The Walter Block Scandal

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Readers of this site will be familiar with Walter Block, the prolific economics professor and libertarian theorist at Loyola University, New Orleans. In recent days Professor Block has been treated preposterously by the perpetually aggrieved, after his views were distorted by the New York Times. (Click here for the full story.) The college president, in turn, carried out the primary task of college presidents: cravenly currying favor with the loudest, most obnoxious, and least scholarly voices on campus by means of a pompous and question-begging official statement.

I myself responded with a letter to the president that you may enjoy. After reviewing the facts I asked the president how many other professors at his university had 400+ peer-reviewed articles or had collaborated with students to co-publish scholarly articles – not once or twice, but dozens of times. For that matter, for how many other Loyola University professors would anyone anywhere in the country lift a single finger?

My letter is online, and you can help Walter with a letter of your own.

Meanwhile, I think you’ll enjoy this letter by Rev. Larry Beane, a Lutheran pastor in Louisiana, who challenges Loyola’s president to defy all expectations of a college president and do something that is both unpopular and just.  –Tom Woods

Dear Father Wildes:

I’m writing to you concerning the scandal surrounding Dr. Walter Block. I write to you as a fellow cleric, one of your “separated brethren” in New Orleans. I’m a Lutheran pastor who had the blessings of a Jesuit high school education. I also belong to a Lutheran religious society, the Society of St. Polycarp, that shares its motto “Ad majorem Dei gloriam” with the Society of Jesus.

In my own observation, most Jesuits are somewhat leftist in their political orientation, and I realize that is a generalization. It is also my observation that Jesuits are intelligent, erudite, dedicated to academic excellence, and devoted to our Lord and His Church. Again, this is my observation and I firmly believe it to be the norm among men who put “S.J.” after their names.

I’m appealing to you as a Jesuit, a priest, an academician, and a Christian gentleman.

As Dr. Block has made it very clear in his explanation and response to the January 25 New York Times piece, he does not believe slavery was, or is, “not so bad.” Jesuits and Ph.D.’s obviously understand context as well as hyperbole and irony.

Our blessed Lord used hyperbole and irony many times, including his instructions to “call no man father” (Matt 23:9) and to engage in self-amputations in response to sin (Matt 5:30). St. Paul expressed a wish regarding troublemakers who were pushing circumcision among the Christian community to “emasculate themselves” (Gal 5:12) and said that all Cretans were liars (Titus 1:12).

Similarly, a beloved (now deceased) Jesuit high school history teacher from Ohio used to rub his hands together and say gleefully “Let’s bomb them!” regarding U.S. foreign policy. Fr. Dunnigan was by no means an insensitive bloodthirsty war-hawk. In fact, he was quite the opposite. He used such classroom “shtick” to make a point. It would have been a disservice to Fr. Dunnigan (to say the least) to accuse him of being in favor of a bellicose foreign policy based only on his written words taken out of context.

In fact, had that occurred, it would have been so ridiculous as to suggest ulterior motives.

Dr. Block’s tongue-in-cheek remarks about slavery being “not so bad” are obviously irony and hyperbole based on two observations that anyone with basic reading skills and even a modicum of academic fairness could pick up on: 1) the quote included the statement about being “fed nice gruel.” Gruel is not “nice.” That is irony on its face. 2) Dr. Block is a libertarian dedicated to the non-aggression principle (NAP). This philosophy is antithetical to slavery to the point where any violation of the NAP or property rights (including conscription and taxation) is condemned as slavery. Dr. Block’s point is clearly that what made slavery abominable was not the work itself. Indeed, manual labor is not dehumanizing or dishonorable. Rather the issue with slavery is the involuntary nature of it. This ought to be axiomatic and self-evident to anyone in a university environment.

That is, unless there are ulterior motives. To accuse Dr. Block of being pro-slavery is like accusing Ignatius of Loyola of being anti-papacy or V. I. Lenin of being anti-Communist. It is so ridiculous as to be refuted by its very assertion. Moreover, the argument concerning segregated lunch counters as framed by Dr. Block has nothing to do with racism. It is about the libertarian principle of the NAP, of private property rights, and the role of the state. Catholics routinely, for example, expel protesters from their sanctuaries. Such actions are grounded in the legal theory of private property rights.

Dr. Block, who is Jewish and Atheist, is not merely tolerant of my wife and son and me, of Christians of other denominations, and of Jews and others who attend his seminars, he is kind, encouraging, delightful to be around, open, welcoming, and loving in a way that reflects the Christian, Jesuit, and academic ideals for which Loyola stands. At his entirely voluntary seminars, you will see people wearing crucifixes, yarmulkes, and even tee shirts expressing Atheistic beliefs. I believe Dr. Block is being treated scandalously and shamefully by you and by others on the campus not because he is in any way racist or in favor of human servitude, but because you are intolerant of diverse political and social opinions that veer too far from leftist politically-correct ideology. This lack of respect for diversity is not uncommon on the college campus, and I believe that is the real issue here.

To be sure, Dr. Block’s remarks (and their misuse) are problematic for you as an administrator. You have a choice: to defend a man who has been defamed by means of emotional and misleading rhetoric, or instead to feed the lynch mob (which stands opposed to the Christian and Jesuit ideals of academic freedom and fairness to the individuals made in God’s image for whom our Lord died).

Pontius Pilate had such a choice. He knew our Lord was innocent. He said, “Ecce homo” to the mob in an attempt to have them confront the humanity of their Victim. In the end, Pilate went against what he knew to be right, washing his hands and allowing our Lord to be crucified. We remember his cowardice and treachery every time we recite the creeds.

I am asking you to rise above the easy and expedient path of Pilate. I am asking you to be the man, to visit Dr. Block in his office, shake his hand, and ask for his forgiveness. I am asking you to be the man, to be the priest, to stand up to the mob and defend the honor of a man who has been wronged. I am asking you to be the man, the peacemaker, by writing a public response clarifying what Dr. Block truly believes (and does not believe) and encouraging spirited, but fair, debate and discussion.

People of good will can be found all throughout the political spectrum, and that is why we have academic freedom. It speaks volumes that no-one is challenging Dr. Block on the NAP or libertarian property rights theory, but are instead seeking to “win” the debate through appeals to emotion and based on a mischaracterization of his position, followed up by political pressure.

That is truly unbecoming the people of God. We Lutherans have a hermeneutic shaped by the Pauline law and gospel motif. As a fellow Christian and as a presbyter myself, I am calling you to repent for breaking the Eighth Commandment. In failing to defend an honorable man from the perspective of a position of power over him, you are cast in the role of Pilate. You can demonstrate your integrity and Loyola’s dedication to that which is right and just – even when it is unpopular – by defending Dr. Block. Or you could take the easy, broad road of political expediency by washing your hands.

I know it is your duty and privilege to say or participate in Mass every day. I would like you to listen closely for the name “Pontius Pilate” in the creed. I would also ask you to look upon the many crucifixes around campus and consider our own sins that placed our Lord on the cross. And I would ask you to ponder our Lord’s words from Matt 25:31-46 and to consider that when you allow the mob to attack Dr. Block for opinions that he doesn’t even hold, you are participating in a symbolic crucifixion of another controversial Jew who was wrongfully charged.

But I do have good news for you, Father Wildes! I have the gospel to proclaim to you! The Lord is merciful and forgives the sins of those who repent and ask for forgiveness. Your baptism covers you, and the blood of the Lord was shed for all people – even for the lynch mob, for Dr. Block, for you, and for me.

I am calling upon you to do something surprising and bold for an administrator: to take a chance and stand up to the crowd by doing what is right – even if it isn’t expedient. It is something Pilate had the opportunity to do, but failed. You have the opportunity to do that which is morally and academically right, that which our Lord would have you do. You have the opportunity to be a shepherd and to demonstrate to your faculty, staff, and students that debate and discussion are to be honest and based on reason rather than hysteria and misrepresentation.

I greatly appreciate your time and attention.

A.M.D.G.

Rev. Larry L. Beane II, SSP

Pastor, Salem Lutheran Church

Gretna, Louisiana

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