Letter: An Open Letter to Loyola Students Who Want Me Fired

Walter Block

According to John Stuart Mill’s justly famous essay “On Liberty”:

“The greatest orator, save one, of antiquity, has left it on record that he always studied his adversary’s case with as great, if not with still greater, intensity than even his own. What Cicero practised as the means of forensic success, requires to be imitated by all who study any subject in order to arrive at the truth. He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion. The rational position for him would be suspension of judgment, and unless he contents himself with that, he is either led by authority, or adopts, like the generality of the world, the side to which he feels most inclination. Nor is it enough that he should hear the arguments of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. That is not the way to do justice to the arguments, or bring them into real contact with his own mind. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them; who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them. He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form; he must feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of; else he will never really possess himself of the portion of truth which meets and removes that difficulty. Ninety-nine in a hundred of what are called educated men are in this condition; even of those who can argue fluently for their opinions. Their conclusion may be true, but it might be false for anything they know: they have never thrown themselves into the mental position of those who think differently from them, and considered what such persons may have to say; and consequently they do not, in any proper sense of the word, know the doctrine which they themselves profess.”

Loyola president Tania Tetlow was likely channeling Mill when she wisely asserted: “we don’t want to only be taught by people with whom we agree because that’s not how we learn.” There could be no truer words than these, in all of educational pedagogy. There are quite a few Loyola professors who, as I do, approve of economic freedom, private property rights and laissez faire capitalism, but none “who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them” to the extent that I do. I’m pretty rabid on these issues. So, you students who want me fired: if you really want to even understand your own positions on political economic philosophy, let alone defend them competently, you need me to continue my employment as Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair.

I enjoy public debates, whether verbally behind a podium or in print. As any of my former students can attest (I perused the some 600 signatories to your petition, but did not see any of their names) I like arguing with undergraduates. If I say something in class, or they read it in a text, and then spit it back to me on an exam, maybe, they learn something; but only, superficially, in their heads. If they want to really learn deep in their guts, if often helps if they (intellectually of course), fight me about these issues.

I assign term papers to my students. Then, I edit them, send them back to their authors, add material and co-author them. I have had quite a bit of success in getting them published in refereed journals in economics, politics, history, and in law reviews. (This the basis upon which professors are hired, promoted and tenured. It is quite rare that an undergrad term paper ends up in such a literature; this is thus a great accomplishment of theirs). There are now slightly more than 100 of these. But there are some of these term papers I just cannot coauthor. Why? Because they are direct attacks on publications of my own. Instead, I edit them, improve them, suggest additional bibliography, and help them get published. I am even more proud of myself for those that fit this bill (some 5% of the total), because it demonstrates that I try to improve the careers of all of my students, not only those who agree with me.

I greatly regret that none of you signatories ever came to talk to me about these issues. Also, you based your claims on an article that appeared in the NYTimes. They misquoted me. I sued them for libel. I prevailed in court, and settled my lawsuit on advantageous grounds. My door is always open (well, at least electronically, during the virus). I am the faculty advisor to the Loyola College Republican Club. It is my fervent hope that in the spring semester 2021, the Loyola College Democrats will agree to a joint meeting during which we can thrash out these issues together, as befits the intellectual community of a great university such as Loyola. I would be simply delighted if the Loyola Black Student Union would invite me to address their group. How else can we all become friends if we do not break bread with one another?

P.S. I favor open borders, reparations to blacks for slavery, gay marriages.

– Walter Block, Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Chair in Economics