Thursday, January 16, 2014

Libertarianism Simplified, but not Oversimplified

I never know who's going to read this blog, so I'd better start with some basics:

1. Bill Maher isn't a libertarian.

2. Neither is Howard Stern.

3. No, not even Ayn Rand.

4. Sorry, not Glenn Beck or even Nat Hentoff.

You see where I'm going with this. "Libertarian" has become a "nice" word, and lots of people have taking to describing themselves that way who have no business doing so. There is, of course, a lot of variation among libertarians, all the way from anarchists to, well, cranky old fogies like me, who understand that good ideas never get anywhere without good people implementing them. And also, some of us realize, freedom isn't self-sustaining at all. Like Jefferson said, it has to be constantly renewed, and protected from those who would destroy it, both from the outside and the inside.  In support of this, we have the Hoppe quibcag here, which seems to call for at least a modification or clarification of the Zero Aggression Principle. Discuss. This, from The Libertarian:

Hans-Hermann Hoppe in 10 Great Quotes

By Eric Field 
Hans-Hermann Hoppe is one of the most defining of contemporary libertarian thinkers.  A graduate of the Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany and a former Marxist, Hoppe’s is best known for his rigorously logical examination of culture, human action, and the state.  Hoppe has at times courted controversy for his belief that natural hierarchies are essential to human liberty.  Regardless of whether or not one agrees with much of Hoppe’s statements, he has greatly improved the quality of libertarian discourse.  So much so, that “Hoppean” has become a synonym for rigorously supported scholarly support for libertarianism.
1. Our existence is due to the fact that we do not, indeed cannot accept a norm outlawing property in other scarce resources next to and in addition to that of one’s physical body. Hence, the right to acquire such goods must be assumed to exist. (Economic and ethics of private property, 1993).
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, which makes so called “positive rights”, or involuntary obligations by someone to provide another person with some good or service, illegitimate.
2. The property right in one’s own body must be said to be justified a priori, for anyone who would try to justify any norm whatsoever would already have to presuppose the exclusive right to control over his body as a valid norm simply in order to say “I propose such in such.”(Democracy, the God that failed, 2001).
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.  Demonstrating that individuals own their own bodies validates Hoppe’s first point, that individuals accept the concept of property rights.  At this point, the discussion becomes a matter of defining how one establishes subsequent rights to scarce goods, but the fact that property rights exist in some form is no longer a matter of dispute.
3. 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. Property and property relations do not exist apart from families and kinship relations. (Democracy, the God that failed).
4. We must promote the idea of secession. Or more specifically, we must promote the idea of a world composed of tens of thousands of distinct districts, regions, and cantons, and hundred of thousands of independent free cities such as the present day oddities of Monaco, Andorra, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Greatly increased opportunities for economically motivated migration would thus result, and the world would be one of small classically liberal governments economically integrated through free trade and an international commodity money such as gold. (Interview with
5. Egalitarianism, in every form and shape, is incompatible with the idea of private property. Private property implies exclusivity, inequality, and difference. And cultural relativism is incompatible with the fundamental—-indeed foundational—-fact of families and intergenerational kinship relations. Families and kinship relations imply cultural absolutism. (Democracy, the God that failed).
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.” (Natural Elites, 2013).
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. (Democracy the God that failed, 2001).           
8. From the moment when a single member of the natural elite successfully monopolized the function of judge and peacemaker, law and law enforcement became more expensive. (Natural elites, 2013).  
Hoppe argues that hierarchy in and of itself is not immoral or tyrannical.  Rather, it is the monopolization of legitimated violence that is itself tyrannical.  Hoppe distinguishes between a natural hierarchy that is absent of violent aggression, and those hierarchies imposed by the monopolized violence of the state.
9. Conventionally, the state is defined as an agency with two unique characteristics. First, it is a compulsory territorial monopolist of ultimate decision-making (jurisdiction). That is, it is the ultimate arbiter in every case of conflict, including conflicts involving itself. Second, the state is a territorial monopolist of taxation. That is, it is an agency that unilaterally fixes the price citizens must pay for its provision of law and order. (The Great Fiction, 2012). 
Hoppe defines the institution of the state as being more than simply the institution of government.  The “state” is a specific form of government defined by a geographical monopoly on legitimated violence and adjudication.  When Hoppe and other propertarian anarchists call for a private law society, they are arguing for the end of the involuntary form of governments that is the state.  Hoppe and company are not calling for the end of law or the end of all forms of governance.
10. As for the moral status of majority rule, it must be pointed out that it allows for A and B to band together to rip off C, C and A in turn joining to rip off B, and then B and C conspiring against A, and so on. (Democracy, the God that failed, 2001).
Democracy is not the same as freedom.
For the sake of intellectual honesty, Hoppe’s most controversial quote:
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. (Democracy the God that failed). 
Both detractors and partisans of Hoppe argue about the meaning and context of this quote. Stephan Kinsella argues that Hoppe was only referring to the right of a covenant community within an anarchist society to physically remove individuals from their specific communities.  Numerous associates of the Center for a Stateless Society take an opposing view, arguing that Hoppe has myopically sought to universalize traditional bourgeoisie values by conflating an idealized cultural conservativism as being the only practicable values for a free society.
Most works are available in print from most major booksellers.  Electronic editions of works are available from the Ludwig von Mises Institute (, from Laissez Faire Books (, and booksellers carrying e-books.
Hoppe, H. H. (1993). Economics and ethics of private property: Studies in political economy and philosophy. (2nd ed.). Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute.
Hoppe, H. H. (2001). Democracy–the God that failed: The economics and politics of monarchy, democracy, and natural order. New Brunswick, NJ: Transactions Publishers.
Hoppe, H. H. (2012). Great fiction: Property, economy, society, and the politics of decline. Baltimore, MD: Laissez Faire Books.
Hoppe, H. H. (2013). Natural elites, intellectuals, and the state. Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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