize all instances of evil in existence, I’ll listen attentively to and hope for the success of anarchist plans to replace government functions.

I’m pretty radical in my pro-life stance. I’ve read Rothbard and yourself on this topic, but I haven’t moved from my initial position. I don’t see myself compromising on the “uncompromisable” (that’s not a word is it?).

While the idea of evacuating a trespasser in the gentlest way possible appeals to me, I can’t sign on to it for at least a few more decades.

In the future as medical technology progresses human beings will be viable from the very first moments of conception.

I think that’s about all I can come up with off the top of my head.

Tennyson.

11/24/06 To: Tennyson McCalla Subject: The Patience of a Saint

Dear Tennyson:

Don’t feel too badly about the black community not embracing capitalism. This holds true, too, for people of my own ethnic persuasion, Jews. Yes, there are those who counterbalance this, such as Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard and to a lesser extent, Milton Friedman, but the overwhelming majority of my co-religionists vote for the most socialist candidate, support unions, were in the forefront of Marxist organizations, etc. However, there are also black scholars who counterbalance matters on your side of the aisle. I would include here at least in terms of economics Thomas Sowell, and also Walter Williams, James Ahiakpor, George Ayittey, Wilt Alston, Robert Wicks and Thompson Ayodele. As it happens, one of the books I edited features an article by Sowell, and I am a co-author of Williams and Alston, I am proud to say.

I am greatly enjoying this conversation, and I hereby "order" you to continue it.

Best regards, Walter

11/29/06

My apologies for not responding earlier Dr. Block, I’ve been out of range of internet capable computers for a few days. Your “orders” were quite acceptable, nothing too strong :-) To be honest, I have my apprehensions about the LRC because of some philosophical and political differences I have with the main contributors. Despite my hesitations, I’ll be glad to edit work with you on publishing this correspondence.

I agree with you about the tragedy of ignorance weighing down the people with whom we share ethnic or racial ties. A slight consolation may be that economic ignorance is nearly universal (to varying degrees) but in truth this “reassurance” is an even darker fact than the one we started with. I suppose some of the blame can be put down to a psychic distaste for the ideas of the market. Advertisers and propagandists have long known the power of thought association.

For the Jewish community it can be related to the eastern European immigration of the early to mid 20th century when Jews fled in vast numbers from militaristic aggression. Many of the ideological giants of the Jewish refugees were proponents of one or another strands of Marxism. Following the historicist dialectical interpretations of a Marxian the conclusion to draw from their persecution and expelling would be that the Capitalist exploiter class has finally unsheathed their reactionary weapons in defense against the inevitable worker revolution.

The black populations are a puzzle to me, though I know that the intellectual influence of the neighboring Jewish communities were powerful during the Harlem Renaissance. Discussing any of this today with my family and friends in NYC is almost impossible. Since we have such differing strains of information sources it sometimes seems like we’re speaking a different language to one another. Thinking back to the “Our Story” show, it was amazing to see you lay out the logical case for why and how the free market punishes racists for their racist practices, and then to see your opponents completely miss it. The thought patterns were so different that they believed that you were condoning racism and showing how free enterprise rewards racism!

Still, in spite of the built-in bias against capitalism, I try to communicate the positives of freedom. I know of almost all of the authors you mentioned in the other e-mail. I’ve recommended Dr. Sowell’s “Basic Economics” to people I feel are untainted by Socialist ideas. I have Dr. Williams’ “The State Against Blacks” and “South Africa’s War on Capitalism” on wish lists, I know of James Ahiakpor through I.S.I.L, and I have George Ayittey’s lecture “Why Socialism Failed In Africa” that he delivered before FEE saved on my Mac. The others I have found at one time or another by Googling “black libertarians."

Tennyson.

p.s. I liked the memorial article you did for the late Milton Friedman (another New Yorker); I think he would’ve appreciated it. New York has had so many lights like him, Rand, Mises, Reisman, Rothbard, Sowell, and you that it makes the tragedy of its statism all the greater.

Yours truly, Tennyson

12/2/06 To: Tennyson McCalla Subject: The Patience of a Saint

Dear Tennyson:

We have many disagreements especially about the War Between the States, and foreign policy in general: specifically about World Wars I and II and the Iraqi situation. I would highly recommend the works of Tom DiLorenzo on the former, and those of Bob Higgs and Murray Rothbard in particular on the latter. The Mises Institute offers a treasure trove of material on all these subjects.

But, we are not Randians here. We tolerate disagreement; heck, even encourage it. In the Objectivist movement, if you disagree with the higher ups on even the slightest detail, you are summarily booted out of their movement. The Austro-libertarian movement, at least as organized through the Mises Institute, is very different. I have had sharp disagreements in the literature with people such as Murray Rothbard, Hans Hoppe, Stephan Kinsella and Roderick Long, very sharp disagreements, and not only is no one purging anyone else, I count myself lucky to be and to continue to be good friends with all of them. Heck, I have even published several articles critical of Mises himself, and the ground has not opened up and swallowed me.

I greatly regret that you are now a photographer, and are not actively pursuing a career where you can promote liberty on a full-time basis. I give you fair warning: when I get to know you better, I am going to "order" you to switch careers. For the present, my only "orders" are that you attend one of the upcoming events at the Mises Institute. It would be a pleasure to meet you in person. Perhaps, even, we could get up a panel on black libertarianism for the ASC. (Hint, hint: Wilt, Robert, James, George, are you guys up for this?)

Best regards, Walter

Dr. Block [send him mail] is a professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans. He is the author of Defending the Undefendable. Tennyson McCalla [send him mail] is a professional photographer working in New York City.

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