Books and Code · A Miscellany

Defending the Undefendable, by Walter Block (A Review)


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.

Download the pdf for free from the Mises Institute.