[PDF / Epub] ★ Defending the Undefendable Author Walter Block – Saudionline.co.uk

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10 thoughts on “Defending the Undefendable

  1. says:

    In the first couple of sections, Sexual & Medical, he presents some good arguments in favor of less government interference & that's not surprising, given his Libertarian stance that he warns about in the introduction. His arguments are somewhat thin, but not too bad.

    I found that the third section on free speech lost some cohesiveness of argument. His arguments for not regulating blackmail, slander & libel were very thin. His comparisons against 'academic freedom' aren't particularly valid. He presupposes rationality & responsibility on the part of businesses that I don't believe exist, especially in his case for free speech against the yelling of, "Fire!" in a movie theater. This is an unfortunate habit of Libertarians.

    He puts up a fair defense for advertising & overall brings up some good points, but they lack the conviction & depth of his earlier arguments supporting sex & drugs. His arguments for unregulated cab drivers are OK, immediately followed by poor arguments supporting ticket scalping. Over & over he does this. He makes valid points & then weak ones usually due to faulty premises, not the logic inherent to his argument until he gets to 'The Dishonest Cop' & here his logic & premises fall apart.

    He takes his theories over the top into absurdity in his discussions about counterfeiting money, saying that only gold & silver are real money, again showing his premises are incorrect. He forgets (or ignores) that currency is a consensus of worth. Precious metals, jewels & even seashells were historically used because they were not counterfeitable, fairly rare & ornamental. They had no use in industry, yet everyone wanted them & agreed on their worth. The current global consensus is not to base money on any specific goods since there isn't enough of anything that would make sense & their value would affect significant industries. He shows that he understands debasement, inflation & other ills that can befall a currency, yet makes specious arguments for allowing counterfeiting on the grounds that the government already does it. Silly.

    The book gets worse, if possible, after this in sections V, VI & VII, Finaces, Business & Ecology, respectively. Several categories don't need any defense; inheritors & speculators. Others, profiteers, stripminers & litterers, are improperly defined, poorly defended & a waste of time to read. He goes out of his way to make completely improper comparisons in his rant against the establishment & its departure from his Libertarian values.

    He gets somewhat back on track with section VIII, Labor, & his discussion on the minimum wage law, but fails to take into account the growth of technology, which undermines one of his major arguments. That's the pattern - make a somewhat convincing argument & then blow it through neglect or diatribe.

    He follows this near success with the most specious & horrible arguments for child labor. I guess he doesn't read much history, as he actually writes, "Moreover, the institution of child labor is an honorable one, with a long and glorious history of good works." Abortion wasn't legal when this book was written, so one of his main arguments against parental responsibility is void.

    Basically, the book was a waste of time. If it teaches anything, it's to watch what you spend time reading.

  2. says:

    I'm familiar with Walter Block from Mises Institute-sponsored lectures on their YouTube channel. I like him and agree with many of his arguments, which makes negatively reviewing this book something of an unpleasant chore.

    For starters, the tone of this book reinforces every libertarian stereotype out there: brash, pedantically argumentative, overly-theoretical, and absolutist. Personally, I like these traits in people, but they are wholly counter-productive in the kind of "apology" literature that this book purports to be. Even when you agree with Block, he makes you want to argue the minutiae with him.

    Second, he conflates a pragmatic legal argument with a moral argument. There is no need to define pimps, drug pushers, etc. as "heroes" to defend the legality of these actions and in fact attempting this alienates folks who agree on pragmatic grounds.

    If Block insists on making the pedantic, semantically-narrow "moral hero" case, he should have done it at the end of the book in a dedicated chapter after he had done his best with the pragmatic approach. Ideally, he would have done so in an entirely separate book.

    Third, he is overly reliant on deductive, a priori reasoning, occasionally making unsubstantiated assertions that he could easily back up with facts and figures but doesn't bother.

    Fourth, some of his arguments are just plain idiotic. I offer up the chapter defending litterbugs as exemplary. Block makes compelling arguments too, but his strongest ones can be found in other books that are not as incendiary and are therefore more likely to convince, like Economics in One Lesson.

    Finally, the tone and word choice in some cases sounds vaguely racist to modern ears, despite the fact that he's trying to make pro-minority arguments at the time. I'm willing to chalk this up to the fact that the book was originally written in 1976.

    Regrettably, I can only recommend this book to Block's ideological cohorts because he fails to frame his argument in a way that will actually convince people who are not already likely to agree.

  3. says:

    I liked the book in its entirety for making clear arguments that fly in the face of many dogmatic popular stances on controversial topics such as drugs, prostitution, profit making, rate busting, child labor, litter, slander,..

    When libertarian ideas taken to their logical conclusions, these fields in human conduct should be inquired upon, and Block does a great job doing this.

    One point of disagreement I have, is his stance towards children and parenting. In the last chapter of the book he says that parents have no positive obligations towards their children. He uses the example of involuntary conception of a child, in the case of rape, and that in such a case a parent has no positive moral obligation. This makes sense, but only in the case of rape (involuntary conception). I would argue, and most people would, that in the case of voluntary conception (the overwhelming majority of conceptions), the parents do have POSITIVE obligations to provide their children with the tools and environment that will prepare them for a productive and happy future. So this is a great downer for me, other than that, the book is great.

  4. says:

    While undoubtedly the author is very smart I'm afraid he defends for the sake of defending, as opposed to being fair and trying to get to the bottom of truths. His effort and verbal skills are still appreciated but while they do have some good points I saw also some slight of hand type things.

  5. says:

    In Defending the Undefendable, Walter Block takes on the laudable task of defending libertarianism from moral panic and sentimentalism. Arguments like: Without the state, who will kick prostitutes off the streets? What about loan sharks or evil landlords? That kind of thing. Blocks counter-argumentation in this book, as per the title, is to show the good sides of things like loan sharking and blackmail. Sometimes, he's very compelling, as when he says that the reason why loan sharks demand such high interest rates is because they give loans to high-risk clients. Always, his perspectives are at least worth taking in, whether you ultimately find them convincing or not. The very least he does is stop people in their tracks who want to condemn business practices on a moral whim.

    That said, I don't always find him convincing, and I don't agree with all his conclusions. His argument for blackmail, namely that it is better than gossipping in that it gives the prospective victim the choice to prevent the embarassing truth from spreading, does not hold if you look at the finality of both actions. Say you blackmail someone with the fact of him having a homosexual affair. What this usually demonstrates is that you are willing to harm a homosexual with outing him, but that you don't believe homosexuals ought to be outed. There is a clear normative contradiction in this, and actions that you cannot take without entering a normative contradiction cannot be morally right. Whether these should be prohibited is another question, but at the very least it means libertarians should portray them as an evil to be tolerated, not a morally positive action.

    It is the same with prostitution, drug dealing, and other such evils. People are repulsed by them for a reason. That we cannot prohibit these things effectively does not mean we should defend them. I think most libertarians these days know this. Conceeding that libertarianism won't solve every ill there is in society will make it less attractive if you're in the habit of comparing political blueprints, but not when you have grown to accept the facts that people are imperfect, that the world is imperfect, and that we have no other choice but to tolerate this state of affairs. Knowing that I won't be forced to subsidize or engage in immorality is enough to make libertarianism attractive to me.

    This book, then, is definitely worth picking up, but it should neither be your first nor your last step on your libertarian journey.

  6. says:

    Now, this is an amazing book. Let's be clear about the full title: "Defending the Undefendable: The pimp, prostitute, scab, slumlord, libeler, moneylender and other scapegoats in the rogue's gallery of American society." Walter Block gives very compelling (potentially world-view challenging) arguments for the legalization of everything a social conservative and bleeding-heart liberal would faint over. He does so by devoting a chapter to each "villain" of modern-day society, such as the "drug lord" and the "extortionist." This book is certainly not a Ron-Paul-libertarianism-for-the-masses book. Nor, is it for the intellectually challenged. The arguments are deep, compelling, and gives a rebuttal to almost every commonly-held view against his points.

  7. says:

    Sometimes this is a book defending certain norms (e.g., property rights) and other times this is a book defending certain unsavory people (e.g., the pimp), but always this is a book defending liberty, not libertinism.

    Some of the characters in this book are people that do some pretty immoral things (like the aforementioned pimp) and other characters are people who are just completely misunderstood (the lender). With regard to the latter, Block is simply shedding light on the necessary function that these people serve in a civilized society. In the case of the former, Block is simply trying to make the case that these people both do not of necessity create victims (pimps often beat their workers - creating a victim, but that's not a natural concomitant, like, in the case of a professional hitman who murders, but is mostly the result of prostitution being a black market service) and in some sense do some good (pimps acts as brokers) or you might say lessen the bad that already exists.

    This book is not an endorsement of immoral lifestyles. I think, more than anything, it's an attempt to show some contrast between a stateless society and the one we live in - where we try to legislate morality, and in doing so, tend to worsen problems.

  8. says:

    These are the party-line libertarian arguments against banning various kinds of "bad" activities; basically arguing that anything which isn't a violation of the non-aggression principle and property rights shouldn't be prohibited by government. The problem is that it doesn't argue that these bad things are "good", only that banning them is "bad", and a lot of people don't accept this argument.

    To many people, government banning "bad" things is desirable. To a smaller number of people, it's still ok to ban things which are "bad" when the harms of banning those bad things are less than the harms of those things. Other people think anything which isn't illegal is endorsed or good, and thus the legal system needs to ban a lot of things.

    I tend to agree with the AnCap viewpoint of a government protecting only property rights, and then other systems (private law, etc.) protecting other values, allowing people to choose which other restrictions and enforcement mechanisms they want. This book makes a reasonable argument against government regulations, but probably won't be particularly convincing to most people who believe the role of government is to do more than protect property.

  9. says:

    This book was so bad, it inspired me to institute a new way of taking notes so that I could collect the material that I knew I was going to post on this 1-star review.

    Blocks 2 biggest enemies are evidence-based theory and probabilistics.

    Let me start off my saying that I'm heavily biased against libertarians and libertarian viewpoints. I have many objections to it on the basis both of theoretical flaws, observation of common deficiencies among its adherents and fault with it's its distribution means. With that said,I will strive to keep my review grounded in evidence and reason in the hopes of preventing future readers from wasting their time ans hopefully inspiring someone to abandon that train of thought altogether.

    General issues: First among the problems with the arguments presented is the fact that block does not explicitly state (or ever support) many of his core assumptions. He openly defines terms as he sees fit and outside of the normal scope of usage, without attributing to any other body of work that would reasonably support them. In that, he does a thoroughly insufficient job of keeping Agrippa's trilemma at bay.

    Second, as someone familiar with the their, evidence and nuanced positions of several subjects broached, Block shows up as highly versed in rhetorical logic, peppered throughout either with an elementary grasp of the subject described or with the minimum amount of research he felt comfortable doing (even if that was less than requisite). Just as a starter, there is absolutely no reason to accept any of his arguments that are compromised by the fundamental attribution error.

    Third, and most important, from the outset this books seeks to "defend the undefendable" but also explicitly sells this defense as narrowly consisting of the consideration of violence as defined by libertarianism. Oh, how I wish the person who uploaded the audiobook had not bungled the file order such that I learned of this only after I had made my way through this entire nightmare of quasi-logical navel-gazing. The very reasons that make these professions and activities undefendable is explicitly exempted by the introduction, reducing this entire text to pointless intellectual masturbation with no applicability in real world environments or to human beings aware of such novel gifts as basic empathy.

    I will not address this book holistically. I will not engage this text in a carefully arranged critical framework. I will not construct fully elucidated formal logical arguments. This book, and author, has gotten quite enough of my time and my heuristics in dealing with people, in general, indicate that such an effortful attack of the book would no better inform a scientifically-minded reader, nor would it dissuade a rationalist from taking to this as pigs take to slop. Rather, I will point out all the problems I encountered with the text, exactly as I recorded them in evernote at the time of reading, absent context or further justification and that will be my sole contribution to the gestalt opinion on this, aside from my 1-star review given in lieu of the ability to give negative star ratings.

    Here is my non-exhaustive list of faults with this text:

    Says people charge what the market will bear when talking about slum lords but accuses community leaders of raising prices at ghetto stores by stressing the owners. Those positions are logically incompatible.

    Implies that theft has higher incidence in the ghetto than rich areas.

    Never once takes into account choices constrained by literal life or death conditions. Book predates behavioral economics, so the treatment of people as rational econs is just barely forgivable.

    Believes that competitive forces are the highest arbiter of the survival of a behavior or interaction scheme. Systems thinking wasn't a field when he wrote this. Just barely forgivable.

    Says that the government intervening in the economy is marked by inefficiency, venality and corruption. Apparently doesn't remember that he earlier argued that regulatory capture (government corruption ) happens as a result of interference by companies.

    Using survival of the fittest analogy doesn't seem to fit models like Comcast who deliver a terrible product because they've mobilized governmental and market forces to remove potential competition. That's the thing about capitalism. Every round win successively leads to future wins by way of increase of probability of victory, regardless of current ability to "satisfy consumers". Game theory wasn't well developed when this book was written either. Letting it pass, barely.

    Treats thought experiments and anecdotes as evidence and baselines or mode. No sense of the probable distribution of his scenarios in the actual population.

    Strawmans arguments in order to reductio ad absurdum them.

    Claims trade makes us different from animals because it, and it alone makes specialization and division of labor possible. Forgets both that insects exist and that slavery also made those things possible. Or is cotton picking not specialization now? Or rather, does Mr. Block think the overseers and masters were sharing in that labor?

    Claims that people would not even be able to feed themselves if specialization and trade didn't occur. Forgets that agrarian societies often had families growing food for themselves.

    Argues for free trade between adults or nations. Says that one party can always just not consent to the party. Doesn't seem to realize that one citizen not consenting won't stop an international trade deal. Doesn't recall that the government he's trashing in this section is elected by, and responsive to, the voting public.

    Calls fiat currency counterfeit. Doesn't realize tokens fur trade are one of our most resilient innovations and have persisted from long before metal coins were ever struck. We know there were clay tokens in the fertile crescent. Representative currency has been moderately ubiquitous throughout our history.

    Middleman argument was debunked irl by services like Amazon which cut out distributors and brick and mortar stores by providing a link to the company (or individual creating the product). The self publishing market has been flourishing as a result of this exact process. Again , using edge cases to validate arguments which falter in practice.

    Distributed liability for damages caused is a good idea and is agreeable but is unenforceable. Re: housing crash.

    Discusses rational criteria but does not fully support the rationality involved.

    Fails to distinguish between evolutionary structures governing parasites (like companies) and those governing macro life forms. Competition can lead to best case results for the host in the case of parasitic species, or it can lead to death. A substantial portion of his arguments suffer from this analogical flaw.

    Compelling argument for employing market progresses in government projects. Unfair accusation that governments don't have to satisfy customers. That is precisely how revolutions occur.

    Ignores energy costs of transgression.

    Frequently abstracts arguments to the point of paradox or absurdity, failing to take a systems view.

    Doesn't account for all relevant variables. For example, doesn't account for brand loyalty or monopolizing.

    Assumes new energy sources will replace current ones before depletion based on prior occurrences of same. Assumes linear, uniform, or infinite development in this area. Assumes linear or uniform depletion.

    Says all energy comes from the sun. Ignores nuclear energy. Forecasts we'll move to other suns for energy. Forgets about the heat death of the universe.

    Apparently fails to realize that renewable energy makes more economical sense of our resource usage.

    Vigorous, turgid defense of not having a minimum wage. Forgets company scrip existed. Doesn't believe in inflation perhaps.

    Young black on street corner? Yep, Mr. Block definitely read Sowell.

    Minimum wage laws don't prevent internships. They are exactly the 'horatio alger' scenario given.

    Talks about minimum wage laws making disabled people unemployable. First, assumes disabled people are, by default, less productive at all jobs than non disabled people. Second, ignores the fact that many disabled people currently work legally for less than the minimum wage.

    Pretends that unions don't have members at the current minimum wage and aren't obligated to argue on their behaves. Meanwhile, I'm a member of one such union and have worked in one such situation in the last 5 years. Again, evidence doesn't support his hypothetical arguments. Oh, also, I'm black, given his knack for foisting race struggles off as arguments against class struggle.

    Uses flimsy semantic attacks to discredit the idea of ownership over a job. Forgets that modern agreements between companies and individuals are ubiquitously enforced by contracts. Goes on to argue that contracts don't constitute that. Was literally just talking about unions. In what economic universe does Mr. Block live where guarantees aren't built into union contracts which are negotiated and agreed to by the company or its representatives?

    Frequently leans on the slave analogy while giving full throated defenses, explicitly and implicitly, to the market forces that created and sustained it. Doesn't seem familiar with psychological biases at all, including distortions created by power differentials or money.

    Says that scabs initiating violence is a separate issue. This is the sort of meaningless parsing of observable phenomena into abstract pseudo-independence that cripples many of these arguments. It's this same sort of senseless parsing that gives us the paradox of the race when, in observable reality, you can really just run a race without having to infinitely subdivide its segments.

    Tries to repudiate lump of labor fallacy by stating there is more work to be done. That is neither the operative issue in the specific case given, nor does it take into account what people are willing to pay for. In no way proves that there is any causal certainty in support of his position.

    Refuses to acknowledge that child cognitive development factors into fairness of agreement to trade. Violates own assumptions from rest of book in the attempt. We know, not speculate, what abilities and cognitive faculties develop and in what phases. I'm unsure on whether Block is only ignorant of the facts or wholly disregards sciences more predictive than his own.

    Paremts have no obligation to care for their children. I'm glad it took 200k years of anatomical modernity for someone to come to that conclusion. Our species probably would be extinct by now had this navel-gazing paradox-obsessed lunacy propagated early in our societal development.

    Violates own principles in stating that a parent cannot merely abandon a child. It is not an act of aggression. Using his own reasoning, a non-act cannot, by definition, be construed as an act. So, if it's not aggression, and it involves free choice, he ought to have nothing else to say on the subject.

    Unless you're the sort that gets your rocks off on contrarian smack talking, don't waste your time on this nonsense. If you've ever seen someone troll about matters of importance, you've almost certainly seen some variation on almost every single argument here. Further, his defenses are all based on monetary exchange (despite tackling issues which are undefendable for MORAL reasons). If it makes money and people can "choose" to engage in it, he's for it. More useless tripe from the library of Babel.

  10. says:

    This book explains exactly why I can't just dive into the deep end of libertarian ideology. It is only a materialistic theory it can't account for anything beyond economics (and it is the best economic theory out there). It is libertarianism's ideological consistency that makes it so appealing, but also so disconcerting to most moderates.
    Yes, it is true that prostitution is a transaction between consenting adults, but are there not other consequences besides economic outcomes?
    Maybe, just maybe, a doctor could be a great doctor and a heroin addict, but I don't want to take that risk. I think it's fine to differentiate between legalizing marijuana and legalizing heroin. They are different substances. But if you are a hard core libertarian, there is no difference.
    My favorite quote came from the nonsensical chapter defending child labor only because it does point out how misguided absolute trust in the government really is:
    "It does not follow, however, that the welfare of children will be raised by placing them in the hands of the state apparatus. The state, too, makes unwise, and even unhealthy decisions concerning
    children, and a child can much more easily leave his parent than leave his government, which rules us all."

    This was worth reading to gain an understanding of many different aspects of libertarianism. Most of the arguments are logical enough, I just don't know if I could stomach their implementation into regular society...

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