Walter Block, the Gadfly of Libertaria

Recently by Allan Stevo: Unquantifiable

It occurred to me after hearing the various sides of the story from Walter Block's Tampa speech dealing with the virtues of evictionism that Walter Block is a misunderstood seeker of the truth. He was booed by fellow Ron Paul supporters for presenting an alternative to the present political status quo. How painful it must be for a misunderstood seeker of the truth to be so quickly judged by the small percentage of people who one would think would be quickest to give him the benefit of the doubt. To the contrary, it seems to me that Walter Block is not bothered by this. He offers encouraging advice for those who would like to aspire to the same – for those who aspire to speak the truth as honestly and as audibly as they can. I had the opportunity recently to ask Dr. Block a few questions about the importance of speaking the truth even when those around you don't seem to want to hear it.

A.S.: Professor Block, you write books, author articles, and give lectures that allow people to characterize you as a gadfly. You've told me in the past that you consider the word gadfly to be a compliment. How would you define that term?

W.B.: A gadfly is someone who questions received opinion.

A.S.: By your definition of gadfly, it sounds like essentially anyone can be a gadfly by simply asking a few tough questions now and then.

W.B.: Well asking is important. But so is answering.

A.S.: Why do you think it is important for members of society to aspire to be gadflies, to question those received opinions?

W.B.: Questioning the status quo is a necessary condition for improving it.

A.S.: Should a gadfly want to speak the truth even when it feels like no one wants to hear what he has to say?

W.B.: The truth shall set you free. So, yes. Although, I suppose, there are exceptions. For example, when asked by a burglar where the jewels are or making someone miserable by telling them they'll soon die.

A.S.: Can a gadfly inspire change in society?

W.B.: Sure. Socrates. Gandhi. Mises. Ron Paul. Ayn Rand. Murray Rothbard.

A.S.: Why do you think it is more natural for some people to unquestioningly receive opinions rather than to develop their own?

W.B.: Human diversity. People are not homogeneous.

A.S.: How does it feel being in the tenuous position of speaking to the 10% of the population that you'd expect to be open-minded about some of your perspective – an evictionist perspective for example – and instead of being heard, you were booed?

W.B.: It felt like a challenge. I wish I had met it better. I should have said, is libertarianism 100% perfect? Of course not. Therefore, it needs improvement. How can it ever improve, if challenges to it cannot be even articulated?

A.S.: How do you find your moral compass? How do you know when you are speaking the truth? Whose opinions do you value? Under what circumstances, and based on whose opinion, would you say to yourself "I have made a mistake in my writing"?

W.B.: Murray Rothbard is my guiding light. I certainly value his opinion (although there is not a 100% congruity between our two views). If I think I'm wrong, I'll publicly admit it. There are several of my scholarly publications where I have admitted error in a previous publication. It only hurts for a little while. If we want to seek the truth, we have to not allow our ego to get in the way. I don't always have to be right. I've made errors. The best thing to do is to acknowledge them, apologize for them, and move on.

A.S.: Popularity can be weak and can be waning. Do you ever find yourself compelled by the desire to be popular? Does it hurt whenever any of your views are considered unpopular?

W.B.: Yes, I'd like to be popular, but not if it means compromising with libertarianism, or Austrianism, or the truth. Of course it hurts when my views are denigrated; but it is a "good" hurt. I feel that I am carrying the message of Murray Rothbard, and it is an honor to do so.

A.S.: What role do you think marketing should play to someone who seeks to tell the truth?

W.B.: I'm pro-marketing. I only wish I could do it better, more eloquently, give better examples. But, all I can do is my best. I always try hard, real hard.

A.S.: If evictionism had a different name, would it be more widely accepted instead of quickly misunderstood?

W.B.: I'm open to better names. Any suggestions. I just don't want to call it "golf," or "apple pie" or something like that which is a bit fraudulent. A suggestion I'm thinking about is "pre birth adoption." But I still think evictionism is more accurate.

A.S.: Should a seeker of the truth such as yourself care that any of his ideas might be quickly misunderstood by some?

W.B.: Yes, I care. I don't want to be misunderstood. In my lectures, my teaching, my writings, I try to be as clear as possible, so as to obviate misunderstanding. But, people misunderstand. They think that in extolling the virtues of the free enterprise system, you are pushing greed, that you hate the poor, etc.

A.S.: What advice do you have for someone who is timid about writing about what he considers true out of a fear that someone might dislike what he has to say?

W.B.: Read Michael Edelstein's book Three Minute Therapy; available on Amazon.

A.S.: Should it matter to a challenging scholar, to a gadfly, that he is booed? Should he want to be booed?

W.B.: No one really wants to be booed, I think, unless he is a masochist, which I am not. I'd prefer not to be booed, and shouted down. I'd prefer that people calmly, politely, stated why they disagreed with me. How else are we going to get that proverbial one millionth of an inch closer to the Truth?

A.S.: You seem to be referencing Kierkegaard with this one millionth of an inch language. As Kierkegaard wrote of the search for God as insatiable by nature, do you consider the search for the truth to be insatiable? Will the seeker of truth never feel satisfied?

W.B.: There will always be scarcity. That's the precondition for economics. We'll always want more than what we have. Of everything. Including the truth

A.S.: Thank you, Professor Block.