Hoppe Revisited

Several writers in this space have recommended Hans-Hermann Hoppe's seminal essay The Private Production of Defense. I too recommend it, especially now in light of the events of September 11, 2001.

Hoppe argues persuasively that collective security provided by the state is perforce inferior to that which would be provided by private insurance agencies. Because large insurance companies, many of them multinational conglomerates, have vast financial resources and would be in competition with each other for a staggering amount of business, they would be far more efficient than monopolistic government police forces.

Hoppe states in the opening paragraph, "Among the most popular and consequential beliefs of our age is the belief in collective security. Nothing less significant than the legitimacy of the modern state rests on this belief." He calls this belief a myth, and ascribes it to English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who believed that man, left to his own devices, would be in a constant state of conflict. According to Hobbes, the solution to this circumstance is the institution of a state.

The problem with this theory as Hoppe sees it is that men who are essentially combative are the same men who will make up the state: "Man's nature is not transformed upon becoming (the state)." Additionally, the state must levy taxes in order to provide collective security, a situation that Hoppe accurately describes as a protection racket.

If men are naturally confrontational, and these same men comprise the state, it follows that it will be impossible for states themselves to maintain peace. In fact, states will be even less peaceful toward others than will individuals because states can externalize the cost of their behavior by expropriating tax dollars from their subjects.

Hoppe believes "… that the Hobbesian myth is accepted more or less unquestioningly by well over 90 percent of the adult population." Does this sound familiar? Polls immediately following the attack on the WTC and the Pentagon indicated that 86% of Americans support the U.S. government going to war "to put an end to terrorist attacks," that is, to provide protection and security. Hoppe continues, "However, to believe something does not make it true. Rather, if what one believes is false, one's actions will lead to failure."

It cannot be denied that our government failed to protect its own citizens in New York, or its own employees at the Pentagon. Apparently the only people that were able to protect others from a similar calamity were a group of (private) heroes who were successful in resisting the hijackers on United flight 93 to the extent that they were able to force the plane to crash into a barren section of Pennsylvania, rather than its intended target, speculated to be the Capitol or White House, thereby saving perhaps thousands more lives.

Furthermore, "the U.S. government has become entangled in hundreds of foreign conflicts and risen to the rank of the world's dominant imperialist power. Thus nearly every president since the turn of this (20th) century also has been responsible for the murder, killing, or starvation of countless innocent foreigners all over the world." Is it not clear that this, and not an envy of our freedom and capitalism, as the politicians and the compliant media tell us, has provoked the hatred and motivation of Osama bin Laden and his ilk?

Hoppe summarizes his belief that the existence of the imperial state is the problem rather than the solution when it comes to security and protection: "The U.S. government does not protect us. To the contrary, there exists no greater danger to our life, property, and prosperity than the U.S. government …"

This contention is borne out in the current situation. The actions of our own government have posed grave danger to life (U.S provocation leading to perhaps 10,000 of our own citizens dying in one day, with the deaths of countless innocent foreigners sure to come), property (the World Trade Center Twin Towers reduced to rubble) and prosperity (airlines going bankrupt, likely to be bailed out by your tax dollars; $40 billion and counting handed to the president by Congress; the Fed printing over $100 billion in fiat currency in two days, coupled with more interest rate cuts — inflationary policies that act as hidden taxes).

"… the U.S. president in particular is the world's single most threatening and armed danger, capable of ruining everyone who opposes him and destroying the entire globe."

Congress has approved a resolution authorizing President Bush to “use all necessary and appropriate force” against those involved in Tuesday’s deadly terrorist attacks. Those who don't line up behind Bush will surely be considered enemies, whether they are foreign or domestic. And with everything on the table militarily, including nuclear weapons, it is not a stretch to imagine that global warfare will be the result.

While we can plainly see that Hoppe foresaw the recent events insofar as they were caused by actions of the state, how is it that they could have been avoided in a Hoppean world? He argues that insurers would protect us from state aggression, just as they would from the aggression of individuals. Because governments "are inherently wasteful and inefficient in whatever they do, (including) weapons technology and production, military intelligence and strategy," they would be unable to compete with private insurance agencies whose profit motive would lead to superior efficiency. Further, agents of a state would be regarded as unwelcome interlopers, leading to emigration of residents of state-controlled territories to free territories, thus weakening those governments.

Even if a free territory were to be attacked or invaded by a state, "the aggressor would not encounter an unarmed population." In this instance, the hijackers armed with knives and the bluff of a bomb would have been met by superior firepower held by the free men and women on those planes. More likely, the hijackings would never have occurred. Hoppe points out that insurers would have no desire to disarm their clients. On the contrary, it is states that seek to disarm their subjects in order to make the plunder of taxation easier to affect.

Moreover, an invading state would likely be met by multiple insurance firms. Should the attack succeed, said insurance firms would be responsible for enormous indemnification payments. In order to preclude making those payments, insurers would be prepared to defend their clients by possessing superior intelligence, weapons and personnel. Hoppe envisions a two-pronged strategy: repelling or eliminating invaders and minimizing collateral damage (in stark contrast to, say, Madeline Albright); and targeting the offending state for reprisal, hoping to encourage opposition to that government, possibly leading to the transformation of the state to a free territory.

Clearly in a Hoppean climate, the tragic events of September 11 would never have occurred. Unfortunately, we are not there yet. What will it make it reality? Again, Hoppe shows the way: "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."

Hoppe also invokes Murray Rothbard from Power and Market. "It follows that just as socialism cannot be reformed but must be abolished in order to achieve prosperity, so can the institution of a state not be reformed but must be abolished in order to achieve justice and protection."

That eventuality seems remote right now. But it is up to us to make it happen. Talk to everyone you know who will listen about the advantages of liberty. Print out The Private Production of Defense and mail it to your friends. Send them articles via email from this site, Antiwar.com and other appropriate sites. Go in with friends and buy 100 copies of Frederic Bastiat's The Law for $150 from Laissez Faire Books and give one to everyone on your Christmas list.

Perhaps if we do this, and it becomes apparent in five or ten years that the government has not ended terrorism despite the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars and the slaughter of tens of thousands of people, the vision of Hans-Hermann Hoppe can be realized.