Hoppe on Covenant Communities and Advocates of Alternative Lifestyles

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As Guido Hülsmann and I observe in our Introduction to Property, Freedom, and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe (Mises Institute, 2009), Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe is without a doubt one of the most important libertarian scholars of our time: “He has made pioneering contributions to sociology, economics, philosophy, and history. He is the dean of the present-day Austrian School of economics, and is famous as a libertarian philosopher. He and his writings have inspired scholars all over the world to follow in his footsteps and to provide a scientific foundation for individual freedom and a free society.” Hoppe is beloved and admired by libertarians worldwide for his tireless work in the service of liberty and his prodigious scholarly output—his publications have been translated into over 21 languages; and his international Property and Freedom Society, founded in 2006, draws an increasingly impressive audience at each annual meeting (the next one starts in about a week, at which I am speaking). And yet, as his mentor and friend Murray Rothbard, the greatest libertarian thinker ever, noted in his 1990 article Hoppephobia:

Although he is an amiable man personally, Hoppe’s written work seems to have the remarkable capacity to send some readers up the wall, blood pressure soaring, muttering and chewing the carpet. It is not impolite attacks on critics that does it. Perhaps the answer is Hoppe’s logical and deductive mode of thought and writing, demonstrating the truth of his propositions and showing that those who differ are often trapped in self-contradiction and self-refutation.

Here, Rothbard was talking about Hoppe’s “argumentation ethics” defense of libertarian rights, which drove many libertarian scholars bonkers.

Another controversy erupted in 2004 when, during a money and banking class lecture, Professor Hoppe illustrated the concept of “time preference” by noting that people who have children tend to develop longer time horizons (they have to plan ahead for their kids); and that, in comparison, certain demographic groups that tend not to have children, such as homosexuals, the very old, etc., could be expected not to develop as as long an economic time horizon as those that do have children. In other words, because homosexuals don’t have children, ceteris paribus, they will have higher time preference. Now whether this is empirically true or not is not the point; it was simply an illustration of the concept of time preference. And yet a student took offense, resulting in sanctions by UNLV and Hoppe’s battle with the thought police—which he ultimately won (see Hoppe, My Battle with the Thought Police, Mises Daily (April 12, 2005); Stephan Kinsella & Jeff Tucker, The Ordeal of Hoppe, The Free Market (April 2005); Jeff Tucker, Idiot Patrol, Mises Blog (Mar. 2, 2005); and the Hans-Hermann Hoppe Victory Blog, signed by over 1800 supporters).

Related to this controversy were some comments by Hoppe in his 2001 book Democracy: The God That Failed about discrimination against certain people by private “covenant” communities in a free society. Over the years Hoppe’s critics—most of them, sadly, libertarians—have uncharitably accused Hoppe of homophobia, bigotry, and the like, based on these passages. In particular, on p. 218, Hoppe writes:

There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society. Likewise, in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles 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.

In his followup article, My Battle with the Thought Police, he elaborated:

In my book Democracy, The God That Failed I not only defend the right to discrimination as implied in the right to private property, but I also emphasize the necessity of discrimination in maintaining a free society and explain its importance as a civilizing factor. In particular, the book also contains a few sentences about the importance, under clearly stated circumstances, of discriminating against communists, democrats, and habitual advocates of alternative, non-family centered lifestyles, including homosexuals.

For instance, on p. 218, I wrote “in a covenant concluded among proprietors and community tenants for the purpose of protecting their private property, …no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very purpose of the covenant … such as democracy and communism.” “Likewise, in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal. … (violators) will have to be physically removed from society.”

In its proper context these statements are hardly more offensive than saying that the Catholic Church should excommunicate those violating its fundamental precepts or that a nudist colony should expel those insisting on wearing bathing suits. However, if you take the statements out of context and omit the condition: in a covenant… then they appear to advocate a rights violation.

Despite this clarification, his detractors continue to distort his words and hurl unjustified accusations. To be clear, I’m not homophobic at all (see my The Libertarian Case for Gay Marriage), and neither is Hoppe. I know him well, and would not associate with bigots etc. Hoppe is one of the finest people I’ve met, and a modern, cosmopolitan, tolerant person. He’s not the fundamentalist conservative ogre some paint him to be. In the interest of setting the record straight I sent my interpretation of these passages to Hoppe, and he stated that he agreed entirely with it, and that I was free to post that he did:

Hans, from time to time you are still unfairly criticized based on your comments that covenant communities would “be intolerant of advocates of” “alternative, non-family and kin-centered lifestyles” such as “individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism.”

I’ve always thought it clear that what you meant was that in a private, covenant-based order, one that is not only libertarian but also traditionalist and based on the family-based social unit, people who are openly hostile to the underlying norms of this society would tend to be shunned, maybe even expelled (not violently, but consistent with property rights). Some of your uncharitable critics say you mean that homosexuals themselves would be expelled merely for being gay. I thought what you meant was not gays per se, but rather those people openly hostile to the basic cultural norms of society, who openly and habitually advocate incompatible lifestyles/ideas and against the underlying normative purpose of the community—like a guy who hates science fiction would be out of place at a Star Trek convention. Thus, the gay couple down the street who mind their own business would not be expelled, but only those who are openly hostile to the basic heterosexual or private property basis of society.

I think of this as in the case of a priest: he lives in a primarily family-based, procreative culture. Yet he is himself celibate and does not procreate. However, he is not going around advocating that no one procreate, that everyone be celibate like him. If he did, he would in fact be advocating something misanthropic and destructive of mankind itself. Rather, he is a special case and lives within a predominately family-based heterosexual society; and he does not condemn heterosexual marriage and procreation; far from it, he supports it.

Likewise, I take you to be saying that the occasional homosexuals can get along fine in a society, while recognizing they are a minority and that the predominate heterosexual family unit is fine, but that they are just different–like the priest is. Your comments don’t even imply that the covenant community would require them to be “in the closet,” just not openly hostile to traditional morals and practices that the members of this community believe are essential to its purpose.

(I suppose you also envision some covenant based groups could be more radically fundamentalist and not even tolerate homosexuals at all, but that is not what you are equating with a covenant-based libertarian society per se.)

In support of this interpretation, I note that on p. 212 you explicitly state that what gays do in private is their own business, and you write: “To avoid any misunderstanding, it might be useful to point out that the predicted rise in discrimination in a purely libertarian world does not imply that the form and extent of discrimination will be the same or similar everywhere. To the contrary, a libertarian world could and likely would be one with a great variety of locally separated communities engaging distinctly different and far-reaching discrimination” (“e.g., nudists discriminating against bathing suits,” as Tucker points out in Idiot Patrol). You then favorably quote Rothbard, from his 1991 Rothbard-Rockwell Report article, “The ‘New Fusionism’: A Movement For Our Time”:

In a country, or a world, of totally private property, including streets, and private contractual neighborhoods consisting of property-owners, these owners can make any sort of neighborhood-contracts they wish. In practice, then, the country would be a truly “gorgeous mosaic,” … ranging from rowdy Greenwich Village-type contractual neighborhoods, to socially conservative homogeneous WASP neighborhoods. Remember that all deeds and covenants would once again be totally legal and enforceable, with no meddling government restrictions upon them. So that considering the drug question, if a proprietary neighborhood contracted that no one would use drugs, and Jones violated the contract and used them, he fellow community-contractors could simply enforce the contract and kick him out. Or, since no advance contract can allow for all conceivable circumstances, suppose that Smith became so personally obnoxious that his fellow neighborhood-owners wanted him ejected. They would then have to buy him out—probably on terms set contractually in advance in accordance with some “obnoxious” clause.

Elsewhere (in Nations By Consent: Decomposing the Nation-State, which you favorably cite elsewhere in Democracy), Rothbard similarly writes:

With every locale and neighborhood owned by private firms, corporations, or contractual communities, true diversity would reign, in accordance with the preferences of each community. Some neighborhoods would be ethnically or economically diverse, while others would be ethnically or economically homogeneous. Some localities would permit pornography or prostitution or drugs or abortion, others would prohibit any or all of them. The prohibitions would not be state imposed, but would simply be requirements for residence or use of some person’s or community’s land area.

In other words, your critics who accuse you of being homophobic, or of stating that libertarian communities would or ought to discriminate against homosexuals per se, or who assert this is what you meant in the passages, are flat out wrong. You were talking about private, covenant-based communities—in particular the ones based on more traditional, culturally-conservative heterosexual-family-based norms—who would tend to “be intolerant of advocates of” ideas incompatible with, or openly hostile to, or “contrary to the very purpose of” the norms of such a traditionalist covenant. You’re not saying that libertarian societies per se, even libertarian covenant communities, would engage in such discrimination. There would be a diversity of such contractual communities, and some of them would be more traditionalist and more intolerant of those people who advocate practice and ideas that are contrary to that community’s norms and purpose.

As I said, I’ve always read you this way, and think this is clear from reading your words, but some of your critics insist to the contrary so I thought it might be useful to attempt another clarification.

9:46 am on May 27, 2010
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