The Priest and His Clever Lie

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When the “slavery was not so bad” controversy regarding Walter Block first hit the fan, I stepped away from the situation and did not write anything. First, I knew Walter could take good care of himself and that there was no way that he ever would have declared that the American chattel slavery that existed until 1865 was an acceptable state of affairs. (And Walter loves a good controversy and especially being in the middle of it.)

Second, there were a number of very capable people coming to his defense and I was not sure I wanted to hit cyberspace with my own opinions, which simply would have less articulate than the opinions already being aired. But then there was The Reply and I no longer could keep silent.

Robert Wenzel, posting in the LRC blog, published a letter sent to Father Kevin Wildes, the president of Loyola University of New Orleans, by Loyola student Christian Light in response to Wildes’ scathing attack on Professor Block in a letter to The Maroon, the Loyola student newspaper. Then Wenzel published Wildes’ reply, and after reading what clearly was transparent dishonesty, I decided to make a public entry into the fray.

Light’s letter is straightforward and a good defense of Professor Block. Wildes, on the other hand, replied in a manner that demonstrated that he had no intention of seeking the truth. Here is a portion of his reply:

Dr. Block has certainly had experience in dealing with the press as he has given many interviews and been quoted often. So, he is well aware of the challenges of giving comments and interviews. So, he bears some responsibility in giving the interview. And, as a philosopher I do not know what was and was not said.

Only he and the writer know what was originally said. My point was to correct the public record. There is no way, as President of a Catholic  university, that I could simply say nothing in the public record.What I said was to address the public record and I will stand by what I have said. (Emphasis mine)

This is one of those “excuse me, but…” moments. Wildes wrote his letter precisely to address what he read in the New York Times his piece on Rand Paul and the Austrians and libertarians. He declared:

You can imagine my dismay when reading the Sunday New York Times and I found remarks by Dr. Walter Block.

In the Jan. 25 article “Rand Paul’s Mixed Inheritance”, Dr. Block made two claims, one empirical and one conceptual, that are simply wrong.  First, he made the claim that chattel slavery “was not so bad.”  “Bad” is a comparative measure that, like every comparison, is understood in a contrast set. My initial question was where is the evidence?

In that letter to The Maroon, it is obvious that Wildes believes both that the NYT reporter got the quote correct and that Professor Block made the “slavery was not so bad” comment in the context the reporter wanted it to be seen. So, his “as a philosopher” comment in the letter to Light is disingenuous at best and utterly deceptive at worst.

What happened? Wildes, who I suspect is pretty typical of left-liberal college presidents, found people asking him about this professor at Loyola who was “defending” or at least “downplaying” the evils of American chattel slavery. Wildes read the article, and most likely being the kind of left-liberal that believes the NYT is the gold standard of Truth and Righteousness, saw an opportunity to score points, attack Professor Block, and also cover his own tail. (OK, I am describing a man who reacted like a typical bureaucrat when something brushed up against his comfort zone.)

However, Christopher Light then confronted Wildes with the entire quote Professor Block had made and from which the NYT reporter cherry-picked a supposed damning sentence, a quote that clearly puts everything into context. Wildes then had to make a decision. On one hand, he could do the honorable thing and set the record straight with The Maroon and with Professor Block. He could have said something like:

After having read Professor Block’s comments as reported by the New York Times, I see clearly that the reporter was being deceptive in trying to smear Professor Block by taking one sentence out of context and making it look as though he was downplaying American chattel slavery’s evils. I reacted hastily to that article and did not do my own due diligence in finding out what Professor Block actually had said, as opposed to what the NYT wanted readers to believe.

I apologize to Professor Block for publicly jumping to conclusions, and while he and I may have philosophical disagreements, nonetheless I appreciate his scholarship and his very good relationships with faculty and students here at Loyola. I was guilty of bad judgment and have learned that so-called prestigious journalists also can be dishonest.

Instead, Wildes demonstrated why he does not have the integrity to lead a Christian institution like Loyola. He wrote the original letter with the personal belief that the NYT had given an accurate depiction of Professor Block’s comments and attitudes.

However, when confronted with the truth, Wildes suddenly became a “philosopher” who, like Pontius Pilate during the trial of Jesus Christ, cynically replied to Light, “What is truth?”

In other words, Wildes was saying that he was free to interpret even the context of Professor Block’s words any way he pleased because, after all, he was a philosopher. The actual meaning and construct of words could mean nothing to a man who fancies himself as being a student of philosophy. These are not the words of a man who has integrity; no, these are weasel words from someone whose ego won’t let him publicly admit he jumped to conclusions, smeared a good man in the process, and demonstrated that he believes it more important to cover his own tail than to step up and be a man of integrity.

I write these comments not to defend everything Walter Block has written, though I certainly would say that much of what he says does apply to my own thinking and worldview. Instead, I make these comments because I believe that when people are leaders of institutions, and especially institutions that supposedly honor Jesus Christ, their leadership must be based on integrity, not CYA.

Unfortunately, Wildes not only has proven himself to be dishonest. No, in his reply to Christopher Light, Wildes also demonstrated that he would have been on the side of Pontius Pilate in the trial of Jesus. I say this not to equate Walter Block with Jesus (please), but rather to point out that Jesus himself declared that his followers know the “truth.”

When confronted with the truth, however, Wildes replied with cynicism and dishonesty, and there is no statute of limitations for such reprehensible conduct. Perhaps he would have been happy with Pontius Pilate being on the Loyola faculty.

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