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Don’t Win the Debate by Losing Your Opponent: Walter Block on Debating

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online Archives by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 14 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

In a recent post at the LewRockwell.com blog, the great libertarian writer Walter Block — a superb defender Walter Blockof libertarian ideas both in print and in live debates — shares his views on debating:

“My goal, in debating, is, along with my opponent, to get that proverbial one millionth of an inch closer to the Truth. I know this sounds a bit mawkish, and in the heat of the event — I’m only human — I sometimes forget myself, but, at least, this is my goal. In order to do this, I find, it is good to be polite. Not try to hog the podium, not interrupt my debating partner, not engage in ad hominems, etc.

“There are two arguments in favor of this. If we Austro-libertarians approach debates in this manner, we are perhaps more likely to win over our opponents. And if not them, then, perhaps, members of the audience.

“Second, it is always easier to escalate than de-escalate. It is very difficult to start off in a hostile impolite manner and later change our tune than to begin on the note I advocate and then if it is not reciprocated, escalate the hostilities.”

Great advice, Dr. Block! Dale Carnegie made a similar argument in his classic How To Win Friends and Influence People:

“Why prove to a man he is wrong? Is that going to make him like you? Why not let him save face? He didn’t ask for your opinion. He didn’t want it. Why argue with him? You can’t win an argument, because if you lose, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior, you hurt his pride, insult his intelligence, his judgment, and his self-respect, and he’ll resent your triumph. That will make him strike back, but it will never make him want to change his mind. A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

I’m also reminded of this hilarious remark from libertarian humorist Dave Barry (hopefully he’s joking!): “I argue very well. Ask any of my remaining friends. I can win an argument on any topic, against any opponent. People know this, and steer clear of me at parties. Often — as a sign of their great respect — they don’t even invite me.” Ouch!

Block’s own story of how he became a libertarian is a great illustration of the importance of polite debate linked with a genuine desire to discover truth. He tells it in “How I Became a Libertarian.“ I highly recommend it. Here’s a quick summary.

Block was raised in a liberal household, and never had his leftist views seriously challenged — until 1963, when he was a senior at Brooklyn College and Ayn Rand came to give a lecture.

Says Block: “I attended, along with about 3,000 of my fellow mainly leftish students, in order to boo and hiss her, since she was evil incarnate. Afterward, the president of the group that had invited her to campus announced there was to be a luncheon in her honor, and anyone was welcome to take part, whether or not they agreed with her ideas. Not having had enough booing and hissing at Ayn in her formal lecture, I decided to avail myself of this opportunity to further express my displeasure with her and her views.”

The young Block boldly walked up to Rand and Nathanial Brandon “and announced that there was a socialist here who wanted to debate someone on economic issues pertaining to capitalism. (I was a bit of a chutzpanick in those days.) They politely asked, Who was this socialist, and I replied that it was me.

“Nathan very graciously offered to come to the other end of the table with me for this purpose, but he imposed two preconditions: first, I would be honor bound not to allow this conversation to lapse with this one meeting, but would continue with it until we had achieved a resolution: either he would convince me of the error of my ways, or I would convince him of his.

“Second, I would read two books he would later recommend to me (Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt). I agreed, and we spoke for an hour or so upon that occasion, followed up four or five times more for a similar duration at his apartment, where some of the other Randians took part, including Ayn, Leonard Piekoff, Barbara Branden and Alan Greenspan.

“At the end of this process I was converted to libertarianism.”

Block’s intellectual progress continued via spirited — but polite — debate and discussion with some leading libertarian intellectuals, most notably Murray Rothbard. (Again, you should read the whole story.)

Block’s story shows the importance — and the great pleasure — of friendly, spirited, and polite debate and discourse. Just imagine if Nathanial Brandon, instead of responding politely and helpfully, had simply dismissed Block or called him names. Would the liberty movement have lost the cocky young socialist — who went on to change his mind and become one of our finest writers and thinkers? (I shudder to think of the libertarian movement without the contributions of Walter Block!)

If you aren’t familiar with his work, Block is most famous for his groundbreaking classic Defending the Undefendable. Other books include The Privatization of Roads and Highways, Yes to Ron Paul and Liberty, Labor Economics from a Free Market Perspective, Building Blocks for Liberty, and Toward a Libertarian Society. Add to that countless essays and articles.

And here’s the best news of all: you can download them for FREE from the Mises Institute, along with a treasury of hundreds of other liberty classics. Take advantage of this wonderful gift from the Mises Institute and fill your e-reader with some of the world’s greatest libertarian writing — again, for free.

Go back to the full issue here.

Is Spanking Your Child a Form of Aggression?

in Children's Rights, Liberator Online Archives, Libertarian Answers on Issues, Marriage and Family by Mary Ruwart Comments are off

(From the Ask Dr. Ruwart section in Volume 19, No. 13 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

QUESTION: It seems to me that spanking your child is a form of aggression. Would libertarians agree?

SpankingMY SHORT ANSWER: Many do, but some do not. I personally see spanking as an utter last resort, only suitable for situations where the child might otherwise be greatly harmed or do great harm to another. For example, with a child who keeps running out in traffic, despite taking away TV privileges or using other deterrents, physical censure might save his or her life. Most of the time, though, a parent has better options; for example, keeping a child inside until he or she recognizes the dangers of traffic.

When we spank or beat a child, we are teaching that might makes right. We are also teaching that hurting someone smaller and weaker can be a “loving” gesture. Surely, as parents, we should be able to come up with a better teaching tool almost all of the time. Some psychologists — rightly, I believe — fear that any kind of physical punishment can create grave problems later (see for example, http://alice-miller.com/video.php). Punishing a child with verbal abuse creates problems too.

Libertarians believe in making victims whole, not punishing the aggressor. If children hit a sibling, a better method of correction might be having the offender do something special for the one who was struck. Responsibility and discipline are important lessons for children to have, but it’s best to teach them as gently as possible. A correction with an overlay of aggression, belittling, or hostility, will eventually come back to haunt, not only the child, but those with whom he or she interacts.

SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING ON THIS TOPIC by Liberator Online editor James W. Harris:

* “Does Spanking Violate the Non-Aggression Principle?“ by Stefan Molyneux. Molyneux goes into lengthy analysis of this question in a thoughtful and provocative article worth reading no matter what your position.

EXCERPT: “It is only within the last few decades that serious moral and scientific objections to spanking have spread within society, and patience and persistence is the key to convincing others of this essential and actionable moral reality.

“That having been said, however, now that you have read this essay, you need to refute these arguments and disprove the science, or stop spanking. If you lacked knowledge and clarity before, you deserve sympathy. If you cannot refute these arguments, and continue to spank, you have no excuse anymore.”

* “The Natural Rights of Children“ by Walter E. Block, Ed Smith, and Jordan Reel.

Libertarian theorist Block and his co-authors explore this topic: “What does libertarian theory, Murray Rothbard’s theory in particular, tell us about the rights of children? The two foundational principles of Rothbardian libertarianism are the sanctity of private property and the rule of non-aggression. Persons, including children, are ‘self-owners’. Yet children, at a young age, are not yet capable of functioning fully as ‘self-owners.’” Spanking, and a number of other issues, are examined.

EXCERPT: “But children are different than adults. They are not (yet) full rights bearing entities. If we leave an adult to his own devices, he is presumably able to run his own life, at least to his own satisfaction. But if a child is not cared for, for example, a three-year old, he must perish, since he cannot (yet) care for himself. Paternalism is not justified for adults, but it is for such youngsters.”

VIDEO: Does Spanking Violate the Non-Aggression Principle?  Walter Block Debates Stefan Molyneux.” The authors of the above two papers debate in this one-hour video. 

* * *
Short Answers to Tough QuestionsGot questions?  Dr. Ruwart has answers! If you’d like answers to YOUR tough questions on libertarian issues, email Dr. Ruwart

Due to volume, Dr. Ruwart can’t personally acknowledge all emails. But we’ll run the best questions and answers in upcoming issues.

Dr. Ruwart’s previous Liberator Online answers are archived in searchable form.

Dr. Ruwart’s latest book Short Answers to the Tough Questions, Expanded Edition is available from the Advocates, as is her acclaimed classic Healing Our World.

Mises Institute: Free Downloadable Libertarian Library

in Liberator Online Archives by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 6 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Mises Institute eBook LibraryThe Ludwig von Mises Institute has created one of the great online libertarian treasures. It has made hundreds of classic libertarian books available online — for free.

If you have an e-reader, or don’t mind reading on your computer, then an intellectual feast awaits you. In just minutes an incredible library of vital libertarian writing, worth thousands of dollars in cover value and of inestimable intellectual value, can be yours.

Many of the most important and essential works by the greatest libertarian authors are here. There are established classics and exciting new works. There’s so much great reading, in fact, that it’s difficult to know where to begin.

The newcomer to the writings of liberty can pick and choose from essential classics like these:

  • For A New Liberty, Murray Rothbard’s acclaimed 1973 libertarian primer.
  • What Has Government Done to our Money?, Rothbard’s short, easy-to-read mind-opening guide to the fundamentals of market-based money.
  • Defending the Undefendable: Walter Block’s superb assault on victimless crime laws (with a provocative new introduction by Block).
  • Great Wars and Great Leaders by Ralph Raico: Hard-hitting essays that will forever change the way you view modern history.


Those wanting to dig deeper into these ideas can explore all the works of Murray Rothbard, arguably the greatest libertarian thinker and writer of the past century. And all the works of Ludwig von Mises, arguably the greatest economist of the past century. And peruse books and other writings by a legion of legendary liberty writers: Friedrich A. Hayek, Albert Jay Nock, Robert LeFevre, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, and so many more.

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