The Curious Case of the Non-Libertarian, George Jonas

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by Walter Block

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George Jonas is an editorial writer for the National Post, a Canadian newspaper (somewhat similar to the Wall Street Journal in overall outlook). On January 19, 2013, he wrote an essay entitled "Don't call me a libertarian." In that essay of his, he did not give even one reason why he rejected my favorite political economic philosophy, libertarianism.

Why is it important that Jonas be severely rebuked for this outrageous behavior of his? It is because he is one of the leading libertarian voices in the entire country to the north of us. If he explicitly rejects libertarianism, as he has recently done, then there is just that much less hope for the fledgling libertarian movement in Canada. On the other hand, if he can but be moved to at least discuss this perspective on the pages of the National Post which he so far adamantly refuses to do (it is one of my motives for writing the present essay to shake him out of that cowardly stance), this will give a boost to free markets and laissez faire capitalism in that country.

Mr. Jonas has published 16 books, including one coauthored by Barbara Amiel, his former wife, who is also another important Canadian libertarian. He has contributed to such U.S., British and European publications as the National Review, Saturday Review, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Daily Telegraph, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy Magazine, the Hungarian Review (Budapest) and The National Interest. Jonas’ media awards in Canada and abroad include the Edgar Allan Poe Award for the Best Crime Non-Fiction Book (New York, 1978), two Nelly Awards for the Best Radio Program (Toronto, 1983 and 1986), three National Magazine Awards (Toronto, 1991; 2006 and 2007), and two Gemini Awards for the Best TV Movie and for the Best Short Dramatic Program (Toronto, 1993). For more on this author, see here, here and here.

The very next day, January 20, 20123, I published a blog on LewRockwell.com called "More than passing curious: George Jonas and libertarianism." In this response of mine I said, among other things: "Naturally, as a long time libertarian myself, I was interested in why a columnist for a major newspaper did not ascribe to the one and only correct view on political economy. He obviously knew how to spell the word u2018libertarian.' He even thought this philosophy important enough to write about it. I started reading with bated breath…. In the event, I was rather disappointed with this column of his… Jonas did not mention a single solitary policy proposal of libertarianism…. Instead, he meandered all over the lot, discussing numerous issues that simply had nothing to do with support for, or detraction of, libertarianism…. Maybe, one of these days (hint, hint, Jonas) he will explain why it is that he opposes the freedom philosophy, the only just system, the last best hope for peace, prosperity and the very survival of mankind."

Then the fun began. On January 28, 2013, Mr. Jonas replied to my missive with an op-ed entitled: "George Jonas on libertarianism: Drawing out the true believers."

One error he made was to attribute my article to my long time friend and libertarian colleague Lew Rockwell. Said Jonas: "Some bloggers on their own sites made no bones about their disappointment. u2018Jonas did not mention a single solitary policy proposal of libertarianism,' complained the noted anarcho-capitalist commentator Lew Rockwell." No, no, u2018twasn't Lew Rockwell who said that. u2018Twas me,Walter Block. Sloppy, sloppy.

Another problem I had with Jonas' response was that he still never mentioned any substantive principle or policy of the libertarian philosophy, and told a gigantic anxiously waiting world (ok, ok, the very small world of libertarianism) why he rejected it. He offered the following as an excuse: "… many readers were disappointed. They expected a critique of libertarian philosophy or Libertarian party politics, perhaps even an analysis of U.S, presidential candidate and (undeclared) libertarian legend Ron Paul, which my piece wasn't. All I wanted to answer was the question, u2018what are you,' not to explain why I wasn't something else."

Yes, I was a bit disappointed. Whenever anyone explicitly rejects libertarianism, I, along with numerous other inquiring minds, want to know why. This is especially true of a man like George Jonas, most of whose past columns may be fairly summarized as supporting economic freedom and private property rights, basic tenets of libertarianism. When someone writes a column entitled "Don't call me a libertarian," this would appear not to be an altogether outrageous expectation.

His second excuse for not manning up and articulating which libertarian principles he rejects is that "the editors christened" his initial essay of January 19, 2013. This gets him off the hook for not substantively responding and satisfying the curiosity of libertarians in his first go around, but hardly in his follow up.

But he is not out of excuses quite yet. His third one had to do with dentists and Papuans, which I confess was a bit beyond my limited intellectual ken. Jonas must be a very brilliant man to come up with something like that. Or, maybe it's a Canadian thing? Like living in igloos and riding around on a dog sled? Who knows? (On a more serious note, this Papuan dentist stuff fully suffices to excuse his article of January 19, but not at all his of January 28.)

Another minor error on Jonas's part: Ron Paul is an "undeclared" libertarian? This man ran for president of the United States on the Libertarian Party Platform in 1988 and has been for many years the acknowledged leader of the world-wide libertarian movement. On this see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Don't they have any fact checkers at the National Post? Sloppiness, thy name is Jonas.

But then comes the big howler, perhaps the biggest non sequitur ever written. Let me quote this in full, lest I be accused of making this up out of the whole cloth. According to Jonas:

"He (Jonas was attacking Lew Rockwell, here, but I am really the u2018guilty party') pointed out that I meandered all over the map, discussing issues that had nothing to do with what he called, u2018the freedom philosophy, the only just system, the last best hope for peace, prosperity and the very survival of mankind.'… Why, thanks, Mr. Rockwell (my name is Block; Block!). I knew I wasn't a libertarian, but I wasn't aware I actually opposed libertarianism until I read it on your site. But now, in just a few lines – unless Rockwell (Block; Block!) was writing tongue in cheek – he persuaded me that I would probably oppose libertarianism, and he also told me why. It was that bit in his blog where he described libertarianism in such utopian terms.

"Unless Rockwell (Block; Block, I tells you!) was pulling his readers' legs, which of course is possible, any political philosophy that prominent followers describe as u2018the only just system' and indeed u2018the last best hope for … the very survival of mankind' would be too millennial for my taste. I don't think I would feel comfortable reasoning with people about policy issues, whether they involved central banking, drugs or abortion, who felt that they embodied the last best hope for mankind's survival. If that's what they genuinely believed, why, they might feel justified, indeed duty-bound, to coerce me until I adjusted my views to theirs.

"True believers scare me. They don't scare me less if they believe in the same things that I do. In a curious way, they scare me more."

Wow. This is really magnificent, in a weird sort of a way. It gives me hope. If Jonas misunderstands libertarianism to this gargantuan degree, perhaps there is hope for enlisting him in the one true faith (no, I don't speak tongue in cheek, here) when once he learns what libertarianism really is all about.

Let's start the instruction right now. The essence of this freedom philosophy is the non aggression principle (NAP). This means it is impermissible to ever "coerce" anyone, for any reason. This means that even "true believers" such as me, could never, ever, not in a million years, as long as I wanted to remain consistent with the notion of liberty, "feel justified, indeed duty-bound, to coerce (you) until (you) adjusted (your) views to mine." It is a non sequitur of the most outrageous kind to think this. Now I admit Mr. Jonas' view does have a certain empirical appeal to it. People who fervently believe in something are probably more likely to impose their beliefs on others by force, than those who don't fervently believe in anything. But all bets are off in this regard, surely, when the fervent belief is that no one should ever compel, force, coerce anyone into believing anything. The NAP further maintains that no one should ever compel, force, coerce anyone into doing or not doing anything either, except of course to respect this very rule of non aggression. If agreeing to this is not the "last best hope for mankind," I should be very interested in finding out why not.

I note that Mr. Jonas, a slippery fellow, he, has still managed to completely ignore the question of why he rejects this philosophy. He still refuses to discuss whether, or where, or on what specifics his views diverge from the libertarian ones on "policy issues (such as) central banking, drugs or abortion," or indeed, on anything else. He ventures no opinion on, much less a refutation of, the claim that the NAP is the "the only just system, the last best hope for peace, prosperity and the very survival of mankind." He hides behind the ad hominem argument that anyone such as me (Lew Rockwell too, if I can speak for him, and also Ron Paul, ditto) who strongly maintains this perspective must be some kind of nut. Sloppy, sloppy. Don't they teach logic up in the frozen northland?

So, I invite Mr. Jonas (hint, hint), if he has any courage at all, to enter the lists. Read up a bit on libertarianism (read some Murray N. Rothbard, not quasi, semi, demi "libertarians" like F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman). Specify where he agrees, where he disagrees with this viewpoint. Come on in, Mr. Jonas, the water is just fine in libertarian-land.

Dr. Block [send him mail] is a professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans, and a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of Defending the Undefendable, The Case for Discrimination, Labor Economics From A Free Market Perspective, Building Blocks for Liberty, Differing Worldviews in Higher Education, and The Privatization of Roads and Highways. His latest book is Ron Paul for President in 2012: Yes to Ron Paul and Liberty.

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