This is a fellow who claims monarchy is your ultimate guarantee of liberty and peace, ignoring centuries of history—not least the causes of the American Revolution, and the role of the Hapsburg, Romanov and Hohenzollern clans in plunging the world into war. This roving rationaliser once presented a lecture in which he claimed (seriously) that Ludwig von Mises had set the intellectual foundation for not only economics, but for ethics, geometry, and optics, as well. This bizarre claim, says a fellow who was there, “turned a serious scholar and profound thinker into a comical cult figure, a sort of Euro Kim Il Sung.”1
Such is the fellow called by some “one of the most important libertarian scholars of our time”—important in my estimation only because he personifies Ayn Rand’s estimation of libertarians as “hippies of the right.”
One of his modern admirers claims he is known for his “rigorously logical” examination of culture, human action, and the state, that “he has greatly improved the quality of libertarian discourse,” and (between breaths) “that ‘Hoppean’ has become a synonym for rigorously supported scholarly support for libertarianism.”
This is, in a nutshell, bollocks. His approach has been characterised as “wholly axiomatic-deductive,” eschewing entirely the evidence all around him, even to check his conclusions. This is an approach wholly reliant for its success on correct starting points, without which it’s best characterised as “an organised way of going wrong with confidence.” Which he does.
The fellow can’t even write properly, as you’ll see when his own words are quoted. But since in some small poorly-ventilated circles he’s widely admired, and since this particular admirer has conveniently put up a post for us called “Hans-Herman Hoppe in 10 Great Quotes,” many of which he’s then summarised for us in plain English, let’s run some of them down here so you’ll be able to see the idiocy for yourself—an example of someone trying to justify politics by shortcuts without resorting to the philosophical thinking necessary to ground that politics—and hopefully become immune yourself to the nostrums of this snake-oil salesman next time you come across them. (The deluded admirer’s summary, or Hoppe’s original ramblings, are in bold; my responses in italics.)
1. Hoppe presents self ownership, the idea that one owns their physical body, as the starting point from which further property rights derive. He argues that all human rights derive from property rights…
Right off the bat here’s a clue to Hoppe’s methodology: start with what you want to prove i.e., ownership. And conclude with where you started, i.e., ownership. Which method of argument is a prime example of a simple logical fallacy. (Rigorously logical, right?)
And it’s not even true to say we own our physical bodies—as if my body is something separate from me. Because, in fact, my physical body is me—my body and I are an inalienable whole, thank you very much, just as yours is—and it’s from this inescapable fact of human nature that the whole concept of ownership and property rights begins, and is required: because each of our bodies has certain urgent requirements and certain abilities and inabilities.
The most urgent requirement is this: we need to stay alive. And the most obvious inability is: what we need to stay alive doesn’t just fly into our mouths pre-cooked. So in order to stay alive as human beings we need to be free to produce the values necessary to live and flourish—we don’t come pre-equipped with the gear necessary to survive even several nights in the open, for example, but we do come equipped with the equipment (i.e, our thinkbox) allowing us to think and plan and make that gear. To produce that valuable stuff.
Even to plant and plan ahead to grow crops and plant forests, so we can produce food and build shelter so we never need to be in the open unless we want to.
For all of which, in short, we need the security and certainty of individual rights so we can live like human beings—i.e., to think and to plan ahead, and (with property rights) to keep the fruits of all those cunning plans.
So, in fact, all human rights derive from human nature—with property rights as their consequence, not their starting point. This is a harder and longer argument to make (and if you want to read it presented well and with more rigour than I’ve managed here, then Tibor Machan, ‘The Right to Private Property' and Tara Smith’s Moral Rights & Political Freedom are probably your places to start2), but at least it doesn’t rely on a logical fallacy for its starting point.
And it has the enormous advantage that it’s also true.
2. Hoppe advances a concept known as ‘argumentation ethics’, which asserts that the very act of engaging in a discussion tacitly accepts the concept of self ownership…
Seriously. This flatulent rationalistic nonsense waiting for the wind to blow it away is presented as “rigorously logical”! In fact, the very act of engaging in argument does tacitly accept the concept of free will (since the act of arguing recognises we have a choice in what ideas we choose to accept), but the fact you are arguing with me merely shows we’ve agreed to argue rather than punch each other in the face. Which we might at any moment, especially if you confront me peddling this rubbish.
3. “Property and property relations do not exist apart from families and kinship relations.”
So much for individual rights then, right, since only families and clans can have ‘em. That’s a quote from Hoppe himself by the way, because you wouldn’t believe it otherwise, his justification for which is that “families, authority, communities, and social ranks are the empirical-sociological concretization of the abstract philosophical-praxeological categories and concepts of property, production, exchange, and contract.” Which shows not just how flawed his reasoning process is, but also how badly he writes.
6. “In every society, a few individuals acquire the status of an elite through talent. Due to superior achievements of wealth, wisdom, and bravery, these individuals come to possess natural authority, and their opinions and judgments enjoy wide-spread respect. Moreover, because of selective mating, marriage, and the laws of civil and genetic inheritance, positions of natural authority are likely to be passed on within a few noble families. It is to the heads of these families with long-established records of superior achievement, farsightedness, and exemplary personal conduct that men turn to with their conflicts and complaints against each other. These leaders of the natural elite act as judges and peacemakers, often free of charge out of a sense of duty expected of a person of authority or out of concern for civil justice as a privately produced ‘public good.’”
And thus, as if by magic, we get monarchs! Whose selective mating and marriage, and the laws of genetic inheritance, led to the chinless wonders who plunged the world into war in every decade in nearly every century until they lost power.
If you want the personification of Hoppe’s ideal today, an example of this “natural elite,” one with a “long-established record of superior achievement, farsightedness, and exemplary personal conduct,” then think Prince Charles. And tampons. Or the Kim Il Sung lineage.
7. “Democracy has nothing to do with freedom. Democracy is a soft variant of communism, and rarely in the history of ideas has it been taken for anything else.”And finally, since who can really be bothered reading any more of this, there’s this, in Hoppe’s own words. (Remember, this fellow is supposed to be a libertarian…):
It’s true that democracy and freedom are not great bedmates (i.e., the counting of heads regardless of content) but it’s beyond poor scholarship to to say that it has been common in the history of ideas to say this. And to compare it to communism? Communism was a collectivist plague that killed over 100 million people. Whereas democracy has become simply a bumbling way to bribe people with their own money. To confuse the two suggests a confused thinker.
11. In a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting life-styles incompatible with this goal. They – the advocates of alternative, non-family and kin-centred lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism – will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order.
Does anyone need to say more?
Hoppe’s ideal society seems to be a monarchy, in which today’s representative of the “natural elites”—his idealised version of Prince Charles, Peter the Great and Caligula, all rolled into one, presumably—owns everything not otherwise nailed to the ground, allowing him to physically remove from this realm, that is to say, his realm, anyone who tries to enter (i.e., to immigrate) or who outrages the propriety of Hoppe’s, or the monarch’s, rather stuffy morals.Thus does a flawed starting point become, by “rigorous logic,” an argument proving that freedom is monarchy, rights are tribal, and Prince Charles is your ideal man.
It’s no coincidence by the way that this moron—who discusses property rights without understanding their derivation, and freedom without inquiring into its source—is the intellectual guru of the likes of Stephen Kinsella, who discusses property without understanding how it got here, and intellectual property without understanding the role of the mind in creating it—ending with the contention, essentially, that your body can own only what it can physically attach itself to.
My advice is you don’t waste your time reading their slop, unless (as Per-Olof Samuelsson has done) it’s just as an exercise in extracting logical fallacies.
* * * *1. Tom Palmer, "For Mises' Sake.
2. In which she points out, for example, that “Individuals do not possess property rights simply because material goods are part of what life requires. The other essential leg of the case stems from the origin of goods’ value.” Which she then proceeds to answer.
3. Murphy & Callahan and Roderick Long, all of them libertarian sympathisers, have taken the time to say more, though not quite as well as they could have.