For those of you who have not been paying attention, Rand Paul and a whole host of other people connected to libertarianism have been smeared by the New York Times. I was a minor target of this daily newspaper, but, an infuriated one. So much so that I have so far written not one but two responses to it. They can be found below (Block, 2014A, 2014B). Several libertarians have risen to my defense; for these missives see also Block (2014A). I am not here today going to rehash these issues. I stand by my previous responses. Let me just say I am very grateful for the defenses of me, particularly by my friends Tom Woods and Bob Wenzel.

I now want to broach an entirely different issue: would it be appropriate for me to sue theNew York Times for libel and defamation? I have had several dozen letters from libertarians who should have known better begging me, imploring me, demanding of me that I not do any such thing, lest I act incompatibly with the libertarian non-aggression principle (NAP). This is something I take very seriously, as I very much try to understand and abide by the logical implications of this philosophy.

At the outset, it would indeed appear impossible for a consistent libertarian, such as I hope to be, to sue anyone for libel. For, defamation, slander, etc., are a besmirching of reputation, and the good name of each of us, paradoxically, cannot be owned by the person to whom it refers. That is, A’s reputation consists of the thoughts about A on the part of everyone else but A, for example, B, C, D, etc. Ditto for B, C, etc. And, since we cannot own the thoughts of other people, paradoxically, none of us can own our own reputations. If they are “taken” from us, then, no property rights of ours have been abridged.

Murray N. Rothbard said it best when he asked:

“… should “libel” and “slander” be illegal in the free society?

“… how can they be? Smith has a property right to the ideas or opinions in his own head; he also has a property right to print anything he wants and disseminate it. He has a property right to say that Jones is a ‘thief’ even if he knows it to be false, and to print and sell that statement. The counter-view, and the current basis for holding libel and slander (especially of false statements) to be illegal is that every man has a ‘property right’ in his own reputation, that Smith’s falsehoods damage that reputation, and that therefore Smith’s libels are invasions of Jones’s property right in his reputation and should be illegal. Yet, again, on closer analysis this is a fallacious view. For everyone, as we have stated, owns his own body; he has a property right in his own head and person. But since every man owns his own mind, he cannot therefore own the minds of anyone else. And yet Jones’s ‘reputation’ is neither a physical entity nor is it something contained within or on his own person. Jones’s ‘reputation’ is purely a function of the subjective attitudes and beliefs about him contained in the minds of other people. But since these are beliefs in the minds of others, Jones can in no way legitimately own or control them. Jones can have no property right in the beliefs and minds of other people.

“Let us consider, in fact, the implications of believing in a property right in one’s ‘reputation.’ Suppose that Brown has produced his mousetrap, and then Robinson comes out with a better one. The ‘reputation.’ of Brown for excellence in mousetraps now declines sharply as consumers shift their attitudes and their purchases, and buy Robinson’s mousetrap instead. Can we not then say, on the principle of the ‘reputation’ theory, that Robinson has injured the reputation of Brown, and can we not then outlaw Robinson from competing with Brown? If not, why not? Or should it be illegal for Robinson to advertise, and to tell the world that his mousetrap is better?  In fact, of course, people’s subjective attitudes and ideas about someone or his product will fluctuate continually, and hence it is impossible for Brown to stabilize his reputation by coercion; certainly it would be immoral and aggressive against other people’s property right to try. Aggressive and criminal, then, either to outlaw one’s competition or to outlaw false libels spread about one or one’s product.

“We can, of course, readily concede the gross immorality of spreading false libels about another person. But we must, nevertheless, maintain the legal right of anyone to do so. Pragmatically, again, this situation may well redound to the benefit of the people being libelled (sic). For, in the current situation, when false libels are outlawed, the average person tends to believe that all derogatory reports spread about people are true, ‘otherwise they’d sue for libel.’ This situation discriminates against the poor, since poorer people are less likely to file suits against libelers. Hence, the reputations of poorer or less wealthy persons are liable to suffer more now, when libel is outlawed, then they would if libel were legitimate. For in that libertarian society since everyone would know that false stories are legal, there would be far more skepticism on the part of the reading or listening public, who would insist on far more proof and believe fewer derogatory stories than they do now. Furthermore, the current system discriminates against poorer people in another way; for their own speech is restricted, since they are less likely to disseminate true but derogatory knowledge about the wealthy for fear of having costly libel suits filed against them. Hence, the outlawing of libel harms people of limited means in two ways: by making them easier prey for libels and by hampering their own dissemination of accurate knowledge about the wealthy.”

I enthusiastically agree with these scintillatingly powerful words of Murray’s. Indeed, I devoted an entire chapter of my book Defending the Undefendable I to making precisely that case, and Murray was my guide and mentor on that issue and on so much else as well.

How, then, can I justify suing the New York Times for libel? It is simple. The libertarian case against suing for libel applies only to innocent people, and this newspaper does not at all qualify. Rather, this organization is a member in good standing of the ruling class, and all bets are off for criminals of that ilk. This applies, also to using other kinds of violence against those who themselves have broken the libertarian law. For example, Ragnar Danneskjold, the pirate hero in Atlas Shrugged, was in my opinion entirely justified in attacking government ships. But, suppose, for some reason, who was unable to physically invade these boats, but (work with me here) was only able to sue them for libel. Would have been justified in doing so? In my understanding of our libertarian philosophy, this certainly would have been a licit act on his part.

“Ruling class?” might be the response of a critic of these words of mine. “Why,” splutter, splutter, “that is Marxism. Surely, libertarians, Austrian economists, should have no truck with this communist concept.”  There is some truth to this objection. There is indeed such a thing as Marxist ruling class theory. Summarizing this very briefly, employers, entrepreneurs, capitalists, are members of the ruling class, and they exploit all others, customers, citizens, and especially workers. Needless to say, the Austro-libertarian cannot find any such theory conducive, let alone even coherent. It is fatally based on some sort of labor theory of value. If falsely sees exploitation stemming from voluntary interaction between consenting adults.

But we need not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Just because this version of ruling class theory is irredeemably flawed, does not mean that all such concepts must be tossed out. To wit, there is such a thing aslibertarian ruling class theory, or class analysis, and this is entirely consistent with the freedom philosophy. Here, in sharp contrast, the make-up of the exploiters, and the victims, is very different: the former are those in power who continuously and systematically violate the NAP; the latter are all those who suffer from such depredations. Since the government is always and ever the main violator of rights, the ruling class consists of higher echelon statists, and those who aid and abet them. This is close to, but not exactly the same as, Calhoun’sdistinction between net tax recipients and net tax losers. For example, there might be an Austro-libertarian professor at a public university who actively works for freedom and is a net tax recipient; but no member of the ruling class, he. Alternatively, the person who cleans the toilets in the White House, or the Fed, or the Pentagon, is not at all a good candidate for membership in the ruling class. Traditionally, when one state beat another in a war, they treated the officers very differently than the enlisted or drafted men. Only the former were seen as members of the defeated nation’s ruling class, not the latter.

This is, admittedly, a slippery concept. People do not come with signs emblazoned on their foreheads indicating that they are members of the ruling class, or not. There is a continuumhere. Some people are clearly over the mark; others, not. For instance, a mom and pop operation that supports statism does not qualify; but these companies have been characterized as large scale crony capitalists; e.g., good candidates for membership in the ruling class: ABC, Alliant Techsystems, Archer Daniels Midland, BAE Systems,  Blackhawk Industries, Blackwater,  Boeing,  CBS, Chrysler, Colt,  Fox News, General Dynamics, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Halliburton, KDH Defense Systems, Lenco, Lockheed Martin, Martin-Marietta, Monsanto, MSNBC, NBC, New York Times, Northrup-Grumman, Oshkosh Defense, Raytheon, Washington Post.  There are of course grey areas, where it is difficult (Block and Barnett, 2008) to separate the sheep from the goats. For example, just how big is big? How strong must be the support?

Hans-Hermann Hoppe (1990), as per usual, is brilliant in his analysis of the ruling class from the libertarian perspective. He avers: “One can acquire and increase wealth either through homesteading, producing, saving, or contracting, or by expropriating homesteaders, producers, savers, or contractors. There are no other ways. Both methods are natural to mankind. Alongside homesteading, producing, and contracting, there have always been non-productive and non-contractual property acquisitions. And in the course of economic development, just as producers and contractors can form firms, enterprises, and corporations, so can exploiters create large-scale exploitation enterprises, governments, and states. The ruling class (which may again be internally stratified) is initially composed of the members of such an exploitation firm.” For more on the ruling class see: Block, 2006; Domhoff, 1967, 1971, 1998; Donaldson and Poynting, 2007; Hughes, 1977; Kolko, 1963; Mises, 1978; Oppenheimer, 1975; Raico, 1977; Rockwell, 2001.

What are the criteria for ruling class membership? Obviously, aiding and abetting statist depredations in a large scale manner will tend to qualify a given candidate. The New York Times certainly passes muster in this regard. According to Wenzel’s incisive analysis, this newspaper is a “propaganda machine for the state.” He continues: “Under the government manipulated economy that we live in, certain ‘private’ entities must be considered agents of the state. Goldman Sachs comes to mind, but so does New York Times.”

Another criterion is a hypothetical one. Is this entity “too big to fail?” If it were on the verge of bankruptcy, would the government bail it out, give it a subsidy, or some sort of protection against competitors? (I owe this point to Michael Edelstein). It can only be speculative, but it would appear that the “Grey Lady” fits the bill in this regard as well. Would the U.S., New York State and New York City governments all allow this icon of left liberalism progressivism to fail? It seems unlikely.

Then there is the issue of donating money to the government. If a supposedly private person or firm does this, then to that extent they are also good candidates for ruling class membership (see Block, 2009A, 2009B, 2011). For evidence that the New York Times, and/or its significant owners, the Sulzbergers, have donated money to the government, see herehereand here.

What about ownership positions in industries heavily regulated by government, such as radio and television, etc. This, after all, is how Lyndon Baines Johnson “earned” a goodly part of his ill-gotten crony capitalist wealth. Here, too, there is evidence supporting the membership claim for the “newspaper of record” in the ranks of the ruling class. See on this herehere andhere. The New York Times may not have garnered much in the way of money from its foray into this field, but it cannot be denied that it has gained in terms of respectability, reputation, ability to influence opinion, etc.

One counter-argument is that this newspaper did no more than engage in its rights of free speech. Therefore, it should not be considered guilty of any crime under the libertarian code, let alone being a member of this “ruling class.” Stuff and nonsense. Libertarians are not free speech absolutists. There are some speaking acts that are forbidden since they violate the NAP. For example threats: “Your money or your life” is a “mere” act of speech. But, when uttered in the context where it is a threat (not in a play or movie or novel, not in my present use of this phrase), it is a rights violation. Let us stipulate that neither Hitler nor Stalin ever personally murdered anyone. Are they therefore guiltless of violating the NAP? Of course not. They engaged in “free speech” of the sort that is proscribed by libertarianism: giving orders, making threats, being part and parcel of a relevant ruling class. I do not say the speech acts of the New York Times approach that level of criminality. I merely note that this organization cannot hide behind rights of free speech to deflect criticisms of guilt under the libertarian code.

“So what,” it might be objected. Even stipulating that this periodical is as guilty as has now been demonstrated, it still does not logically follow that it is justified to sue them for libel, as to do this would be to launch an invasive act against them, and this, too, is forbidden under libertarian law. Once again Wenzel (2014) comes to the rescue. He states: “governments and their agents have no rights.” If the New York Times is really an agent of the government, and it is, it is, it has no protection against being sued by a libertarian. Were I to win such a lawsuit, I would be awarded damages. It is illicit for a libertarian to accept money from a government, or a government agent such as this one? Nononononononononono,nonononono a thousand times no.

As it happens, I have decided not to pursue any course of legal action on these grounds against the New York Times. My reasoning is as follows: 1. It would cost a lot of money; estimates are, at a minimum, about $30,000. I don’t have anything like that amount to spend on such a course of action; several dozen people have offered to contribute to such an effort, for which I thank them, but I really think this money could be spent in other ways more likely to promote liberty (my suggestion: donate these funds to the Mises Institute, that bastion of liberty and sensible, e.g., Austrian economics). 2. It would take a lot of time; not only mine, but of numerous other libertarians too. I would rather spend these hours writing, publishing, giving speeches, etc., on a personal basis, and I have become convinced liberty would better be enhanced in that way too. 3. The last thing I would want to do is even slightly undermine the campaign for president of Rand Paul’s, and I am convinced that further focus on the mud-slinging against him by the newspaper that prints “all the news that is fit to print” would risk this. But, the argument that it would be incompatible with libertarianism to sue these rascals, I think I have shown, is invalid.

P.S. A while ago, I wrote on this very same subject (Block, 2008). I came to the erroneous conclusion, then, that it would be improper for the libertarian to sue anyone for libel. I now think I was greatly mistaken in this earlier foray of mine into this difficult issue.

P.P.S.

I wrote the foregoing several weeks ago, but failed send it to Lew for publication at that time (hey, if I didn’t do things like this, they’d kick me out of the absent minded professors club). Since then, I have changed my mind about suing the NY Times. I spoke to the Rand Paul people, and was assured he had no objection to this lawsuit. I found a lawyer who would do this on a contingency basis, and split the costs with me. I am determined to work harder, so I won’t be reducing my other contributions to the Austro-libertarian movement as much as I thought I would be. And, I am even more and more seething with indignation with the behavior of the NY Times.

References:

Block, Walter E. 2006. “Radical Libertarianism: Applying Libertarian Principles to Dealing with the Unjust Government, Part II” Reason Papers, Vol. 28, Spring, pp.  85-109;http://www.walterblock.com/publications/block_radical-libertarianism-rp.pdf;http://www.walterblock.com/wp-content/uploads/publications/block_radical-libertarianism-rp.pdf

Block, Walter E. 2008. “Sue for libel?” December 29;http://www.lewrockwell.com/block/block124.html

Block, Walter E. 2009A. “Libertarian punishment theory: working for, and donating to, the state” Libertarian Papers, Vol. 1; http://libertarianpapers.org/2009/17-libertarian-punishment-theory-working-for-and-donating-to-the-state/

Block, Walter E. 2009B. “Toward a Libertarian Theory of Guilt and Punishment for the Crime of Statism” in Hulsmann, Jorg Guido and Stephan Kinsella, eds., Property, Freedom and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, pp. 137-148; http://mises.org/books/hulsmann-kinsella_property-freedom-society-2009.pdf

Block, Walter E. 2011. “Toward a libertarian theory of charitable donations.” Economics, Management, and Financial Markets. Vol. 6, No. 4, pp. 9-28; http://www.addletonacademicpublishers.com/abstracts/economics-management-and-financial-markets/volume-64-2011/toward-a-libertarian-theory-of-charitable-donations-to-criminals-governments.html;http://www.addletonacademicpublishers.com/component/option,com_sectionex/Itemid,103/id,23/view,category/#catid143

Block, Walter. 2014A. “Reply to the Scurrilous, Libelous, Venomous, Scandalous New York Times Smear Campaign.” January 30; http://www.lewrockwell.com/?post_type=article&p=473740&preview=truehttp://www.lewrockwell.com/2014/01/walter-e-block/scurrilous-libelous-venomous/;http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2014/01/walter-block-how-nyt-mischaracterized.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+economicpolicyjournal%2FKpwH+%28EconomicPolicyJournal.com%29;http://libertycrier.com/scurrilous-libelous-venomous/http://libertycrier.com/scurrilous-libelous-venomous/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+LibertyCrier+%28Liberty+Crier%29;http://www.reddit.com/r/Anarcho_Capitalism/comments/1wm4l1/you_must_hear_tom_woods_commentary_the_antitruth/;http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0V5GwxkanD4http://tomwoods.com/blog/on-handling-a-new-york-times-reporter/;http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2014/02/outrage-if-only-walter-block-was.html;http://www.law.nyu.edu/sites/default/files/ECM_PRO_060927.pdf;http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2014/02/outrage-if-only-walter-block-was.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+economicpolicyjournal%2FKpwH+%28EconomicPolicyJournal.com%29;http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/02/04/libertarian-wants-help-suing-nyt-for-libel-over-accurately-quoted-remarks-on-slavery/

Block, Walter. 2014B. “Sue New York Times for libel?!?!” February 1;

http://www.lewrockwell.com/lrc-blog/sue-new-york-times-for-libel/

Block, Walter and William Barnett II. 2008. “Continuums” Journal Etica e Politica / Ethics & Politics, Vol. 1, pp. 151-166, June; http://www2.units.it/~etica/ ;http://www2.units.it/~etica/2008_1/BLOCKBARNETT.pdf

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Donaldson, Mike and Scott Poynting. 2007. Ruling Class Men: Money, Sex, Power. Peter Lang.

http://books.google.com/books/about/Ruling_Class_Men.html?id=V-KjZ8p3N2oC

Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. 1990. “Marxist and Austrian Class Analysis,” The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2, Fall, pp. 79-94; http://mises.org/journals/jls/9_2/9_2_5.pdf; http://209.85.165.104/search?q=cache:K12nTci91bQJ:www.mises.org/journals/jls/9_2/9_2_5.pdf+%22Marxist+and+Austrian+Class+Analysis,%22&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us

Hughes, Jonathan R.T. 1977. The Governmental Habit: Economic Controls from Colonial Times to the Present.  New York: Basic Books,

Kolko, Gabriel. 1963. Triumph of Conservatism, Chicago: Quadrangle Books

Mises, Ludwig von. 1978. The Clash of Group Interests and Other Essays. New York: Center for Libertarian Studies. http://www.mises.org/etexts/mises/clash/clash.asp

Oppenheimer, Franz. [1914] 1975.  The State, New York: Free Life Editions

Raico, Ralph. 1977. “Classical Liberal exploitation theory: a comment on Professor Liggio’s paper,” The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 1, No. 3, Summer, pp. 179-184;http://mises.org/daily/4567/; http://mises.org/document/1641/Classical-Liberal-Exploitation-Theory-A-Comment-on-Professor-Liggios-Paper

Rockwell, Jr. Llewellyn H. 2001. “Liberty and the Common Good” December 31;

http://www.mises.org/article.aspx?Id=860

Wenzel, Robert. 2014. “Will Walter Block Be On Firm Libertarian Principle If He Sues NYT?” February 3; http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2014/02/will-walter-block-be-on-firm.html