Rothbardian Ethics

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The Problem of Social Order

Robinson Crusoe, alone on his island, can do whatever he pleases. For him, the question concerning rules of orderly human conduct — social cooperation — simply does not arise. Naturally, this question can only arise once a second person, Friday, arrives on the island. Yet even then, the question remains largely irrelevant so long as no scarcity exists. Suppose the island is the Garden of Eden. All external goods are available in superabundance. They are “free goods,” such as the air that we breathe is normally a “free” good. Whatever Crusoe does with these goods, his actions have repercussions neither with respect of his own future supply of such goods, nor regarding the present or future supply of the same goods for Friday (and vice versa). Hence, it is impossible that there could ever be a conflict between Crusoe and Friday concerning the use of such goods. A conflict becomes possible only if goods are scarce, and only then can there arise a problem of formulating rules which make an orderly — conflict-free — social cooperation possible.

In the Garden of Eden only two scarce goods exist: the physical body of a person and its standing room. Crusoe and Friday each have only one body and can stand only at one place at a time. Hence, even in the Garden of Eden conflicts between Crusoe and Friday can arise: Crusoe and Friday cannot both simultaneously want to occupy the same standing room without coming thereby into physical conflict with each other. Accordingly, even in the Garden of Eden rules of orderly social conduct must exist — rules regarding the proper location and movement of human bodies. And outside the Garden of Eden, in the realm of scarcity, there must be rules that regulate not just the use of personal bodies but of everything scarce so that all possible conflicts can be ruled out. This is the problem of social order.

The Problem Solution: The Idea of Original Appropriation and Private Property

In the history of social and political thought many proposals have been advanced as an alleged solution to the problem of social order, and this variety of mutually inconsistent proposals has contributed to the fact that today the search for a single “correct” problem solution is frequently deemed illusory. Yet as I will try to demonstrate, there exists a correct solution; and hence, there is no reason to succumb to moral relativism. I did not discover this solution, nor did Murray Rothbard, for that matter. Rather, the solution has been essentially known for hundreds of years if not for much longer. Murray Rothbard’s claim to fame is “merely” that he rediscovered this old as well as simple solution and formulated it more clearly and convincingly than anyone before him.

Let me begin in formulating the solution — first for the special case represented by the Garden of Eden and subsequently for the general case represented by the “real” world of all-around scarcity — and then proceed to the explanation of why this solution, and no other one, is correct.

In the Garden of Eden, the solution is provided by the simple rule stipulating that everyone may place or move his own body wherever he pleases, provided only that no one else is already standing there and occupying the same space. And outside of the Garden of Eden, in the realm of all-around scarcity, the solution is provided by this rule: Everyone is the proper owner of his own physical body as well as of all places and nature-given goods that he occupies and puts to use by means of his body, provided only that no one else has already occupied or used the same places and goods before him. This ownership of “originally appropriated” places and goods by a person implies his right to use and transform these places and goods in any way he sees fit, provided only that he does not change thereby uninvitedly the physical integrity of places and goods originally appropriated by another person. In particular, once a place or good has been first appropriated by, in John Locke’s phrase, “mixing one’s labor” with it, ownership in such places and goods can be acquired only by means of a voluntary — contractual — transfer of its property title from a previous to a later owner.

In light of widespread moral relativism, it is worthwhile to point out that this idea of original appropriation and private property as a solution to the problem of social order is in complete accordance with our moral “intuition.” Isn’t it simply absurd to claim that a person should not be the proper owner of his body and the places and goods that he originally, i.e., prior to anyone else, appropriates, uses and/or produces by means of his body? For who else, if not he, should be their owner? And isn’t it also obvious that the overwhelming majority of people — including children and primitives — act in fact according to these rules, and do so unquestioningly and as a matter-of-course?

A moral intuition, as important as it is, is not a proof, however. Yet there also exists proof of our moral intuition being correct.

The proof can be provided in a twofold manner. On the one hand, in spelling out the consequences that follow if one were to deny the validity of the institution of original appropriation and private property: If a person A were not the owner of his own body and the places and goods originally appropriated and/or produced with this body as well as of the goods voluntarily (contractually) acquired from another previous owner, then only two alternatives exist. Either another person B must be recognized as the owner of A’s body as well as the places and goods appropriated, produced or acquired by A. Or else all persons, A and B, must be considered equal co-owners of all bodies, places and goods.

In the first case, A would be reduced to the rank of B’s slave and object of exploitation. B is the owner of A’s body and all places and goods appropriated, produced, and acquired by A, but A in turn is not the owner of B’s body and the places and goods appropriated, produced and acquired by B. Hence, under this ruling two categorically distinct classes of persons are constituted — Untermenschen such as A and bermenschen such as B — to whom different “laws” apply. Accordingly, such ruling must be discarded as a human ethic equally applicable to everyone qua human being (rational animal). From the very outset, any such ruling can be recognized as not universally acceptable and thus cannot claim to represent law. Because for a rule to aspire to the rank of a law — a just rule — it is necessary that such a rule apply equally and universally to everyone.

Alternatively, in the second case of universal and equal co-ownership the requirement of equal law for everyone is fulfilled. However, this alternative suffers from another, even more severe deficiency, because if it were applied all of mankind would instantly perish. (And since every human ethic must permit the survival of mankind, this alternative, then, must be rejected, too.) For every action of a person requires the use of some scarce means (at least the person’s body and its standing room). But if all goods were co-owned by everyone, then no one, at no time and no place, would be allowed to do anything unless he had previously secured every other co-owner’s consent to do so; and yet, how can anyone grant such consent if he were not the exclusive owner of his own body (including his vocal chords) by means of which his consent must be expressed? Indeed, he would first need others’ consent in order to be allowed to express his own, but these others cannot give their consent without having first his, etc.

This insight into the praxeological impossibility of “universal communism,” as Rothbard referred to this proposal, brings me immediately to a second, alternative way of demonstrating the idea of original appropriation and private property as the only correct solution to the problem of social order. Whether or not persons have any rights and, if so, which ones, can only be decided in the course of argumentation (propositional exchange). Justification — proof, conjecture, refutation — is argumentative justification. Anyone who were to deny this proposition would become involved in a performative contradiction, because his denial would itself constitute an argument. Even an ethical relativist, then, must accept this first proposition, which has been accordingly referred to as the a priori of argumentation.

From the undeniable acceptance — the axiomatic status — of this a priori of argumentation in turn two equally necessary conclusions follow. The first follows from the a priori of argumentation when there is no rational solution to the problem of conflict arising from the existence of scarcity. Suppose in my earlier scenario of Crusoe and Friday, that Friday was not the name of a man but of a gorilla. Obviously, just as Crusoe can run into conflict regarding his body and its standing room with Friday the man, so he might do so with Friday the gorilla. The gorilla might want to occupy the same space that Crusoe is already occupying. In this case, at least if the gorilla is the sort of entity that we know gorillas to be, there is in fact no rational solution to their conflict. Either the gorilla wins, and devours, crushes, or pushes Crusoe aside — that is the gorilla’s solution to the problem — or Crusoe wins, and kills, beats, chases away, or tames the gorilla — that is Crusoe’s solution. In this situation, one may indeed speak of moral relativism. With Alasdair MacIntyre, a prominent philosopher of the relativist persuasion, one may concur asking as the title of one of his books, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? — Crusoe’s or the gorilla’s. Depending on whose side one chooses, the answer will be different. However, it is more appropriate to refer to this situation as one where the question of justice and rationality simply does not arise: that is, as an extra-moral situation. The existence of Friday the gorilla poses for Crusoe merely a technical problem, not a moral one. Crusoe has no other choice but to learn how to successfully manage and control the movements of the gorilla just as he must learn to manage and control the inanimate objects of his environment.

By implication, only if both parties to a conflict are capable of engaging in argumentation with one another, can one speak of a moral problem and is the question of whether or not there exists a solution meaningful. Only if Friday, regardless of his physical appearance (i.e., whether he looks like a man or like a gorilla), is capable of argumentation (even if he has shown himself to be so capable only once), can he be deemed rational and does the question whether or not a correct solution to the problem of social order exists make sense. No one can be expected to give an answer — indeed: any answer — to someone who has never raised a question or, more to the point, who has never stated his own relativistic viewpoint in the form of an argument. In that case, this “other” cannot but be regarded and treated like an animal or plant, i.e., as an extra-moral entity. Only if this other entity can in principle pause in his activity, whatever it might be, step back so to speak, and say “yes” or “no” to something one has said, do we owe this entity an answer and, accordingly, can we possibly claim that our answer is the correct one for both parties involved in a conflict.

Moreover, secondly and positively it follows from the a priori of argumentation that everything that must be presupposed in the course of an argumentation — as the logical and praxeological precondition of argumentation — cannot in turn be argumentatively disputed as regards its validity without becoming thereby entangled in an internal (performative) contradiction. Now, propositional exchanges are not made up of free-floating propositions, but rather constitute a specific human activity. Argumentation between Crusoe and Friday requires that both possess, and mutually recognize each other as possessing, exclusive control over their respective bodies (their brain, vocal chords, etc.) as well as the standing room occupied by their bodies. No one could propose anything and expect the other party to convince himself of the validity of this proposition or else deny it and propose something else, unless his and his opponent’s right to exclusive control over their respective bodies and standing rooms were already presupposed and assumed as valid. In fact, it is precisely this mutual recognition of the proponent’s as well as the opponent’s property in his own body and standing room which constitutes the characteristicum specificum of all propositional disputes: that while one may not agree regarding the validity of some specific proposition one can agree nonetheless on the fact that one disagrees.

Moreover, this right to property in one’s own body and its standing room must be considered a priori (or indisputably) justified by proponent and opponent alike. For anyone who wanted to claim any proposition as valid vis-à-vis an opponent would already have to presuppose his and his opponent’s exclusive control over their respective body and standing room simply in order to say “I claim such and such to be true, and I challenge you to prove me wrong.” [So much for John Rawls' claim, in his celebrated Theory of Justice, that we cannot but "acknowledge as the first principle of justice one requiring an equal distribution (of all resources)," and his comment that "this principle is so obvious that we would expect it to occur to anyone immediately." What I have demonstrated here is that any egalitarian ethic such as this proposed by Rawls is not only not obvious but must be regarded instead as absurd, i.e., as self-contradictory nonsense. For if Rawls were right and all resources were indeed equally distributed, then he literally would have no leg to stand on and support him in proposing the very nonsense that he does pronounce.]

Furthermore, it would be equally impossible to engage in argumentation and rely on the propositional force of one’s arguments, if one were not allowed to own (exclusively control) other scarce means (besides one’s body and its standing room). For if one did not have such a right, then we would all immediately perish and the problem of justifying rules — as well as any other human problem — simply would not exist. Hence, by virtue of the fact of being alive, property rights to other things must be presupposed as valid, too. No one who is alive could possibly argue otherwise.

And if a person were not permitted to acquire property in these goods and spaces by means of an act of original appropriation, i.e., by establishing an objective (intersubjectively ascertainable) link between himself and a particular good and/or space prior to anyone else, but if, instead, property in such goods or spaces were granted to late-comers, then no one would be permitted to ever begin using any good unless he had previously secured such late-comers consent. Yet how can a late-comer consent to the actions of an early-comer? Moreover, every late-comer would in turn need the consent of other still later-comers, and so on. That is, neither we, nor our forefathers or our progeny would have been or will be able to survive if one were to follow this rule. However, in order for any person — past, present, or future — to argue anything it must be obviously possible to survive then and now; and in order to do just this property rights cannot be conceived of as being timeless and unspecific with respect to the number of persons concerned.

Rather, property rights must necessarily be conceived of as originating by acting at definite points in time and space for definite individuals. Otherwise it would be impossible for anyone to ever say anything at a definite point in time and space and for someone else to be able to reply. Simply saying, then, that the first-user-first-owner rule of the ethics of private property can be ignored or is unjustified, implies a performative contradiction, as one’s being able to say so must presuppose one’s existence as an independent decision-making unit at a given point in time and space.

Simple Solution, Radical Conclusions: Anarchy and State

As simple as the solution to the problem of social order is and as much as people in their daily lives intuitively recognize and act according to the ethics of private property just explained, this simple and undemanding solution implies some surprisingly radical conclusions. For, apart from ruling out as unjustified all activities such as murder, homicide, rape, trespass, robbery, burglary, theft, and fraud, the ethics of private property is also incompatible with the existence of a state defined as an agency that possesses a compulsory territorial monopoly of ultimate decision-making (jurisdiction) and/or the right to tax.

Classical political theory, at least from Hobbes onward, had viewed the state as the very institution responsible for the enforcement of the ethics of private property. In regarding the state as unjust — indeed, as “a vast criminal organization” — and reaching anarchist conclusions instead, Rothbard did of course not deny the necessity of enforcing the ethics of private property. He did not share the view of those anarchists, ridiculed by his teacher and mentor Mises, who believed that all people, if only left alone, would be good and peace-loving creatures.

To the contrary, Rothbard wholeheartedly agreed with Mises that there will always be murderers, thieves, thugs, con-artists, etc., and that life in society would be impossible if they were not punished by physical force. Rather, what Rothbard categorically denied, was the claim that it followed from the right and need for the protection of person and property that protection rightfully should or effectively could be provided by a monopolist of jurisdiction and taxation. Classical political theory, in making this claim, had to present the state as the result of a contractual agreement among private property owners. Yet this, Rothbard argued, was false and an impossible undertaking. No state can possibly arise contractually, and accordingly it can be demonstrated that no state is compatible with the rightful and effective protection of private property.

Private-property ownership, as the result of acts of original appropriation, production, or exchange from prior to later owner, implies the owner’s right to exclusive jurisdiction regarding his property; and no private property owner can possibly surrender his right to ultimate jurisdiction over and physical defense of his property to someone else — unless he sold or otherwise transferred his property (in which case someone else would have exclusive jurisdiction over it). To be sure, every private property owner may partake of the advantages of the division of labor and seek more or better protection of his property through the cooperation with other owners and their property. That is, every property owner may buy from, sell to, or otherwise contract with anyone else concerning more or better property protection. But every property owner also may at any time unilaterally discontinue any such cooperation with others or change his respective affiliations. Hence, in order to meet the demand for protection it would be rightfully possible and is economically likely that specialized individuals and agencies arise which provide protection, insurance, and arbitration services for a fee to voluntarily paying clients.

However, while it is easy to conceive of the contractual origin of a system of competitive security suppliers, it is inconceivable how private property owners could possibly enter a contract that entitled another agent irrevocably (once and for all) with the power of ultimate decision-making regarding his own person and property and/or the power to tax. That is, it is inconceivable how anyone could ever agree to a contract that allowed someone else to determine permanently what he may or may not do with his property; for in so doing this person would have effectively rendered himself defenseless vis-à-vis such an ultimate decision maker. And likewise is it inconceivable how anyone could ever agree to a contract that allowed one’s protector to determine unilaterally, without consent of the protected, the sum that the protected must pay for his protection.

Orthodox, i.e., statist, political theorists, from John Locke to James Buchanan and John Rawls, have tried to solve this difficulty through the make-shift of “tacit,” “implicit,” or “conceptual” agreements, contracts, or state-constitutions. All of these characteristically tortuous and confused attempts, however, have only added to the same unavoidable conclusion drawn by Rothbard: That it is impossible to derive a justification for government from explicit contracts between private property owners, and hence, that the institution of the state must be considered unjust, i.e., the result of moral error.

The Consequence of Moral Error: Statism and the Destruction of Liberty and Property

All errors are costly. This is most obvious with errors concerning laws of nature. If a person errs regarding laws of nature this person will not be able to reach his own goals. However, because the failure of doing so must be born by each erring individual, there prevails in this realm a universal desire to learn and correct one’s errors. Moral errors are costly, too. Unlike in the former case, however, their cost must not, at least not necessarily so, be paid for by each and every person committing the error. In fact, this would be the case only if the error involved were that of believing that everyone had the right to tax and ultimate decision-making regarding the person and property of everyone else. A society whose members believed this would be doomed. The price to be paid for this error would be universal death and extinction. However, matters are distinctly different if the error involved is that of believing that one agency — the state — only has the right to tax and ultimate decision-making (rather than everyone, or else, and correctly so, no one). A society whose members believed this — that is, that there must be different laws applying unequally to masters and serfs, taxers and taxed, legislators and legislated — can in fact exist and endure. This error must be paid for, too. But not everyone holding this error must pay for it equally. Rather, some people will have to pay for it, while others — the agents of the state — actually benefit from the same error. Hence, in this case it would be mistaken to assume a universal desire to learn and correct one’s errors. To the contrary, in this case it will have to be assumed that some people, rather than learning and promoting the truth, have a constant motive to lie, i.e., to maintain and promote falsehoods even if they themselves recognize them as such.

In any case, then, what are the “mixed” consequences of, and what is the unequal price to be paid for, the error and/or lie of believing in the justice of the institution of a state?

Once the principle of government — judicial monopoly and the power to tax — is incorrectly admitted as just, any notion of restraining government power and safeguarding individual liberty and property is illusory. Rather, under monopolistic auspices the price of justice and protection will continually rise and the quality of justice and protection fall. A tax-funded protection agency is a contradiction in terms — an expropriating property protector — and will inevitably lead to more taxes and less protection. Even if, as some — classical liberal — statists have proposed, a government limited its activities exclusively to the protection of pre-existing private property rights, the further question of how much security to produce would arise. Motivated (like everyone else) by self-interest and the disutility of labor, but endowed with the unique power to tax, a government agent’s answer will invariably be the same: To maximize expenditures on protection — and almost all of a nation’s wealth can conceivably be consumed by the cost of protection — and at the same time to minimize the production of protection. The more money one can spend and the less one must work to produce, the better off one will be.

Moreover, a judicial monopoly will inevitably lead to a steady deterioration in the quality of justice and protection. If no one can appeal to justice except to government, justice will be perverted in favor of the government, constitutions and supreme courts notwithstanding. Constitutions and supreme courts are state constitutions and agencies, and whatever limitations to state action they might contain or find is invariably decided by agents of the very institution under consideration. Predictably, the definition of property and protection will continually be altered and the range of jurisdiction expanded to the government’s advantage until, ultimately, the notion of universal and immutable human rights — and in particular property rights — will disappear and be replaced by that of law as government-made legislation and rights as government-given grants.

The results, all of them predicted by Rothbard, are before our eyes, for everyone to see. The tax load imposed on property owners and producers has continually increased, making the economic burden even of slaves and serfs seem moderate in comparison. Government debt — and hence, future tax obligations — has risen to breathtaking heights. Every detail of private life, property, trade, and contract is regulated by ever-higher mountains of paper laws. Yet the only task that government was ever supposed to assume — of protecting our life and property — it does not perform. To the contrary, the higher the expenditures on social, public, and national security have risen, the more our private property rights have been eroded, the more our property has been expropriated, confiscated, destroyed, and depreciated. The more paper laws have been produced, the more legal uncertainty and moral hazard has been created, and lawlessness has displaced law and order. Instead of protecting us from domestic crime and foreign aggression, our government, equipped with enormous stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, aggresses against ever new Hitlers and suspected Hitlerite sympathizers anywhere and everywhere outside of its “own” territory. In short, while we have become ever more helpless, impoverished, threatened, and insecure, our state rulers have become increasingly more corrupt, arrogant, and dangerously armed.

The Restoration of Morality: On Liberation

What to do, then? Rothbard has not only reconstructed the ethics of liberty and explained the current morass as the result of statism, he has also shown us the way toward a restoration of morals.

First and foremost he has explained that states, as powerful and invincible as they might seem, ultimately owe their existence to ideas and, since ideas can in principle change instantaneously, states can be brought down and crumble practically overnight.

The representatives of the state are always and everywhere only just a small minority of the population over which they rule. The reason for this is as simple as it is fundamental: one hundred parasites can live comfortable lives if they suck out the life blood of thousands of productive hosts, but thousands of parasites cannot live comfortably off of a host population of just a hundred. Yet if government agents are merely a small minority of the population, how can they enforce their will on this population and get away with it? The answer given by Rothbard as well as de la Botie, Hume, and Mises before him, is: only by virtue of the voluntary cooperation of the majority of the subject population with the state. Yet how can the state secure such cooperation? The answer is: only because and insofar as the majority of the population believes in the legitimacy of state rule. This is not to say that the majority of the population must agree with every single state measure. Indeed, it may well believe that many state policies are mistaken or even despicable. However, the majority of the population must believe in the justice of the institution of the state as such, and hence, that even if a particular government goes wrong, these mistakes are merely accidents which must be accepted and tolerated in view of some greater good provided by the institution of government.

Yet how can the majority of the population be brought to believe this? The answer is: with the help of the intellectuals. In the old days that meant trying to mold an alliance between the state and the church. In modern times and far more effectively, this means through the nationalization (socialization) of education: through state-run or state-subsidized schools and universities. The market demand for intellectual services, in particular in the area of the humanities and social sciences, is not exactly high and none too stable and secure. Intellectuals would be at the mercy of the values and choices of the masses, and the masses are generally uninterested in intellectual-philosophical concerns. The state, on the other hand, notes Rothbard, accommodates their typically overinflated egos and “is willing to offer the intellectuals a warm, secure, and permanent berth in its apparatus, a secure income, and the panoply of prestige.” And indeed, the modern democratic state in particular, has created a massive oversupply of intellectuals.

This accommodation does not guarantee “correct” — statist — thinking, of course; and as well and generally overpaid as they are, intellectuals will continue to complain how little their oh-so-important work is appreciated by the powers that be. But it certainly helps in reaching the “correct” conclusions if one realizes that without the state — the institution of taxation and legislation — one might be out of work and may have to try one’s hands at the mechanics of gas pump operation instead of concerning oneself with such pressing problems as alienation, equity, exploitation, the deconstruction of gender and sex roles, or the culture of the Eskimos, the Hopis, and the Zulus. And even if one feels underappreciated by this or that incumbent government, one still realizes that help can only come from another government, and certainly not from an intellectual assault on the legitimacy of the institution of government as such. Thus, it is hardly surprising that, as a matter of empirical fact, the overwhelming majority of contemporary intellectuals are far-out lefties and that even most conservative or free market intellectuals such as Friedman or Hayek, for instance, are fundamentally and philosophically statists.

From this insight into the importance of ideas and the role of intellectuals as bodyguards of the state and statism, then, it follows that the most decisive role in the process of liberation — the restoration of justice and morality — must fall on the shoulders of what one might call anti-intellectual intellectuals. Yet how can such anti-intellectual intellectuals possibly succeed in delegitimating the state in public opinion, especially if the overwhelming majority of their colleagues are statists and will do everything in their power to isolate and discredit them as extremists and crackpots? Time permits me to make only a few brief comments on this fundamental question.

First: Because one must reckon with the vicious opposition from one’s colleagues, and in order to withstand it, and to shrug it off, it is of utmost importance to ground one’s case not in economics and utilitarianism, but in ethics and moral arguments. For only moral convictions provide one with the courage and strength needed in ideological battle. Few are inspired and willing to accept sacrifices if what they are opposed to is mere error and waste. More inspiration and courage can be drawn from knowing that one is engaged in fighting evil and lies. (I’ll return to this shortly.)

Second: It is important to recognize that one does not need to convert one’s colleagues, i.e., to persuade mainstream intellectuals. As Thomas Kuhn has shown, this is rare enough even in the natural sciences. In the social sciences, conversions among established intellectuals from previously held views are almost unheard of. Instead, one should concentrate one’s efforts on the not-yet intellectually committed young, whose idealism makes them also particularly receptive to moral arguments and moral rigorism. And likewise, one should circumvent academia and reach out to the general public (i.e., to the educated laymen), which entertains some generally healthy anti-intellectual prejudices into which one can easily tap.

Third (returning to the importance of a moral attack on the state): It is essential to recognize that there can be no compromise on the level of theory. To be sure, one should not refuse to cooperate with people whose views are ultimately mistaken and confused, provided that their objectives can be classified, clearly and unambiguously, as a step in the right direction of the de-statization of society. For instance, one would not want to refuse cooperation with people who seek to introduce a flat income tax of 10 percent (although we would not want to cooperate with those who would want to combine this measure with an increased sales tax in order to achieve revenue neutrality, for instance). However, under no circumstances should such cooperation lead to or be achieved by compromising one’s own principles. Either taxation is just or it isn’t. And once it is admitted as just, how is one then to oppose any increase in it? The answer is of course that one can’t!

Put differently, compromise on the level of theory, as we find it, for instance, among moderate free-marketeers such as Hayek or Friedman or even among the so-called minarchists, is not only philosophically flawed but is also practically ineffective and indeed counterproductive. Their ideas can be — and in fact are — easily co-opted and incorporated by the state rulers and statist ideology. Indeed, how often do we hear nowadays from statists and in defense of a statist agenda cries such as “even Hayek (Friedman) says, or, not even Hayek (Friedman) denies that such and such must be done by the state!” Personally, they may not be happy about this, but there is no denying that their work lends itself to this purpose, and hence, that they, willy-nilly, actually contributed to the continued and unabating growth of state power.

In other words: Theoretical compromise or gradualism will only lead to the perpetuation of the falsehood, evils, and lies of statism, and only theoretical purism, radicalism, and intransigence can and will lead first to gradual practical reform and improvement and possibly final victory. Accordingly, as an anti-intellectual intellectual in the Rothbardian sense one can never be satisfied with criticizing various government follies, although one might have to begin with this, but one must always proceed from there to a fundamental attack on the institution of the state as a moral outrage and its representatives as moral as well as economic frauds, liars, and impostors — as emperors without clothes.

In particular, one must never hesitate to strike at the very heart of the legitimacy of the state: its alleged indispensable role as producer of private protection and security. I have already shown how ridiculous this claim is on theoretical grounds: how can an agency that may expropriate private property possibly claim to be a protector of private property? But hardly less important is it to attack the legitimacy of the state in this regard on empirical grounds. That is, to point out and hammer away on the subject that, after all, states, which are supposed to protect us, are the very institution responsible for an estimated 170 million death in the twentieth century alone — more than the victims of private crime in all of human history (and this number of victims of private crimes, from which government did not protect us, would have been even much lower if governments everywhere and at all times had not undertaken constant efforts of disarming its own citizens so that the governments in turn would become ever more effective killing machines)!

Instead of treating politicians with respect, then, one’s criticism of them should be significantly stepped up: almost to a man, they are not only thieves but mass murderers. How dare they demand our respect and loyalty.

But will a sharp and distinct ideological radicalization bring the results aimed at? I have no doubt. Indeed, only radical — and in fact radically simple — ideas can possibly stir the emotions of the dull and indolent masses and delegitimate government in their eyes.

Let me quote Hayek to this effect (and in doing so, I hope to indicate also that my rather harsh earlier criticism of him should not be misunderstood as implying that one cannot learn anything from authors who are fundamentally wrong and muddled):

“We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage. What we lack is a liberal Utopia, a programme which seems neither a mere defence of things as they are nor a diluted kind of socialism, but a truly liberal radicalism which does not spare the susceptibilities of the mighty…, which is not too severely practical and which does not confine itself to what appears today as politically possible. We need intellectual leaders who are prepared to resist the blandishments of power and influence and who are willing to work for an ideal, however small may be the prospects of its early realization. They must be men who are willing to stick to principles and to fight for their full realization, however remote. Free trade and freedom of opportunity are ideas which still may arouse the imaginations of large numbers, but a mere u2018reasonable freedom of trade’ or a mere u2018relaxation of controls’ is neither intellectually respectable nor likely to inspire any enthusiasm….

“Unless we can make the philosophical foundations of a free society once more a living intellectual issue, and its implementation a task which challenges the ingenuity and imagination of our liveliest minds, the prospects of freedom are indeed dark. But if we can regain that belief in the power of ideas which was the mark of liberalism at its best, the battle is not lost.”

Hayek of course did not heed his own advice and provide us with a consistent and inspiring theory. His Utopia, as developed in his Constitution of Liberty, is the rather uninspiring vision of the Swedish welfare state. Instead, it is Rothbard who has done what Hayek recognized as necessary for a renewal of classical liberalism; and if there is anything that can reverse the seemingly unstoppable tide of statism and restore justice and liberty, it is the personal example set by Murray Rothbard and the spread of Rothbardianism.

Hans-Hermann Hoppe [send him mail], whom Lew Rockwell calls “an international treasure,” is distinguished fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and professor of economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Democracy: The God That Failed is his eighth book. See also The Economics and Ethics of Private Property. Visit his website.

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