Reconciling Liberating Property From the Unjust Government and Reparations for Stolen Property in the Past

From: Sam Hage []
Sent: Sunday, November 04, 2018 3:28 PM
Subject: Libertarian Scholars’ Conference

Mr. Block,

I meant to email you right after the Libertarian Scholars’ conference in NYC, but it slipped my mind until now. I was hoping to expand on the question I asked about your Ragnar Danneskjöld presentation.

You said that if I can prove your grandfather stole my grandfather’s watch and handed it down to you, you have to give me the watch back. You also said that if the state steals my car, then you steal it from the impound lot, you are not required to give it back to me. Now I’m not sure there’s a contradiction there, but it seemed as though there might be. A clarifying question: if Mr. Salerno steals my watch, then you steal it from him, are you obligated to give it back to me?

I think I understand that once the original theft happens, you’re not really committing violations of the NAP by ‘stealing’ from the thief, but wouldn’t that also be true in the grandfather example? Is that example different because the thief died and you’re merely the unwitting beneficiary of a theft? I hope you can help me understand this idea.

I thought you did a tremendous job at the conference, particularly with your impromptu talk during the Marxism section.

I look forward to hearing from you.

All the best,
Sam Hage

On Mon, Nov 5, 2018 at 8:00 PM Walter Block wrote:

Dear Sam:

Yours was just about the best question/challenge, I’ve ever had at any public gathering, such as this one. Please tell me about yourself. I won’t say that yours was the only thing I’ve been thinking about since that conference, but I won’t deny that either. I am very grateful to you for pointing this out.

The way I see matters, I barely escape contradicting myself by the fact that there is a disanalogy in the two cases. In the Ragner case, there is an intermediate person, that is, Ragnar himself. In the other reparations case, there is no intermediary to complicate matters. Does this satisfy you? If not, please let me have your misgivings.

Best regards,


From: Sam Hage []
Sent: Tuesday, November 06, 2018 8:57 PM
Subject: Re: Libertarian Scholars’ Conference

Mr. Block,

Thanks for getting back to me, and thanks for your kind words. I am a master’s student at the St. John’s great books program in Annapolis and a carpenter. I also do the postproduction and show notes for Scott Horton’s podcast.

I do think the presence of the intermediary may be the salient factor in your Ragnar example. Do you think it’s necessary that the intermediary also be a victim of the state? I just remembered that you made a comment to the effect of “Go appropriate your own tax reparations!” It’s true that you happened to take my truck, but it’s also true that you’re owed something yourself, which you’ve now undertaken an effort to get back.

I had another question that I started formulating during your “what is libertarianism” talk, but I didn’t have a good enough grasp of it at the time. My question is something like this:

Libertarianism is the non-agression principle. Of course, we now need to know what aggression is. You claim (as do I and everyone else) that aggression is the violation of property rights, the most important of which is self-ownership. I’m wondering if this gets us into an unfortunate situation of circular definitions. After all, if everyone has the absolute right to their body, wouldn’t me violently resisting you trying to punch me be a violation of your self-ownership? No, says the libertarian, because you forfeit some degree of property rights by aggressing against me… but that hasn’t really gotten us anywhere, because we’ve only defined aggression as the violation of self-ownership. Another example that deals with non-self property rights: Say you and I are both trying to homestead a piece of land; libertarian principles say that “first use” dictates the rightful owner (which property ownership will then inform future cases of aggression). But suppose I violently prevent you from otherwise attaining the land before me, perhaps by pushing you out of the way or putting you in a cage. Something is definitely wrong about what I did, and I think it prevents me from being considered the rightful owner of the land. But if all we have is ‘aggression’ for determining the legitimacy of my ownership, we’re back to a question of what aggression is in the very course of trying define it.

I doubt I’m the first to wonder about this. Have you heard of anyone take on this objection?

A personal note—after a brief exposure to libertarianism, which I dismissed out of hand with my main objection being “who would build the roads?” (really public goods in general), the first libertarian book I read was Privatization of Roads and Highways, of all things. I was immediately persuaded, of course, and after that it was a very short leap to the Mises Institute with their many great YouTube lectures and online texts. I think you do extremely fine work, and I hope we can meet in person next time.

Sam Hage

Dear Sam:
I don’t think it’s necessary that the intermediary also be a victim of the state. As far as I’m concerned, Ragnar might have come to earth fresh from Mars, where he spent his entire life, as in one of the Robert Heinlein novels.

Here are my publications regarding Ragnar:

Block, 1972, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009A, 2009B, 2010, 2011A, 2011B, 2011C, 2011D, 2016; Block and Arakaky, 2008, Block and Barnett, 2008, D’Amico and Block, 2007

Block, Walter E. 1972. “The Polish Ham Question.” The Libertarian Forum. June-July, Vol. 4, No. 6-7, p. 5;;;

Block, Walter E. 2002. “Accepting Government Subsidies,” Fraser Forum, February, p. 27;

Block, Walter E. 2004. “Radical Libertarianism: Applying Libertarian Principles to Dealing with the Unjust Government, Part I” Reason Papers, Vol. 27, Fall, pp. 117-133;

Block, Walter E. 2006. “Radical Libertarianism: Applying Libertarian Principles to Dealing with the Unjust Government, Part II” Reason Papers, Vol. 28, Spring, pp. 85-109;;;; (death penalty justified, net taxpayer, ruling class analysis p. 87)

Block, Walter E. 2007. “Ron Paul and Matching Funds,” October 1;

Block, Walter E. 2008. “Replies to readers” September 23; (libertarians hypocrites for using public school?)

Block, Walter E. 2009A. “Libertarian punishment theory: working for, and donating to, the state” Libertarian Papers, Vol. 1;

Block, Walter E. 2009B. “Toward a Libertarian Theory of Guilt and Punishment for the Crime of Statism” in Hulsmann, Jorg Guido and Stephan Kinsella, eds., Property, Freedom and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, pp. 137-148;

Block, Walter E. 2010. “You are a rotten kid (rent control and libertarianism),” February 27;

Block, Walter E. 2011A. “It’s Ayn Rand Bashing Time, Once Again.” February 18;
Block, Walter E. 2011B. “May a Libertarian Take Money From the Government?” March 11;;
Block, Walter E. 2011C. “Toward a Libertarian Theory of Guilt and Punishment for the Crime of Statism,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 22; pp. 665-675;

Block, Walter E. 2011D. “Hoppe, Kinsella and Rothbard II on Immigration: A Critique.” Journal of Libertarian Studies; Vol. 22, pp. 593–623;

Block, Walter E. 2016. “Is It Compatible With Libertarianism to be a Banker? Yes!” September 29;

Block, Walter E. and Chris Arakaky. 2008. “Taking Government Money for Grad School?” May 23;

Block, Walter E. and William Barnett II. 2008. “Continuums” Journal Etica e Politica / Ethics & Politics, Vol. 1, pp. 151-166 June;;

D’Amico, Dan and Walter E. Block. 2007. “A Legal and Economic Analysis of Graffiti” Humanomics Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 29-38;;;


4:40 pm on November 8, 2018