Don’t Chip Off the Old Mr. Block

Donald Trump wasn’t the first to call Queens home while being a magnet for controversy and legal trouble due to flouting convention in sexual relationships and work, but lacks Wilhelm Reich’s emphasis on free choice and mutual respect. Public domain.

“Mr. Block … licks the hand that smites him and kisses the boot that kicks him.” Industrial Worker editor Walker C. Smith wasn’t foreseeing, by 111 years, Walter Block, PhD’s “Libertarians Should Vote For Trump” (The Wall Street Journal, May 29); the character from Walker’s newspaper was fictional enough to be a blockhead in the most literal sense.

Dr. Block should get his head examined. “Hats off” to inviting Donald Trump to the Libertarian National Convention as being a more effective move than anything else the Libertarian Party “did in more than half a century of existence?” Such mental gymnastics dwarf the cartoon Block’s comically undersized bowler.

Block wants “the party of principle to be better publicized,” but if an afterthought to Trump’s ambition is the best notice they can get, libertarians could quote Progressive Conservative minister Darcy McKeough: “those are my principles, and if you don’t like them I have some others.” Maybe even take a page from the name of McKeough’s party and rename themselves “authoritarian libertarians.”

“Libertarian socialists” may seem just as oxymoronic; Block contrasts Republican “free enterprise” with “Biden the socialist.” Yet he extolled the voluntary socialism of “the convent, monastery, kibbutz, commune, syndicalist association, cooperative” in the 2019 Journal op-ed “Bad Capitalism and Good Socialism,” garnering a letter to the editor indignant at Block for not mentioning that “there are no countries in which socialism has worked on a large scale” (the same can be said of actually existing state capitalism).

Block trusts Trump’s promise of leniency for Ross Ulbricht during his second term (in living memory of Jimmy Carter enacting the Granting Pardon for Violations of the Selective Service Act immediately upon starting his first), and makes a qualified claim that through his re-election “we may get a slightly more libertarian president” than Biden.

On tariffs, perhaps: Biden has augmented Trump’s.  Regarding the underlying principle that voluntary exchange is mutually beneficial, Trump surpasses Pat Buchanan’s relatively literate dismissal of its intellectual origins in “scribblers like David Ricardo, James Mill and John Stuart Mill,” roaring that the notion that “both sides win” in negotiations is “a bunch of crap.”

Block might include that among the “obnoxious behavior” characteristic of gruff New Yorkers: Trump as Archie Bunker with his prejudices discreetly de-emphasized.  Not that the star of The Apprentice would follow the lead of Archie Bunker’s Place in getting berated as “one of them bleeding-heart liberals” for supporting gender neutrality in sports when a girl Bunker raises is turned away from an all-male baseball team.

Trump’s GOP would be even more unwelcome to another sitcom conservative, Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties, who teased his flower-adult parents but cited John Stuart Mill when joining them in opposing book bans.  Alex was the only Keaton to enthuse over Milton Friedman, but they all could have appreciated Friedman’s insistence that “I admire [modern liberals] for the softness of their heart,” only objecting when it “extends to their head as well.”  That’s a long way from excusing illiberalism that is simultaneously hard-hearted and blockheaded.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a senior news analyst at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.


  1. “Don’t Chip Off the Old Mr. Block” by Joel Schlosberg, CounterPunch, June 3, 2024

Trump and Kennedy Say They’d Free Ross Ulbricht. Biden Can Do That Right Now.

Photo by Marc Nozell. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Photo by Marc Nozell. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

While panhandling for votes at the Libertarian National Convention over Memorial Day weekend, two non-Libertarian presidential candidates — Donald Trump and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. — promised to free political prisoner Ross Ulbricht if elected.

That promise is a big deal to Libertarians. Ulbricht, 40, is about a decade into his two life sentences, without the possibility of parole, for the “crime” of operating a web site.

Yes, you read that correctly.

You may hear other, darker allegations concerning what Ulbricht did, but those allegations were so weakly supported by evidence that even grandstanding, corrupt US Attorney Preet Bharara was afraid to charge Ulbricht over them.

Unfortunately, corrupt US District Judge Katherine B. Forrest, after openly rigging the trial to ensure a jury conviction, used those unproven allegations to justify the draconian sentence.

When it’s all said and done, the excuse for Ulbricht’s imprisonment comes down to this: He ran an e-commerce web site (Silk Road), and some people sold things on that site … things which the government disapproves of, like certain drugs.

That’s it. That’s all. There’s nothing else. He ran a web site, and now he’s sentenced to die behind bars for running that web site.

While I won’t be voting for Trump or RFK Jr. (I support another candidate who promises to “Free Ross,” Libertarian presidential nominee Chase Oliver), I do thank them for their offers.

But really, why should we — or, more importantly, Ross — have to wait until next January to get this matter taken care of?

Yes, Trump or RFK Jr., if elected, might keep the promise and do the right thing.

But President Joe Biden could do the right thing TODAY. Biden could commute Ross’s sentence or pardon him and put the  matter to rest.

That would be the right thing to do … and good politics as well.

Two of Biden’s leading opponents have pledged to get the job done.

With a stroke of his pardon/commutation pen, Biden could take the issue away from those opponents.

Politically, it would be an easy, all-benefit, no-cost proposition.

The constituency for freeing Ross may not be huge, but neither are the likely margins of victory this November.  Fewer than 50,000 votes in key states separated victory from defeat for Biden in 2020. He needs every vote he can get. SOME grateful Americans would reward a pardon or commutation at the polls.

The constituency for keeping Ross in prison is, for all practical purposes, non-existent. The tiny group supporting his continued incarceration wouldn’t change their votes over it.

What’s better than doing the right thing? Doing the right thing, rubbing your opponents’ noses in it, and adding votes to your column at their expense.

Mr. Biden, tear down this (prison) wall. Free Ross!

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:@thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


What I Saw (and You Probably Didn’t) at the Libertarian National Convention

The author, wearing his "delegate" button, at the 2024 Libertarian National Convention.
The author, wearing his “delegate” button, at the 2024 Libertarian National Convention.

In presidential election years, the Libertarian Party holds its national convention over Memorial Day Weekend. I returned home from my ninth such convention yesterday.

Donald Trump and RFK Jr. spoke at our convention. You’ve probably heard about that.

We chose a presidential ticket: Chase Oliver and Mike ter Maat. You may have heard about that as well.

Unless you were actually there, or watched and paid very close attention on C-SPAN, though, you probably didn’t notice some of the ways in which a Libertarian National Convention differs from the way the “Big Two” parties do business.

The “Big Two” conventions aren’t really conventions. They’re campaign commercials.

Democratic and Republican delegates know who their presidential candidate is long before they arrive, because they are (for the most part) “bound” delegates. They’re required to vote for the candidate who won their states’ primaries and caucuses.

Democratic and Republican delegates know who their vice-presidential candidate is because their presidential candidate tells them who he or she wants. They then cast a ceremonial vote to approve.

Democratic and Republican delegates generally ratify the platform and bylaws presented to them by insider-dominated party committees. They don’t HAVE to agree, but once again it’s pretty much just ritual.

Libertarian Party convention delegates — around a thousand of them, plus alternates — sit in a crowded room for several days actually making decisions. On Sunday, business commenced at 9am and wrapped up well after midnight.

Our delegates are “unbound” and free to vote for the presidential and vice-presidential candidates we find most persuasive. Many of us arrive at the convention undecided and choose a candidate who’s actually talked not just TO us but WITH us. It often takes several rounds of balloting to choose. This year, we voted seven times, eliminating candidates with the fewest votes, before Chase Oliver received a majority vote for president. It took two ballots to choose Mike ter Maat for the veep slot.

We also choose our chair, other officers, and national committee at the convention. Those races are also often as hotly contested as the presidential race.

And we actually debate our platform and bylaws changes.

Our convention is fun, but it’s neither a campaign commercial nor a series of cocktail parties and bar crawls. It’s work. It’s HARD work. It’s IMPORTANT work. For some, it’s heart-breaking work, followed by a difficult process of trying to hug it out and move on.

Why bother? Because  every person in that room loves freedom, hates tyranny, and wants to offer Americans — including you — a chance to enthusiastically vote for what they love most, maybe for the first time, instead of reluctantly voting, yet again, against whomever they fear most.

That’s what we accomplished.

You’re welcome.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:@thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.