The God That Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy,
and Natural Order (Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick,
is a great book. Even so, it won't convince everyone who reads it,
but it will influence many and it will change the lives, I expect,
of quite a few.
Because it is the most carefully reasoned and scholarly set-out
yet published of the paleo-libertarian or anarcho-capitalist proposition
that all of what we call u201Cgovernmentu201D – all centralized
government, but especially u201Cdemocraticu201D government –
is inherently evil and tyrannical and quite beyond reform.
It is, in Catholic terms, a u201Cstructure of sin.u201D
author is a major figure among intellectual libertarians and has
published a number of books in German and English. He earned his
Ph.D. at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe Institute in Frankfurt am Main.
His mentor for years was the great economist Murray Rothbard, founder
of the modern libertarian movement in America. Hoppe is a professor
of economics at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where Rothbard
was teaching when he died in 1995. Hoppe is also a senior fellow
of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Auburn, Alabama, and editor
of the quarterly, Journal of Libertarian Studies.
us pause here for a moment to deal with the word u201Canarcho,u201D the
combining form for u201Canarchy,u201D for which my Collegiate Webster's
offers five definitions, one pleasant, and four not so pleasant.
The pleasant one is the one we want here: u201Cabsence of government.u201D
What is not meant is bomb-throwers and riots in the streets, etc.
writer and physician whose work appears on the Internet, Paul Hein,
is not even satisfied with u201Cabsence of government.u201D He says, u201CAnarchy,
I must point out, is not synonymous, at least in my mind, with bomb-throwing
lunatics, or rioting in the streets. It is placid as a pond, as
peaceful as a park. There is nothing chaotic about it. It is certainly
not the absence of government, but only of government imposed
by strangers [my emphasis]. The anarchist governs himself, based
upon principles found to be enduring and valuable: the Ten Commandments,
for example. Anarchy has been the basis of society, long prior to
the existence of government.u201D
will see as this review proceeds that Hoppe's approach to a new
politics has much in common with Hein's suggestion. As a well-run
family, church, hospital, or business need never appeal to the police
to make the decisions it must make, so a society of families and
other legitimate organizations ought never need to appeal to a u201Cdistant
and strange government.u201D
no matter what kind of u201Cdistant and strangeu201D government you start
with, for example, such a splendid try at u201Climited governmentu201D of
a nation as our own Constitution, in time you will always
end up with a system something like our present regime (or worse),
where the total real tax rate is coasting 50%, where regulation
of the activity of citizens now fills a 26-foot shelf of volumes
of the Federal Register, and where our federal u201Cleadersu201D and u201Clegislatorsu201D
are tremblingly near total corruption – while
many of them are so morally obtuse as to not even be aware of their
wretched condition. So says Hoppe, and I do not disagree.
as writer Joseph Sobran has so often pointed out, the U.S. Constitution
poses no serious threat to our present form of government.
getting into the particulars of Hoppe's anti-government thesis,
it makes sense to consider everybody's favorite objection to the
no-government-at-all idea. Surely you have to have some government
if to do nothing else but deal with criminals? Well, yes. Hoppe
certainly agrees individuals and society as a whole need protection
from aggressions of all kinds. But, Why a u201Cgovernment?u201D he asks.
Government is the least efficient and most dangerous provider of
argues thusly: government is defined as the monopolist of policing,
judging, taxing, and regulation within a geographical area. But
who sets the prices and scope for these u201Cservicesu201D? Why, government
of course. According to the iron economic law of monopoly (Hoppe
bases much of his reasoning on a priori – self-evident –
economic laws that work whether you want them to or not) the monopolist's
products and services, u201Call else being equal,u201D will grow steadily
more expensive and measurably less efficient.
infamous day of 9/11 is a classic instance of the working of the
law; a yearly expenditure of some hundreds of billions of dollars
for u201Chomeland defenseu201D (a.k.a the U.S. Defense Dept.) produced no
effective defense at all against a determined gang with box cutters.
And all the money spent on state and local police forces has ended
up lately with its coming to the fore in discussions of crime and
guns that the police have, at law, absolutely no obligation at all
to protect ordinary citizens.
Hoppe argues, private insurance agencies, competing with one another
to offer their clients the best services at minimum cost, would
have, to begin with, every incentive to urge clients to train and
equip themselves for self-defense. They would also, as insuring
agencies with money at risk, proceed in all possible ways to radically
inhibit criminal aggressors, and make the stay in society of such
aggressors as painful and expensive as these aggressors now make
their victims' lives.
argument for the replacement of government u201Cprotectionu201D of the citizen
from crime with the services of insurance concerns is the heart
of Hoppe's thesis and book. I cannot do it justice here. Hoppe's
detailed explanation of how such a private insurance system of protection
would work is contained in his Chapter 12, 28 pages which begin
with a deconstruction of the u201CHobbesian mythu201D that because men are
wolves toward each other, they must have over them someone –
some thing – to prevent a war of all against all.
of old this u201Cthingu201D is the state. But the state is not benign, full
of a wonderful altruism. As monopolist of the power to tax, judge,
police, and regulate, it turns out to be the worst wolf of all.
Even if one does not at once agree with Hoppe on the possibility
of u201Cprivate provision of protection,u201D it is virtually impossible
not to agree with his critique of the tyranny now routinely ladled
out to us by grim old Uncle Sam. Manifestations of that tyranny
have been vividly portrayed, with convincing historical detail,
in the pages of this magazine over many recent years.
think one has an almost instinctive tendency to doubt Hoppe on this
point of the u201Cprivate production of defense.u201D Even if it could be
managed by individuals within a region, how could it work against
an organized force attacking from outside the region? But when you
hear Hoppe out, it turns into an enormously attractive prospect.
His final words (page 265) on the topic:
have come full circle with my argument. First, I have shown that
the idea of a protective state and state protection of private
property is based on a fundamental theoretical error and that
this error has had disastrous consequences: the destruction and
insecurity of all private property and perpetual war. Second,
I have shown that the correct answer to the question of who is
to defend private property owners from aggression is the same
as for the production of every other good or service: private
property owners, cooperation based on the division of labor, and
market competition. Third, I have explained how a system of private
profit-loss insurers would effectively minimize aggression, whether
by private criminals or states, and promote a tendency toward
civilization and peace. The only task outstanding is to implement
these insights: to withdraw one's consent and willing cooperation
from the state and to promote its delegitimatization in public
opinion so as to persuade others to do the same. Without the erroneous
public perception and judgment of the state as just and necessary
and without the public's voluntary cooperation, even the seemingly
most powerful government would implode and its powers evaporate.
Thus liberated, we would regain our right to self-defense and
be able to turn to freed and unregulated insurance agencies for
efficient professional assistance in all matters of protection
and conflict resolution.u201D
has the feeling the u201Cpowersu201D will work overtime to let no such eventuality
occur. And I cannot resist pointing out that, as I have been told
(and believe), some military folk of foreign nations, speculating
on a conquest of the U.S., have said no sane person would attack
a people so individually well armed as Americans are even today,
much less what they would be under a u201CHoppe libertarian dispensation.u201D
earlier and major portion of Hoppe's work focuses on establishing
that monarchy, which most of us associate with the bad old days,
was actually a more rational approach to government than democracy,
the great shibboleth we are all supposed nowadays to worship unconditionally.
Hoppe is a self-proclaimed historical revisionist in this. He is
not saying that monarchies were always and everywhere fair and beneficent,
only that the logic of them made them less oppressive, less expansionist,
less expensive than our current democracies, with their swollen
tax schemes and totalitarian tendencies.
term u201Ctime preferenceu201D figures prominently throughout this book
and a lengthy discussion of time preference begins it. An actor
(that is, anyone at all pursuing his life in a social context) u201Cdemonstrates
a preference for earlier over later goods and for more over less
durable ones. This is the phenomenon of time preference.u201D The discussion
that follows this a priori definition is a bit dry; one begins to
have the sinking feeling this may be a work that will claim man
is solely homo economicus, but the concept of time preference
is vital to what follows so it is worth a bit of study to get it
value what I can have now more than what I cannot have for some
extended period of time. But if I valued only what I can
have now, I would spend all I have right now and never save. The
more I value things NOW, the higher my rate of time reference.
The more I can put off consumption, the lower my rate of
time preference. Keep this distinction in mind as we proceed.
reason monarchy is better than democracy is because a king will
possess a lower rate of time preference by definition; he wishes
to maximize the future capital value of his realm for himself and
his heirs. His policies, if he is wise, will protect his kingdom
from unrest and ultimately revolution; he will tax as little as
possible, he will be eager to enlist his citizens in programs that
build up the long-term health and wealth of the state. Historically,
for example, as Hoppe shows (page 54), those horrible old monarchies
have taxed up to a huge eight percent.
however, are ruled by a cadre with a very high rate of time preference.
They wish always to maximize the immediate return they get from
government. (Think pay – and reelection – and pork to
assure the latter) The distant future is a time for them when they
will all be dead, and few envision their own heirs as being part
of the government apparatus in that distant future. Thus NOW is
the watchword. What can we get NOW – myself and my family?
And the situation is, if anything, worse with the mass of voters.
Give us all we can get now, and we don't care where it comes from.
Grab it from those richer folks. The payola (government handouts)
flies around. Taxes rise and rise. As I noted above, the going rate
in the U.S. today flutters around 50 percent, and it is worse in
some other nations.
foregoing are my own crude redactions of points Hoppe makes very
carefully across 44 pages loaded with footnotes. Not the easiest
pages in the book but critical ones.
this start, however, I had my radar up on the question of whether
or not this book would be another among contemporary works arguing
that u201Cman is onlyu201D this or that, only a political, or consuming,
or vengeful, or selfish animal, in other words, whether Hoppe's
book was just another in the ever enlarging library of works outlining
a materialist philosophy that makes us into one or another kind
of soulless machine (that was apparently the trouble with Hobbes,
by the way).
am grateful for being able to say that this notion was entirely
scotched by Chapter 10, u201COn Conservatism and Libertarianism.u201D Author
Hoppe is no mere Enlightenment rationalist, no disciple of Voltaire
& Co. who would erase religion and undermine the family. His
contention: u201C[C]onservatives today must be antistatist libertarians
and, equally important . . . libertarians must be conservatives.u201D
libertarianism, Hoppe disposes of those self-styled u201Clibertariansu201D
who are really libertines, hedonists, and wreckers of society. Defining
conservatism, Hoppe rules out in a brief paragraph the u201Cconservativeu201D
who would merely preserve the u201Cexisting order.u201D The term u201Cconservativeu201D
can only meaningfully refer, he says, to u201Csomeone who believes in
the existence of a natural order, a natural state of affairs which
corresponds to the nature of things, of nature and man.u201D
might be some features of the natural order Hoppe appeals to? Listen
the realm of the humanities, including the social sciences, a
conservative recognizes families (fathers, mothers, children,
grandchildren,) and households based on private property and in
cooperation with a community of other households as the most fundamental,
natural, essential, ancient, and indispensable social units. Moreover,
the family household also represents the model of the social order
at large. Just as hierarchical order exists in a family, so is
there a hierarchical order within a community of families –
of apprentices, servants, and masters, vassals, knights, lords,
overlords, and even kings – tied together by an elaborate
and intricate system of kinship relations; and of children, parents,
priests, bishops, cardinals, patriarchs or popes, and finally
the transcendent God. Of the two layers of authority, the earthly
physical power of parents, lords, and kings is naturally subordinate
and subject to control by the ultimate intellectual-spiritual
authority of fathers, priest, bishops, and ultimately God.u201D
didn't expect to read anything like that in an u201Canarcho-capitalistu201D
text, did you? Especially one that doesn't even list religion in
its 11-page index?
is, after all, a work about political economy, not religion, and
not even, except by implication, about sociology. It is an entirely
unsentimental assessment of how bad economic principles and false,
egalitarian, socialist theories distort human life and wreck societies.
But the author is not an economic determinist, simply a fair-minded
man of reason seeking a solution to the horrible economic and political
problems of our time.
school of Austrian economics, of which Hoppe is a prominent spokesperson,
openly argues that the Federal Reserve system is an evil institution;
it is a crew of government-sanctioned monopolist counterfeiters.
But again, Hoppe, does not have an entry in his index for u201CFederal
Reserve.u201D The central bank is just another of the myriad institutions
(although an especially harmful u201Cstructure of sinu201D) that would crumble
away if we could return to or, rather, at last create a u201Cnatural
orderu201D of society based on an inviolable right of private property
and a system of honest money.
that possible? Can this professorial scribbler – however eloquently
he may savage the weltanschauung of the politically correct cadres
among us, as in the passage on natural order I quoted above –
possibly effect any weakening at all, much less a general crumbling,
of the Leviathan State that surrounds us? Can he and any cohort
he can assemble bring down this governmental beast that tells us
down to the last gnat's whisker what we should be doing and how
much we will be taxed for it? A state that assumes it has a divine
right to take from one part of society and give to others in its
endless campaigns of social engineering? That encourages an outrageous
and (to Hoppe) indefensible immigration to continue unchecked. And
that lavishly funds a ruinous welfarism that subsidizes the bad
and penalizes the good?
answer emerges in Chapter 13, the final one, u201COn the Impossibility
of Limited Government and the Possibilities for Revolution.u201D Hoppe
is an optimist. He proposes that an exit strategy exists from the
present ugly state of affairs, and it is to foster and prosecute
over time the secession of small u201Csocial units,u201D more and more of
them, proceeding as discreetly as possible so as not to bring down
on themselves the wrath of u201Ccentralu201D until such time that the total
number of such disaffected units is so great, u201Ccentralu201D can no longer
do much about it.
bit of personal witness here: Not until I became an Internet fan,
did I realize the extent of the ground swell of opinion in this
country, and particularly in the West and South, where I now live,
that looks forward to a separation – prays for it and plans
for itu2014from the taxing and controlling beast that is headquartered
in D.C. I have come to know of the unquellable conviction of intelligent
Southerners that they were invaded and ravaged in Lincoln's war
and that this was a gross iniquity. It was a war where Southerners
had the law on their side, but the North had the big guns. Slavery
was a u201Ccover storyu201D for the North and a cruel embarrassment for
the South; they had hung on too long to an iniquitous system, and
they paid for it. But the North paid for its victory with a government
turned into the tyrannical enemy of the people.
for the u201Climited governmentu201D we lost in the Civil War, Hoppe will
sing no sad songs for it. Sobran, again, has been working for years
on a book on the Constitution, which has not yet been published
(and may never be?). He has always seemed to think that the Constitution
could be reinstalled and reinvigorated as the law of the land if
enough people came to see the need for it. But Hoppe has now come
along and said it's no use, a government that monopolizes the power
to tax, police, judge, and regulate will steadily progress to its
ultimate condition, which is always that of a tyrannical totalitarianism
of the murderous kind that has dominated the last century. Wealth
and technology merely serve to give it more power that it ever had
before. The 20th century (and the 21sst so
far) furnishes all the evidence one needs for the truth of that
has taken note of Hoppe's new book in a column, u201CThe
Myth of Limited Government,u201D on Lew Rockwell's Internet site
in which he says:
soon as you grant the state anything, Hoppe argues, you have given
it everything. There can be no such thing as u201Climited government,u201D
because there is no way to control an entity that in principle enjoys
a monopoly of power (and can simply expand its own power).
tried. We adopted a Constitution that authorized the Federal Government
to exercise only a few specific powers, reserving all the other
powers to the states and the people. It didn't work. Over time the
government claimed the sole authority to interpret the Constitution,
then proceeded to broaden its powers ad infinitum and to strip the
states of their original powers – while claiming that its self-aggrandizement
was the fulfillment of the u201Clivingu201D Constitution. So the Constitution
has become an instrument of the very power it was intended to limit!
column of January 14, 2002 in the Catholic weekly, The Wanderer,
Sobran has essentially agreed with Hoppe: u201CYet the illusion persists
that the state is u2018protecting' us. When it has been more destructive
than all the private-sector criminals and terrorists in the world.
Its very purpose, its telos, is to create an abnormal society.u201D
Constitution is dead; hope does not lie there; it lies in something
new, yet old as human life itself; it lies in natural order and
natural hierarchy (Jefferson's natural aristocracy, the aristocracy
of virtue and talent), with these now enlisting the great technological
marvels of our time in the service of humane non-government, that
is, the local, familiar, family-and-private-property-based management
of affairs in peace and without coercion.
another personal note: for the last three presidential elections
I have supported the campaign of Howard Phillips and his Constitutional
Party. (When I first heard of it, it was the Taxpayers Party). Phillips
argued that we must restore the Founders understanding of the Constitution
they wrote, and kick out the absurd u201Cliving Constitutionu201D of the
liberal lawyers. He had a clear plan for what it would take to do
it; the first step was to seize the seat of power, to capture the
presidency. Now at last, thanks to Hoppe, I see that noble as Phillips's
idea seemed, and as good a man as Phillips is, there was no way
to get anywhere via this route.
who runs for the presidency is convicted, ipso facto, of being a
statist, a fan of u201Cgovernment,u201D a believer in efficacy of the age-old
demagogue's appeal: u201CElect me and enter Paradise.u201D
a few of his most telling pages (191-193), Hoppe points out the
fatal flaw in the program of Pat Buchanan, who came closer to high
office than Phillips ever did: u201CBuchanan's conservatism is by no
means as different from the Republican party establishment as he
and his followers fancy themselves. In one decisive respect their
brand of conservatism is in full agreement with that of the conservative
establishment: both are statists. They differ over what exactly
needs to be done to restore normalcy to the U.S., but they agree
that it must be done by the state. There is not a trace of principled
anti-statism in either.u201D
you have it. Hoppe has presented the principled program that might,
just might, if enough people take it up, turn us inward to ruling
ourselves by the ancient laws of God and nature instead of continuing
to rely on the Fhrer Prinzip for our salvation.
in the other direction, we may look forward to a single, centralized
world government, the ultimate tyranny, the Beast Regnant.
article appeared in the April 2002 issue of Culture
Wars Magazine, 206 Marquette Ave., South Bend, IN 46617,
574-289-9786, one year $29.
White [send him mail] writes
from Odessa, Texas.