Not So Funny Thing Happened to Me in Tampa
by Walter Block: Ralph
Raico Is Mr. Classical Liberal
I had an interesting
experience in Tampa in late August, 2012. For the first time in
my long life as a public speaker, I was subjected to vigorous booing
and hissing – at a libertarian gathering. This often happens to
me with expectedly hostile audiences, but never on the part of an
explicitly libertarian one. And not only was I booed. A minority
of the audience – I estimate it at 5 -10% although I could be far
wrong on this – actually attempted to silence me by shouting me
What is the
background of this unsettling experience? I spoke to three different
audiences in Tampa right before the GOP presidential nominating
convention took place. The first
and the third were fine, in the sense that this booing and hissing
did not occur, but the second
was a bit of a horror story.
First, on Saturday
August 24, 2012, I spoke at the Ron
Paul Festival. There was a large audience there, perhaps 3,000
people. I lectured on abortion, pro life, pro choice, and my own
view, evictionism (on which I have a long paper trail). I said that
I was personally pro life; that I regarded the fertilized egg as
the beginning of human life; and that I was appalled and horrified
by the fact that so many members of our species were currently being
murdered. However, I proposed not the pro life position, and certainly
not the pro choice perspective, but rather a third alternative,
philosophically very different from either of those two: evictionism.
I did so, one, because I think it is the only position logically
consistent with libertarianism, and two, on pragmatic grounds: it
would immediately save the lives of (very small) human beings, and
more and more of them as time went on and medical technology improved.
What is evictionism?
It is the theory that a pregnant woman has the right to evict from
her body the unwanted fetus, but not to murder it. In contrast,
the pro life position claim she may not do either, and the pro choice
perspective allows her to do both. In the first six months of gestation,
this does not matter much for the fate of the infant; if evicted;
i.e., taken out of the womb, he will die even if he is not put to
death. But it is very important in the last trimester; were
eviction, only, the law of the land it would mean life for these
young human beings while abortion (eviction plus killing) spells
death. And, as medical technology improves, more and more such lives
will be saved. For example, perhaps in 10 years from now, doctors
will be able to preserve the lives of all fetuses removed from the
womb in the last four months of pregnancy, and then, maybe, by 2030,
they will be able to save all those in the last five months of gestation.
Eventually, if evictionism is adopted, all lives can be saved.
Whereas, if we pro lifers (I consider evictionism to be pro life
in the most profound sense) stick to the losing strategy of pro
life, even when medical technology improves to that degree, perhaps
in 100 years, we will still be stuck with the mass murder of infant
This is neither
the time nor the place to deal with the entire argument, including
refutations to objections to this theory. As I say, I have a long
paper trail on this subject, which can be found here,
For some thoughtful critiques of my view, see here,
My rejoinders to these critics appear here,
In this present essay, I give only the barest background, so as
to better relate my experiences in Tampa.
I was politely
applauded by the attendees at the Paul Festival. Many came over
to me afterward to congratulate me on my talk, asked to have their
picture taken with me, wanted to have me sign their copies of my
books, etc. This was par for the course at a libertarian gathering.
But, ominously, although I didn’t appreciate this at the time, numerous
people also remarked on my "courage" in giving this lecture.
"Courage" I asked myself? What could this possibly mean?
This was far from the first time I had given this presentation,
and the reaction at all libertarian events was always the same:
support, applause, some disagreement, polite criticism, etc.
I gave the
same talk at the official Ron Paul rally, "We
are the future" the next day, Sunday, August 26. This was
to a much larger audience, approximately 11,000 people. My speech
might not have been identical to the one I gave the day before,
since I don’t read my presentations, but rather speak extemporaneously
from notes. But I used the same notes this time as well, so the
talk couldn’t have been too different from the one before. And here,
much to my amazement, there were those, presumably libertarians
(who else would attend a rally for Ron Paul?) who attempted to drown
me out with booing, screaming, cat-calls, etc. These people may
have comprised only 5-10% of the attendees, but they were very vocal.
Let me now
say a few words to these people.
I am not sure
that my theory of evictionism is correct. There may well be flaws
in it. But if different libertarian viewpoints are prevented from
even being heard or discussed at a libertarian convention, your
seeming goal, our precious philosophy will never progress. It will
forever remain exactly as it is, today. But are we that certain
that what we now have is perfect? Can we be so sure that there is
no room whatsoever for any progress and refinement, at all? In my
own view, nothing, nothing at all that humans have ever created
is perfect. There is room for improvement in everything we do, or
attempt to do. Although I am a stalwart libertarian and have been
for many years (since 1963, as it happens, almost 50 years ago),
I am utterly convinced that we need to do better, not only in spreading
the word, but in improving it too. No, the freedom philosophy is
far too important and precious to be preserved, exactly as it is
now, forevermore. If we are to truly bring justice to the world,
we must be open to allowing our views to be improved. How else can
this be done but to allow other libertarian voices to be heard?
And, with regard to the issue of abortion, not only is the general
populace greatly divided on this issue, but so is our libertarian
community. For example, no less of a libertarian than Ron Paul is
pro life, while Murray Rothbard ("Mr. Libertarian") was
pro choice. This, too, is the position of Gary Johnson, presidential
candidate for the Libertarian Party. If we cannot so much as in
a civil manner discuss this controversy, how can we ever possibly
reconcile our community? How can we achieve greater understanding
of it? You people acted disgracefully on that one occasion. But
you are not a disgrace, period. Rather, as supporters of Ron Paul,
as avid supporters of his, you are potentially among those who are
our last best hope for a civilized order. So, please rethink your
outrageous behavior, and resolve to help those of us who sincerely
want to promote liberty, even if we are upon occasion mistaken,
as is possible in this case. But the way to demonstrate this is
not by attempting to silence fellow libertarians. Rather, it is
to refute their arguments.
The way, the
only way, to ensure that we have a living, breathing, progressing
philosophical perspective is not to attempt to prohibit, by yelling
and screaming, any attempt to derive a different libertarian position
on this vexing issue. Rather, it is to allow all viewpoints to be
heard, discussed, argued over, in a civil manner. What you people
did was barbarous. It was an embarrassment to our libertarian community.
The notion that an idea based on the libertarian premises of non
aggression and private property rights is beyond discussion is abhorrent
to our philosophy. If even we are not open to different ideas, what
hope is there for humanity? The only way to get that proverbial
one millionth of an inch closer to the Truth is through a vigorous
competition of ideas. Only in that way can we possibly succeed in
turning the world in our direction of individual liberty, justice,
and peace. Although I am not a big fan of John Stuart Mill, I highly
recommend you people read his On
Liberty. And then read it again, if you are ever once more tempted
to repeat your disgraceful outbursts.
The third talk
I gave took place on Monday, August 27. It was an address to the
Minnesota delegation to the GOP convention. (This was one of the
very few delegations to the Republican presidential convention that
was not unfairly stripped of its libertarian members.) You’ll never
guess who introduced me, along with enthusiastic encomiums to one
Ludwig von Mises. Yes, ‘twas Michele Bachman. This was a weird experience
I spoke there
about Ron Paul running in 2016, when he will be a young man of 80.
I claimed that our mottos, sayings, cheers, have a real important
meaning behind them. For example, "Bring the troops home,"
"End the Fed," "Legalize liberty," "Down
with the IRS" and a few more. They may be bumper stickers,
but they convey a wealth of important information. I even introduced
a new one: "Ron Paul, 16." I spent a lot of time on the
negative aspects of the minimum wage law, unions, coercive egalitarianism
and the welfare state, since I was asked to speak on economic issues.
This largely libertarian audience was attentive, polite, supportive
– back to normalcy after my "Twilight Zone" experience
of the previous day. The first two days I was given only 15 minutes
for my talks. Here, I spoke for over an hour, with about a half
an hour for dialogue, questions, etc.
discussion period after my formal comments although there were some
queries about the topics I had addressed, most of them concerned,
you’ll never guess, yes, evictionism. I offered a short summary
of my position. This was followed by some half dozen objections
to my thesis, some of them highly critical, but all of them considerate
and polite; there was not the slightest attempt to censor my views.
In the aftermath
of these three presentations of mine came two more highly critical
comments on my lecture at the official Ron Paul gathering on Sunday.
One came from a highly ranked spokeswoman in the Ron Paul camp.
I will not mention her name, so as to save her from embarrassment.
She accused me of, in effect, contract violation. She said that
I was told, and agreed to, speak about monetary policy, the gold
standard, etc. How dare I betray their trust by talking about something
entirely different, a topic, moreover, that infuriated a lot of
Ron Paul supporters? She claimed that another highly placed member
of the Ron Paul community had made this obligation of mine very
clear to me (these are paraphrases of what she said to me, based
on my recollection of this very disturbing conversation). The worst
thing she said to me was that Ron Paul was upset with me.
My reply to
her was that neither was I told nor did I agree to any such thing.
That had I been asked to speak about monetary issues, or any other
topic within my competence, I would have enthusiastically agreed
to do so, and would have stuck to my promise. I take pride in living
up to my agreements. In the last 50 years, I must have given thousands
of public speeches. There must be therefore thousands of hosts who
will attest that I never, ever, not even once, agreed to speak on
a given topic and then without permission lectured on something
else entirely. I certainly would have complied with any promise
as to topic with the Ron Paul people, or with anyone else. But the
only discussion I had with anyone as to the subject of my presentation
was with Ron Paul himself. And the only thing he asked me to do
in our two telephone conversations was to "stick to ideas,"
"do something substantive" (again, this is a paraphrase
of our conversation, to the best of my recollection). Ron told me
that he wanted me not to speak about present day politics and political
realities, which were ephemeral, but to emphasize ideas, since they
would have a shelf life way into the future. Neither Dr. Paul, nor
anyone else, had so much as mentioned "monetary policy"
or any other specific topic. I tried to convey all this to that
woman, but she walked off in a huff, very angry with me.
I am happy
that I was somewhat of a gadfly at these three events. I think that
libertarians need to apply our theory to difficult issues. Indeed,
I have spent practically my entire professional life doing exactly
that. But I am horrified, mortified, embarrassed, humiliated, at
the possibility that I might have brought even the slighted disquiet
to Ron Paul. I revere this man. I love him. He is one of my mentors.
He is one of my guides. With the passing of Murray N. Rothbard,
there is no one in the libertarian movement I look up to more than
him. I would never in a million years purposefully do anything that
would disappoint him. I honestly thought, I fervently believed,
that Dr. Paul would be proud of me for attempting to apply libertarian
property rights theory to this morally and intellectually challenging
issue of abortion.
Let me conclude
by responding to one last criticism of my behavior in Tampa.
In this view,
it is entirely acceptable to articulate my theory on such a subject,
but not at a gathering the purpose of which was to honor Ron Paul.
I look upon an invitation to speak at such an event as a great honor.
To me, it would be equivalent to being asked to contribute to a
Festschrift to honor a great man. What would I want to publish in
a Festschrift to celebrate the career of Ron Paul? Obviously, it
would have to address an issue of common interest. Unless I was
told otherwise, if I had my ‘druthers I would choose something that
I consider the very best of my output. I am sometimes asked what
I consider the most significant of my contributions. I would list
my book Defending the Undefendable, my work on blackmail, my publications
(virtually all of them co authored with Bill Barnett) on Austrian
economics, and my efforts to promote the privatization of highways.
But above them all I am very proud of my work on evictionism. I
have been writing about this subject since 1977, all to no avail.
Virtually, no one has heard about this. I think that in some small
way these efforts of mine can contribute to the saving of the lives
of helpless infants. That is what I would offer for a Festschrift,
and that is what I chose to address in Tampa to honor Ron Paul,
since I thought this choice was entirely up to me.
Well, I learned
one lesson from my experiences in Tampa. Be clear, be very clear,
be very, very, very clear with my hosts in all future public lectures,
as to the topic(s) to be addressed.
Block [send him mail] is a
professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans, and a senior
fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of Defending
the Undefendable, The
Case for Discrimination, Labor
Economics From A Free Market Perspective, Building
Blocks for Liberty, Differing
Worldviews in Higher Education, and The
Privatization of Roads and Highways. His latest book is Ron
Paul for President in 2012: Yes to Ron Paul and Liberty.
© 2012 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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