Property and Freedom
by Doug French by Doug French
The price of gold’s collapse of $44 one day last week prompted a quick call to Camino Coin. Sales on gold have been few and far between this year and the sudden move below $600 per ounce was too good of a buying opportunity to pass up. However, in addition to selling me cheaper insurance against the coming dollar collapse, my guy at Camino was interested in learning more about the first Property and Freedom Society conference held last month in Bodrum, Turkey. Surely, there was more to the trip than creamy yogurt, ancient ruins, and nubile belly dancers, George Resch, the first Rothbardian, wondered?
A view of Bodrum Harbour from the Castle of St. Peter.
As a matter fact, the speakers were world class. Mises Fellow Guido Huelsmann led off the conference with a presentation about the strategic lessons to be learned from Ludwig von Mises’s experience with the Mont Pelerin Society. Mont Pelerin was started in 1947 by Friedrich von Hayek and 35 others including Mises. But by the mid-1950’s Mises was already dismayed with the direction of the Society towards the Chicago School and famously told a group of Chicago economists, who were trying to figure out how to collect the maximum in taxes without causing popular opposition; “you are all a bunch of socialists.” By the early 1960’s the classical liberals had lost control of Mont Pelerin. Huelsmann’s message to the Property and Freedom crowd was not to make the same mistakes, listing four key elements to make PFS successful: 1) It must be private, 2) members should have a minimum of philosophical differences, 3) the organization should be structured in a monarchial fashion, not a democracy, and 4) PFS should not be a political association.
Paul Gottfried, whose new book The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millennium is getting rave reviews, spoke of the moral bankruptcy of the American Right. Those on the Right have resorted to just parroting the party line, with messengers like Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity preaching that Lincoln and FDR were great. Those on the Right are not high in intellect and are just followers, according to Gottfried, making constant piece meal concessions to the Left. In fact, the Right has a good working relationship with the Left to promote a big welfare state, while at the same time presenting the neo-cons and left liberals as bitter foes so that there is the appearance of competition. This neutralizes any real opposition and thus America is undergoing a consolidation of philosophical power.
The culture war in Britain was the subject of Sean Gabb’s presentation. Gabb, the author of Smoking, Class and the Legitimation of Power, stressed that intellectuals may be swayed by the power of ideas, but that ordinary folks aren’t interested, they have better things to do with their minds (like contemplating the benefits of yogurt and belly dancers, perhaps). England had a great constitution that has kept that country relatively free because people don’t want change. But, in Gabb’s view, this freedom has little to do with the power of ideas but with tradition. However the web of these traditions continues to be worn thin by continual assaults against freedom. Written documents are not enough to ensure freedom, Gabb explained, traditions and customs are required.
Dr. Paul Belien provided more European perspective with his talk about Belgium. Belien is the author of A Thorn in Brussels: Britain, the Saxe-Coburgs and the Belgianisation of Europe. Belgian is important in Europe because if that government fails, the entire idea of the European Union is called into question. Like the European Union, Belgian is an artificial construct. There is no unifying national consciousness. By the way, the Belgium government continues to be a thorn to Dr. Belien and his wife, Dr Alexandra Colen (who is even a Member of the Belgian Parliament).
One of Bodrum’s finest accompanied by a Gypsy band.
According to Dr. Colen, her husband was summoned to the police station and interrogated. "He was told that the Belgian authorities are of the opinion that, as a homeschooler, he has not adequately educated his children and, hence, is neglecting his duty as a parent, which is a criminal offence. The Ministry of Education has asked the judiciary to press charges and the judiciary told the police to investigate and take down his statement."
Dr. Belien is a lawyer by training, and his wife was a university lecturer, so they are plenty qualified, and the Belgian Constitution allows homeschooling. I met two of their children at the conference and they are articulate and smart.
PFS Conference panels included a discussion on property rights and international investment with panelists primarily from Eastern Europe; a panel covering religion and liberty from a variety of perspectives; and a discussion of political correctness and property rights, where Robert Grzinger made the point that property rights cause people to be polite in a voluntary and spontaneous way while political correctness creates forced politeness.
Mises Fellow Marco Bassani asked the crowd to consider how beautiful the world could be without the state, and another Mises Fellow, Yuri Maltsev reminisced about the evil empire of Mikhail Gorbachev that he used to toil under. For those that made the trip to the ancient ruins of Ephesus, professional philosopher Eugen-Maria Schulak spoke about Heraclites, who when asked to be king of that ancient city, instead chose to be a philosopher (if only George Bush and Tony Blair had done the same).
Christian Michel explored whether Libertarians and Communitarians are friends or foes, and Enrico Colombatto discussed the future of law and economics, stressing that people need a way to "opt out" of government programs especially education. Private education is a must because currently the masses are programmed to be dependent and love the government by their mid-twenties.
Journal of Libertarian Studies contributor, Frank van Dun discussed the nature of society and how rulers hold artificial positions that are not found in nature. He also discussed how what he called "thick" communities impose restrictions on people through traditions and commons values, and that the state is a force of emancipation from these thick communities.
Secession, Devolution, and Freedom was Tom Dilorenzo’s topic. Dilorenzo, author of The Real Lincoln, How Capitalism Saved America and the upcoming Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed to Know About Dishonest Abe, traced state’s rights and secession movements through US history. The American Revolution was a secession movement from Britain. Unfortunately, the right to secede was then lost during what DiLorenzo calls "The War to prevent Southern Independence." Anyone who champions states rights today is considered a racist. The US should be split into 7 or 8 republics, Dilorenzo speculated during the Q & A, "and then get rid of them one by one."
Expensive yachts and vacation condos combined with ancient history.
Appropriately, Property and Freedom Society founder Hans-Hermann Hoppe gave the closing presentation on the prospects for liberty and how we can win. The author of Democracy: The God that Failed and Economics and Ethics of Private Property told the crowd that for freedom to win, we must stick to the truth, not make theoretical compromises and that we must be radical to have any hope of influencing young people.
Hoppe has worked out a complete theoretical system for a private law society and presented it in detail. Hoppe made the point that competition is good when "goods" are being produced but is "utterly terrible" when "bads" are being produced. Democracy provides for competition in producing these "bads." A person must be bad to reach the top in a democracy. On the other hand, if you have a king, you might get lucky and he could be a good guy. Plus, kings tend to be kept under control by their families. A private law society would encourage self defense instead of discouraging it and if insurance companies specialized in defense (and they would because it would be in the self interest of those companies) they would recover goods taken in a crime, whereas government has no incentive to recover stolen property and therefore doesn’t. And perhaps most important, insurance companies are defensive by nature, not aggressive like, say, governments. It costs too much to be aggressive.
These are but a few highlights from the outstanding presentations made at the first meeting of the Property and Freedom Society; which stands for an uncompromising intellectual radicalism. If only Murray, that joyous, uncompromising intellectual radical could have been there with us.
Doug French [send him mail] is executive vice president of a Nevada bank and associate editor for Liberty Watch Magazine. He is the 2005 recipient of the Murray N. Rothbard Award from the Center for Libertarian Studies.