In Defence of Hoppe


by Matt Battaglioli

Hans-Hermann Hoppe is one of today’s most published libertarians. He is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Nevada Las Vegas’ Business School, as well as the founder and President of the Property and Freedom Society. Some of his books have been translated into as many as 25 different languages, and he holds a PhD in philosophy, as well with his habilitation in Applied Economics and Sociology from the University of Frankfurt, Germany. A student and colleague of Murray N. Rothbard, it is small wonder that Hoppe is able to provoke the minds and interests of so many libertarians with his work.

Professor Hoppe, though, does remain one of the most controversial, if not then the most controversial living figure in the world of academic libertarianism. He’s not the kind of academic that one is likely to have a moderate view of; he’s a love him or hate him kind of intellectual, and for a good reason, too. An Austrian School Economist, and anarcho-capitalist social theorist, Hoppe consistently says and writes down ideas that could easily be construed as racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and/or sexist. He doesn’t hold back on espousing even the most vehement criticisms of the state and its institutions, and he pays no mind to political correctness. In fact, the motto of the Property and Freedom Society (PFS) is “uncompromising intellectual radicalism”.

Due to these kinds of things, Hoppe is often criticized by other libertarians, even the more “radical” ones, as being harmful to the libertarian movement. People say that his work is more likely to turn people off from libertarianism than on to it, and that he eagerly espouses the social “negatives” of a free society, such as people’s rights to discriminate at will. He also attracts quite a bit of criticism for the sorts of speakers that he allows to speak at his events and conferences; people like Jared Taylor, the former director or the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank, and Dr. Richard Lynn, a well published race scientist that promotes very politically incorrect ideas in regards to race, gender, IQ, and national development.  However, despite the criticisms of him, it is precisely these things that make Hans-Hermann Hoppe distinct and essential to libertarianism.

When confronted with the work of Hoppe, in publications such as Democracy: The God That Failed, one is faced with ideas on the furthest edge of libertarianism. Hoppe’s work tests people’s commitment to intellectual radicalism, and makes them acknowledge possibilities about what parts of a free society may look like; the good and the bad, the popular and the unpopular. It is relatively easy for a person to get on board with a more humanitarian explanation of libertarianism, as described by the likes of Jeffrey Tucker, because the humanitarian case sounds so appealing simply due to how it is talked about. Many libertarians describe a free society by talking exclusively about the beauty behind people’s free association, and about the mutual benefits people receive from voluntary transactions, and things of this nature.

Indeed, all of that is certainly true, and libertarians should talk about those concepts, as many do. But to talk about libertarianism in this way exclusively, as many also do, is a mistake; a mistake that only a small few such as Hoppe contribute to correcting. When somebody is convinced of libertarianism only through the means of the humanitarian “sugar-coated” methods, they may begin to believe that libertarianism will always bring about the “social justice” and “equality” that is also praised by many of the humanitarian – or, Bleeding Heart – libertarians. However, if they ever suspect that libertarianism may not bring about those ends, or bring about the opposite, then their commitment to a free society will become compromised. In other words, the humanitarian approach does not necessarily foster a commitment to libertarianism, but a commitment to using libertarianism as a means towards a different goal that may not, or at least, may not always be achieved as well as it could be by using the state instead.

The work of Hans-Hermann Hoppe is the antidote to this. His work is honest and comprehensive in a way that could never “trick” a person into believing in liberty. It is not libertarianism on false pretenses. It is libertarianism for libertarianism’s sake, with all of the hierarchies, exclusions, inequalities and whatever else it may yield, as well as the benefits of them included. Professor Hoppe also gives a speaking platform to controversial speakers; not to be provocative, but to provide a platform for well educated, and even somewhat innovative academics and intellectuals to speak to a willing audience when they may not have the chance to do so in many other places. This gives people a range of ideas that would otherwise be hidden from them and helps viewers and listeners to better learn and construct their own point of view with new and different ones in mind. Typically, certain points of view are hidden from people, mostly in Europe and Asia, but in the United States somewhat as well, for being too controversial. This contributes to a compression of the Overton Window and to a certain ideological homogeneity amongst the masses.

Professor Hoppe works through his own ideas and others’ towards pushing back at this trend and offers others the chance to do the same. All in all, whether one agrees with him on a personal level or not, it must be said that Hans-Hermann Hoppe is an instrumental individual for promoting the ideas of a free society and for helping others to genuinely embrace libertarianism for all that it is, and all that it could ever be.

 

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12 comments

  • Hoppe is indeed a fine thinker. He was, as far as I know, the first person to understand that democracy is doomed to failure. (I did read his book to that effect about a year ago, but I found it rather boring. Maybe that’s because I had already independently reached the same conclusion).

    As I’ve commented before, I was there when he presented what became his “Free Immigration and Forced Integration,” at the ISIL conference in Berlin back in 1998. Many people in the room (not me) misunderstood him, and thought he was advocating monarchy!

    And I listened to his talk on Private Law Societies in the National Liberal Club in, I think, 2008. It was, at the time, my custom to award each speaker stars; five stars being 10 out of 10. That talk was the only one to which I ever gave 11 out of 10. That said, I think his idea has a flaw. Before you can have private law-societies (groups of people who band together and agree on their own laws), you must first have private-law societies (in which there is no public law; in other words, no state to claim moral authority). Um. His idea will only work when we have already got rid of the state.

    I did have one chance for a serious talk with Hans-Hermann. It was in 2003 in Vilnius, when a large party of ISIL people went to a classical concert to celebrate the 750th anniversary of the city’s founding. I happened to sit between him on my left and Fred Foldvary on my right. Being what I am, between the pieces I tried to make conversation on both sides. But Hans-Hermann came over to me as something of a closed person; not much interested in the ideas of this English madman. Fred, on the other hand, would take my idea, run it through his filters and feed me back his version, at least three times better. Guess which way I turned more and more as the concert went on?

    So I guess I’m one of those rare souls Matt Battaglioli talks about, who really does take a both-sides view of Hans-Hermann Hoppe.

  • A fair defence. Does Hoppe have many libertarian critics? I’d be interested to read a good libertarian critique of his ideas, if one exists.

    On the subject of bleeding hearts, Zwolinski strikes me as more urgently in need of support. Not because I agree with his position on, for example, social justice. Instead, I think he appeals to people who would otherwise avoid libertarianism on principle. He’s like a gateway drug, whereas Hans is .. You get the idea.

  • A reasonable article.

    My problem with theorists like Hoppe is that while it’s all very well pushing the boundary, it’s stuff that is in a practical sense useless. Anarcho-capitalism is useful as an extreme in a thought experiment, but can only ever exist in the mind of an intellectual and on paper. Some Libertarians/Anarchists may argue it as a long term goal, but the future is radically unpredictable and making plans for 100 years or 50 years ahead is useless. Not even the youngest among us are going to see this distant golden age without the State, and we need to focus on what we can do to improve things within foreseeable time horizons.

    If Libertarianism has an abundance of anything, it’s rarefied, abstracted theory. I think this kind of worldbuilding maybe is a big attraction to some people, planning an idealised abstraction in minute detail. But liberty has to be about the practical, in my view. I’ve seen a thousand articles about how Anarcho-Capitalist Utopia is going to function, one day. What I never seem to see is what anyone would do if they could get into government next week. Practical steps towards a more free society, rather than this glittering mirage in the future.

    • I agree there’s too much theory spouted among libertarians. However, I think it is very important to put forward a vision which people can buy into. That’s why I rated Hoppe’s private law society work so highly (even if I did subsequently find what I think is a flaw).

      As to “what would we do if we could get into government next week?”, I did write something on the subject (very tongue in cheek) a few years ago. Here it is:

      http://www.libertarian.to/NewsDta/templates/news1.php?art=art1744

  • Interesting piece. It does have one severe flaw that’s increasingly common in rightist polemic the last couple of decades, though: Twice in two paragraphs it lazily handwaves away all possible objections to its topic as “political correctness,” which has come to mean to both sides “anything that’s controversial enough that we wouldn’t want to actually discuss why.”

    • I’m not sure he does that, although I do take your point about some on the right glibly parroting “political correctness” as an answer to everything. Still, I don’t see this phenomenon among many right-libertarians and I don’t really see it in this article.

  • Keir,

    I do see it in the particulars of this article as related to some of the things Hoppe has actually said and done.

    For example, when he asserted that homosexuals have high time preference because they don’t procreate — the standard reference to things he’s said that have provoked reactions from the left — the REACTION may have had something to do with political correctness. But it wasn’t Hoppe “paying no mind to” political correctness. It was just Hoppe making an astoundingly stupid a priori assumption

  • “Broadly speaking, those practising unconventional lifestyles have higher rates of time preference.”

    The Amish?

  • Pingback: Thoughts on "Political Correctness" - Thomas L. Knapp - Liberty.me

  • Hoppe’s work on incentives and history is exceptional. The best. The only rigorous social science.
    His improvement on rothbard is an innovation in legal theory.
    His advocacy of kantian aprioristic argument, economic apriorism, NAP/IVP, the persistence of misesian pseudoscience, and rothbardian immorality, the misapplication of legal contradiction (argumentation ethics) to the origin of the recognition of property rights, is all nonsense.

    In other words, his REASONING is exceptional, and his philosophy … tragic.

  • Pingback: In Defence of Hoppe | The Libertarian Ideal

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