Defending the Undefendable
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
To kickoff this first book brief, allow me to pose a question to you: Do you believe in bringing harm, whether it’s physical, emotional or spiritual, to anyone who does not strike against you first?
I have found and read a book that acknowledges most people would answer no to this question and yet proceed to do just that against people with whom they don’t agree.
“Defending the Undefendable”, is authored by Dr. Walter Block and first published by Fleet Press Corporation in 1976. Since it first publication, it has gone through two other renditions to get to today’s Ludwig von Mises Institute publication.
Dr. Walter Block is an economics professor at the J.A. Butt School of Business at Layola University New Orleans, where he currently holds the Harold E. Worth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics. He is also a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.
Throughout the book, Dr. Block brings forth 32 types of people normally deemed to be undefendable in the realm of popular opinion and…well…defends them. He goes so far as explaining why such people may be deemed heroes in their own right. But before jumping to the pulpit in downright outrage, know that his defense is not moral in nature. He does not aim to persuade the reader that a particular occupation or action is moral. In some cases he even acknowledges the acceptable distaste leveled at certain people. But, again, in his mind, this distaste does not warrant outright expulsion of the role as it still plays a function which society would actually be worse off without.
Dr. Block categorizes these “undefendable” people into eight segments, including Free Speech, Financial, as well as Business and Trade. Three of the “tamer” roles evaluated by Dr. Block consist of the advertiser, the inheritor and the speculator.
My own interest in reading the book revolved around his economic defense of each role, about how permitting each type of person to flourish actually has positive sway on our economies. I realize that such an argument is likely the least acceptable by the typical reader. But, in so doing, Dr. Block proceeds to provide evidence that the marketplace has more efficient power to distribute resources than any central command economist could ever dream of wielding. Just as we’re taught we cannot control the power of nature, nor should we expect to manipulate the natural tendencies of the marketplace.
Is this a reading for the faint of heart? The answer is a resounding no. Included at the outset of the book is a commentary by F.A. von Hayek himself, a Nobel Laureate and staunch advocate for free-market capitalism, who had this to say about the book:
“Looking through Defending the Undefendable made me feel that I was once more exposed to shock therapy…Even now I am occasionally at first incredulous and feel that ‘this is going too far,’ but usually find in the end that you (Block) are right.”
That being said, this book is a must read for anyone wishing to bolster their defense of the free-market capitalism. Even for those not in such a position but willing to have their beliefs and perspectives challenged, or at the very least their minds opened to other ways of thinking, this book is worth the read. And given that it’s written by an academic, it is not a difficult book to process and comprehend. At times, I even found myself laughing, not because of absurd arguments, but due to the sheer simple logic and common sense of Dr. Block’s reasoning.
Returning to Hayek’s supportive commentary:
“Some may find it too strong a medicine, but it will still do them good even if they hate it. A real understanding of economics demands that one disabuses oneself of many dear prejudices and illusions.”
For those who have followed me from the start, you know I have five principles and themes that drive my work, insights and opinions. This book dovetails very well in supporting not only my third principle about free-market capitalism, but also with the fourth principle of free will – the right to make choices about your own life as long as you do not initiate harm against the property and efforts of others.
Dr. Block does a resounding job of proving that, as long as the people pursue their roles using their own free will and do not encroach on the life of others directly, we should not spit down in disgust at these people, if even only from an economic stance.
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Until next time, stay safe, keep your integrity and see you at the pinnacle!