The president of Loyola University New Orleans and several faculty members have censured the views of a libertarian-minded professor who criticized civil rights legislation and wrote that slavery “wasn’t so bad,” according to Inside Higher Ed.
Professor Walter Block, the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics at Loyola, was quoted recently in The New York Times in an article about Senator Rand Paul. It read:
Walter Block, an economics professor at Loyola University in New Orleans who described slavery as “not so bad,” is also highly critical of the Civil Rights Act. “Woolworth’s had lunchroom counters, and no blacks were allowed,” he said in a telephone interview. “Did they have a right to do that? Yes, they did. No one is compelled to associate with people against their will.”
Block said the description of his slavery views in the Times was incorrect, according to Inside Higher Ed.
Block’s position was one in favor of religious liberty and included a crudely worded critique of slavery because it took away the right of free association. He wrote at LewRockwell.com:
Compelling Woolworths to seat blacks is thus incompatible with libertarianism. It was a violation of their private property rights over their establishment.
Free association is a very important aspect of liberty. It is crucial. Indeed, its lack was the major problem with slavery. The slaves could not quit. They were forced to "associate" with their masters when they would have vastly preferred not to do so. Otherwise, slavery wasn't so bad. You could pick cotton, sing songs, be fed nice gruel, etc. The only real problem was that this relationship was compulsory. It violated the law of free association, and that of the slaves' private property rights in their own persons. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, then, to a much smaller degree of course, made partial slaves of the owners of establishments like Woolworths.
Father Wildes, in a letter that appeared in the student newspaper The Maroon, wrote that he was dismayed to read Professor Block’s comments. "In speaking of discriminatory lunch counters, Dr. Block makes the mistake of assuming that because of the civil rights legislation people would be compelled to associate with others against their will.”
He said that civil rights legislation did not force people to associate with others against their will. “What the civil rights legislation did was prevent places like Woolworth’s from excluding people because of their race,” he said. “No one was forced to sit at the lunch counter. The law simply made clear that people could not be excluded from the lunch counter because of their race.”
He said that if Block’s comments were written for a paper in his class he would give it a failing grade. “This is hardly critical thinking,” he wrote. “Rather it is a position filled with assertions, without argument or evidence, to gain attention."
A group of faculty members urged the university in a letter that appeared in The Maroon "to take the long overdue and necessary steps to condemn and censure Professor Block for his recurring public assaults on the values of Loyola University, its mission and the civil rights of all."
The letter stated that Block’s comments "are an insult to millions of African Americans in this country as well as to the pain and suffering incurred by both black and white people in their struggle to gain the same basic American freedoms that Professor Block enjoys today as a privileged white male.”
The letter also stated that Block’s public comments "hamper the university’s efforts to recruit the most accomplished and diverse students it can from across the U.S."
Block accused the president of the university of infringing on his academic freedom. He wrote of Fr. Wildes: "I wish he had said something to the effect that he is running a university, not a seminary, and that we have academic freedom here, and we relish diversity of opinions here.”
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