Saturday, October 05, 2013

We're Blockheads!

One of the neglected aspects of Christian doctrine in recent years has been Natural Law.  It is making a comeback, however, and it is a basis for making an argument for human freedom, human rights, and the opposition of tyranny.  The American Revolution was imbued with Natural Rights theory.  In fact, the Declaration of Independence is a classic statement of Natural Law political theory attempted to be put into practice in the newly independent states.

The basis of Natural Law is the right to life (5th Commandment), which also presumes the right to property (7th Commandment).  How property is acquired and traded, how it is distributed and used in society - given the post-Fall scarcity of resources - is the basis of Economics.  And so Economics is a crucial part of human freedom and dignity - especially for Christianity.

Economics is fascinating, as it is really the never-dull study of human action.  In Economics, you can see the stark difference between liberty and tyranny, between the almost miraculous machinations of the division of labor within the free market over and against the stultification and starvation that government command economies produce.  The 19th and 20th centuries were virtual laboratories in the cause-and-effect of government intervention in the economy and where it leads: tyranny, oppression, and the concentration camp.

And now, the United States is at a crossroads.  

Will be return to the Natural Law understanding of the right to life, liberty, and property that raised the American standard of living to unheard-of heights and made the United States a beacon of liberty around the world, or will we continue to press forward into the direction of Big Government, the warfare-welfare state, imperialism, socialism, fascism, deficits, debt, bankruptcy, bureaucratic control, and top-down micromanagement of every aspect of our lives?

One of the most exciting things to hit the study of Economics in recent years is the rise from the dust of the once-neglected Austrian School.  Although it has not quite gone mainstream, it is on the ascendancy after decades of obscurity, marginalization, and even rejection. The current worldwide economic malaise of the world (the fiat-currency-based debt economy), kicked into high gear following the housing bubble and market crash of 2008, was predicted by Austrian School economists who were laughed at at the time.  The laughter fell silent after the bubble burst (as predicted solely by Austrian economists), and so the world is finally listening.

One can get a remarkable free education in Austrian economic theory by reading Lew Rockwell and availing oneself of the vast free library at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.  Additional study is available in History and Economics for a mere $100 a year at Liberty Classroom.

Mrs. H. and I are fortunate to have Loyola University - New Orleans close by.  The entire Economics Department is comprised of Austrian School economists - headed by the legendary Walter Block.  Dr. Block is a former Marxist who became an advocate of free markets under the guidance of Ayn Rand and her "inner circle" of associates.  He moved on from this group, and under his professor Dr. Murray Rothbard, was "converted" to Austrian Economics and libertarianism.  He has gone on to become a leading lecturer and writer on these topics.

Dr. Block is not content to hole up in the Ivory Tower. He loves to lecture, to discuss, to debate, to read, write, and publish, and most of all, to teach and engage!  He is never shy from taking on controversy, and can take jabs as well as give them.  There is a true joy in academic give and take, as his face lights up in the heat of battle.  And no matter what is said or argued, in agreement and disagreement, Dr. Block is a gentleman, he is cordial, friendly, humble, and genuinely fun to sit around the table with.

Mrs. H. and I are blessed to be studying under Dr. Block with a group of Loyola students and interested adults from all walks of life, taking part in the Human Action Seminar.  We are in the midst of reading Murray N. Rothbard's Economic Controversies.  Thanks to a donor, the group meets every other week for two hours of study and discussion, followed by a paid-for dinner at a local restaurant.  The cost of the hardback book is also reimbursed based on student attendance (it is available free as a pdf or ebook download through

I would like to dispel a couple myths off the bat.

1) Antisemitism.  I once lost a facebook friend over this ugly accusation.  I've been blessed to have been published at Lew a few times over the years.  Lew is the former chief of staff of congressman Ron Paul.  So, as the last presidential campaign descended into its perennial diabolical darkness, the Father of Lies began using his human shills to circulate the lie that Ron Paul, Lew Rockwell, and the entire Austrian School of Economics was somehow "antisemitic."  Of course, such accusations need not be true to be effective.

To put this ugliness to rest, some things to keep in mind: Ludwig von Mises was Jewish.  Lew Rockwell is the founder of the Ludwig von Mises Insitute, and worked closely with Dr. von Mises's widow to start the Institute.  Murray Rothbard, the most prolific writer of the Austrian School and teacher and close ally of Lew Rockwell, was also Jewish.  Finally, Dr. Block, long-time close friend of Lew Rockwell, Ron Paul, and friend and student of Dr. Rothbard is also Jewish.  Antisemistism is on its face contrary to libertarian philosophy.  But it makes for good talking points in National Review for people to parrot in order to win primaries and lose general elections.  You can see Dr. Block speak on this himself.

People who make such assertions should be ashamed of themselves and repent of them.

2) Austrianism as a Cult - There is a stereotype that Austrian School adherents march in lockstep under a sort-of Cult of Personality.  Being in live discussions with Dr. Block and his faculty has clearly shown this to be as ridiculous as the antisemitism charge.  The members of the faculty seldom agree on any specific point, approach, philosophy, or assessment of any individual academic idea or individual person we're discussing.  While they are all members of the same "school" and have the basic philosophical and economic underpinnings in common (free markets), there is a swath of diversity of opinion regarding the role of government, the role of coercion, the Non-Aggression Principle, and even the discipline and methodologies of academic Economics itself.  Dr. Block especially enjoys the give-and-take ("bloodletting") and also knows that undergraduate students enjoy seeing their professors taken down a peg or two in discussions.

Having said that, there is great collegiality and amity among the faculty and the attendees.  It is great intellectual stimulation, and the readings are daunting - at a pace akin to graduate level study.  Many of us have never formally studied Economics (I had two undergraduate classes in Economics thirty years ago), while others in the seminar are current students or have graduate degrees.  This is the best environment to learn.  It is drinking from a fire-hose instead of being spoon-fed.  It is genuinely fun, interesting, and stimulating, and Dr. Block's shimmering and rascally personality keeps things moving with joyful intensity.

If you live in the New Orleans area and are interested in these issues, please contact Dr. Block and get on his e-mail list!  If you live somewhere else, you can avail yourself of lectures by Dr. Block and other Austrian School professors on YouTube (such as this Walter Block lecture at a local high school) and you can basically give yourself a graduate-level education free of charge by frequenting  There are also vibrant local libertarian groups forming in our area, such as Liberty on the Rocks run by Noelle Mandell (whom we met at the seminar) and we're really excited about this.  

We have come a long way from where we were 20 years ago as lonely libertarians meeting with a few middle age men once a month at Denny's in Philadelphia, packing heat and silver dollars and studying the Constitution and American History.  We are seeing an entire generation of young people educating themselves in the study of liberty and free markets.

Thanks to Dr. Block for his steadfastness and willingness to teach anyone who wants to learn.

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