Tuesday, 13 August 2013

All you need to read on Hans-Herman Hoppe. Ever.

For some reason, pseudo-intellectual Hans-Herman Hoppe is taken seriously by many who should know better—and by many others who can’t be bothered picking apart his errant constructs and castles in the air.

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.”

Take that!

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.”
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.
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…):
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.


  1. You've convinced me not to read any Hoppe, but it is your position on IP, not Kinsella's, that is incoherent.

    "One problem with the creation-based approach [to IP] is that it almost invariably protects only certain types of creations... the distinction between the protectable and the unprotectable is necessarily arbitrary."

    "Moreover, adopting a limited term for IP rights, as opposed to a perpetual right, also requires arbitrary rules."

    "[If such arbitrary distinctions were avoided,] subsequent generations would be choked by ever-growing restraints on their own use of property. No one would be able to manufacture—or even use—a light bulb without getting permission from Edison’s heirs. No one would even be able to build a house without getting permission from the heirs of the first protohuman who left the caves and built a hut."

    "Such unbounded ideal rights would pose a serious threat to tangible-property rights, and would threaten to overwhelm them. All use of tangible property would by now be impossible, as every conceivable use of property, every single action, would be bound to infringe upon one of the millions of past, accreted IP rights, and the human race would die of starvation."


  2. Well, as someone who thinks for myself, I have read Hoppe. Straight off the bat your wrong on your first point. Hoppe does not say monarchy is our best protection of liberty, he says freedom is, and advances anarcho-capitalism. He is in fact critical of monarchy, though not as much as democracy.

    I stopped reading after that profound error. Says it all really.

    Don't be sheeple people, read Hopoe for yourselves and make up your own minds, like any true "intellectual" would.

  3. And if Libertarianism is about freedom, including intellectual freedom, then promoting pot and porn social liberalism as the only allowed "libertarian orthodoxy" seems totally contrary to that principle. It would also be a surprise to many early twentieth century Libertarians,

  4. By the way, voluntary association means exactly that. If people choose to voluntarily associate in a society, town, gated community, whatever, according to traditionalist values, surely that is their right? And it is also their right to remove those who break that voluntary communities rules, correct? Which is what Hoppe is saying.

  5. @ Shawn Herles - I must have missed the part where PC railed against voluntary gated communities and suggested pot and porn was part of the libertarian orthodoxy.

    The issue is not whether Hoppes words are vaguely 'libertarian' - or whether those who think highly of themselves can get together and form their own gated communities modelled on monarchism (weird as that sounds). It's his method of reasoning that's being critiqued here, and whether his positions forms a coherent belief system that makes any sense, or offers us anything of value.

  6. Great post, Peter.

    Hoppe's argumentation ethics when used as a foundational premise for liberty is just an invitation to Gish Gallop and hurl ad hominems while one pilfers, robs and steals.

  7. Hi Mark,

    I didin't say he was. I was pointing out that his critique of Hoppe did not seem to me to be a libertarian based critique.

    But I stand by my claim that as far as I can tell, most of the Libertarianz people I have read or heard do seem to make the assumption that social liberalism and Libertarianism are the sane thing. Now, that mightemit be the case, but it's hard to tell from the rhetoric.

    My other beef with the post is that it contains factual errors, one if which you repeat. Hoppe promotes anarchy, or perhaps more accurately, anarcho-capitalism, not monarchy.

    I'm a firm believer that if anyone is going to critique someones work, then the critique should be based on reading the work itself, and not make shoddy mistakes with regards to that work, as the claim concerning Hoppe and monarchy certainly is.

  8. A good example of PC's notion of libertarian orthodoxy is his preface to the quote in which Hoppe talks about kinship ties and community in which he says "Remember, this guy is supposed to be a libertarian"

    Apart from the fact that PC clearly does not understand what Hopoe is saying, no surprise there, that preface sounds like a claim with regards to what is, or is not, libertarian orthodoxy. Remember, Hoppe is talking about voluntary association, that is what he means by covenant community. And in any voluntary association based on certain rules, the members of that association have the right to remove those who freely choose not to abide by those rules. So exactly how is that not libertarian?

    PC would have known this had he bothered to actually read Hoppe, rather than rely on a few out of context quotes.

    I have no problem with anyone critiquing Hoppe, but this was a lame, and frankly lazy attempt.

    So why all the huff and puff in PC's post? Well, far from being Not PC, I get the distinct impression that Hoppe's real crime is that he speaks forthrightly against real political correctness, and in many of PC's posts, I get the distinct whiff of cultural Marxism.

    Many people who should know better, and who claim to be libertarians, do not seem aware of how deeply mired they are in the ideology of the Frankfurt School.

    PC's error riddled attack on Hoppe is a good example.

  9. Thanks for linking to my blog! (I did not see this until today.)

  10. To be fair to Hoppe, he does not claim that monarchy is the ideal system, “only” that it is superior to democracy and that democracy represents a deterioration. Not that this makes his reasoning much better… To what I wrote in my first blog post, I might add the following:

    First, when Hoppe speaks about monarchy being superior to democracy, he has to mean *absolute* monarchy – since only an absolute monarch could regard his country as his own private property, and that is his main argument for its superiority. A *constitutionally limited* monarchy will not do – since in such a monarchy, there is some division of powers between monarch and parliament – and the parliament represents the people, or at least some significant part of the people. A constitutionally limited monarchy is thus a step toward democracy, and thus, by Hoppe’s own “rigorous logic”, a deterioration.

    Second, if the whole country is the monarch’s private property, then obviously nobody else in that country could own private property. At best, they could have some property by the monarch’s permission, a permission he could at any time revoke at his own discretion. There would be no *right* to property for anyone else. At worst, everybody would work for the monarch as cattle slaves – and serve as cannon fodder in those wars the monarch has to wage to protect his property from other absolute monarchs.

    In short, Hoppe’s reasoning is a mess – a rigorously logical mess, to be sure, but a mess nonetheless.

    One could say the same thing about Hoppe as Böhm-Bawerk says about Marx: “His system is not in close touch with the facts.” And: “…he founds it on no firmer ground than a formal dialectic…” And: “The system runs in one direction, facts go in another; and they cross the course of the system sometimes here, sometimes there, and on each occasion the original fault begets a new fault.”


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