Monday, February 1, 2016

Walter Block Responds to My Charge That He is Not an Anarcho-Capitalist

Walter Block emails in response to my post, Has Walter Block Left the World of Anarcho-Capitalist Advocacy?

Dear Bob:

Please run this response to your criticism of me today.

Bob, you are correct. I have indeed given up on anarcho capitalism. I am now a minarchist. I see two legitimate roles for government. First, to force, compel, require, that everyone read Human Action and Man, Economy and State. Second, pass a law requiring all publishers, when they reprint a book, to maintain the same pagination as the older verions. I’m sick and tired of running seminars for these two books, and others too, and there are 3-4 versions of the book, each with a given statement on a different page. I favor HEAVY taxes in order to finance these two initiatives. Sorry, Murray Rothbard. I tried to be true to anarcho-capitalism, but these are seious two market failures that I can no longer abide.

On a more serious note, I don’t think that my views about warning signs are incompatible with AnCap. Surely, private defense agencies, courts, can make these rulings. Let’s consider a different example, very far removed from this case. I oppose the doctrine of ad coelum. This is the view that if you own an acre of land on the surface of the earth, you also own terrain, downward, to the center of the planet, in a decreasing cone shaped format (you also own the space in an increasing cone shaped format up to the heavens; this would play havoc with air travel, of course, but is irrelevant to my present point). I oppose this because I favor, instead, the doctrine of homesteading, and the person who owns an acre of land never homesteaded any territory miles, or tens of miles, or hundreds of miles beneath the surface. Now, consider slant drilling. This is the practice of drilling below your own land, and then making a detour under the land of your neighbor; that is, accessing what would be his property under the ad coelum doctrine. But, this is licit under homesteading since you were the first to drill below his property. But, how low do you have to go for this to be legitimate? In my understanding of libertarianism, the slant driller must go so low so as to not interfere with his neighbor’s property rights; he may not collapse his buildings, may not interfere with his crops, etc. So, how far down does the drilling have to be? This depends, to a great degree if not entirely, on the type terrain were are considering. If in Manhattan, which is perched on a solid rock, then the slant driller can come under his neighbor’s property pretty closely, since there is little danger of interference. However, if in New Orleans, which is perched on a swamp, either there will be no slant drilling allowed at all, or, the slant driller will have to place his drill very far beneath the earth.

When a friend of mine who really should know better heard this, he accused me of being a G man (a government man); a non anarchist. A minarchist. He was making the same error as you are Bob, in thinking that law is a total monopoly of the state. No, it is not. Law precedes government. The state continually violates libertarian law. But, how could this be if, as you and this friend of mine think,  the government is the source of law, and whenever anyone such as myself proposes a law (signage for attack dogs; requirements that slant drillers not interfere with neighbor’s property rights) he is accused of violating AnCap?

Best regards,


Walter E. Block, Ph.D.
Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics
Joseph A. Butt, S.J. College of Business                   
Loyola University New Orleans


  1. WB: He was making the same error as you are Bob, in thinking that law is a total monopoly of the state. No, it is not.

    Respectfully, it is. The only way to have universal uniformity of law is by the state. If not, justice becomes impossible for some maybe for most and the NAP is lost.

    WB: Law precedes government.

    I agree but law is not the problem... government is and the specific nature of the laws it enforces. If laws are consistent with libertarianism, how can a libertarian be opposed?

    WB: The state continually violates libertarian law.

    But there hasn't been a libertarian state. Engineering one is our project IMO. We have several thousand years of history to teach us how not to do it.

    WB: ...the government is the source of law,

    Disagree. The US Constitution was written and the US government followed... I imagine a state without government but a state with laws nonetheless.

    WB: and whenever anyone such as myself proposes a law ... he is accused of violating AnCap?

    Because you can't have your cake and eat it too. ;)

  2. No one has authority to make any laws in anarchism. I don't have to listen to you, or your agents.

  3. I believe the problem here lies with the use of the word "law". Without a government there would be societal norms or restraints on socially unacceptable behavior. And here, libertarian theory is only a part of what these norms would be. They would be different depending on your neighbors. Do you live among Mormons? Or maybe pot-smoking left libertarians? The norms will differ.Certainly, we would have the option of ignoring these norms, but we already have the option of ignoring government's laws, but we must expect repercussions, the nature of which would differ in a An-Cap society. Would it be expected of me to post warnings signs and put my attack dogs behind barbed wire? Perhaps. Most certainly, my neighbors would expect to be safe from an attack from my dogs. Would they put up their own fences, in effect, enclosing my home in barbed wire? Would they lure my dogs across my property line and shoot them down, well, like dogs? Apparently, if Dr. Block were my neighbor, he would suggest barbed wire and signs or else (and there need not be any aggression on his part to make me see the value of human cooperation.) Is this a "law" or the workings of free men deciding on how to handle a dispute?

  4. The roles of courts and defense agencies seems a bit more problematic. If I killed your child for stealing an apple, could you bring a case in front of a court to seek damages? If so, what would be the effect of its decision? Some might say that I was allowed to kill the child because he was on my property. But maybe there is another option. Perhaps my contract with my defense agency stipulates that they are freed from their obligation to defend me if a designated court delivers an opinion that my action was permissible but "unreasonable", thus either providing an incentive for me to follow certain practices or afterwards to suffer from the ire of my neighbors alone without aid.