The Quiet Revolution

Hans-Hermann Hoppe: Democracy, The God That Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order (Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, N.J., 2001)

This 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.

Why? 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

The 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.

Let 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.

A 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

You 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

Whereas, 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.

Indeed, as writer Joseph Sobran has so often pointed out, the U.S. Constitution poses no serious threat to our present form of government.

Before 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 these services.

Hoppe 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.

The 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.

Whereas, 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.

This 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.

As 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.

I 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:

u201CI 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

One 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

An 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.

The 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 down.

I 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.

The 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.

Democracies, 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.

The 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.

With 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).

I 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

Defining 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

What might be some features of the natural order Hoppe appeals to? Listen to this:

u201CWithin 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

You 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?

This 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.

The 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.

Is 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?

An 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.

A 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.

As 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 statement.

Sobran 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:

As 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).

We've 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!

Also, in his 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

The 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.

Again, 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.

Anyone 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

In 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

There 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.

Whereas, in the other direction, we may look forward to a single, centralized world government, the ultimate tyranny, the Beast Regnant.

April 16, 2002

This article appeared in the April 2002 issue of Culture Wars Magazine, 206 Marquette Ave., South Bend, IN 46617, 574-289-9786, one year $29.