Getting Libertarianism Right is the delightful new book of essays by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. I say delightful because I was often nodding my head in agreement and smiling while reading it. Lew Rockwell himself has already published a fine review for LRC. Here I will address two questions in one, and my own digressions on the second one. Is Hoppe right?, as in being correct about the problems he describes and potential solutions. Of course, with one small particular disagreement that I will address. But is Hoppe right? in terms of being a right-wing conservative. This version of the question, I believe, requires a more nuanced response.
In describing his first meeting with Murray Rothbard, Hoppe describes himself as the “cool blonde from the North.” And with his self recognized “dry sense of humour” he called himself “perfect Wehrmacht-material.” But he “had grown up in defeated and devastated post-WWII West Germany,” an agnostic, where he was taught to have feelings of guilt and shame for being German and for German history. He received his PhD under the auspices of the neo-Marxist Jürgen Habermas. As Sean Gabb writes in the Introduction:
Getting Libertarianism... Best Price: null Buy New $2.99 (as of 01:55 EST - Details) To any external observer, he was following a path followed by many thousands of his generation. It should, in the normal course of things, have ended in a tenured post in which his duty, under cover of spreading disaffection, was to preach conformity to the new order of things in West Germany.
Indeed, from these biographical notes Hoppe was a typical deracinated modern intellectual, far from the traditional rooted conservatism that would make someone obviously right-wing. So how can we account for Dr. Hoppe’s eventual life in Turkey, from where he runs his Property and Freedom Society, instead of a cushy tenured post in academia.
Hoppe states directly, “I consider myself a right-libertarian—or, if that may sound more appealing, a realistic or commonsensical libertarian—and a consistent one at that.” Why? He notes that, “only based on correct empirical assumptions about man is it possible to arrive at a correct assessment as regards the practical implementation and the sustainability of a libertarian social order.” Regarding the Left he observes that their egalitarian worldview “is not only incompatible with libertarianism, however. It is so out of touch with reality that one must be wondering how anyone can take it seriously.” So it appears to be Hoppe’s common-sensical, pragmatic, and intellectual interpretation of his empirical view of the world that turned him to the right. It brings to mind the description (related in a book review of a biography) of the novelist Evelyn Waugh’s Catholic conversion under the spiritual direction of the legendary English Jesuit, Martin D’Arcy, who noted:
Few [converts] can have been so matter of fact as Evelyn Waugh. As he said himself, “On firm intellectual conviction but with little emotion I was admitted to the Church.” All converts have to listen while the teaching of the Church is explained to them-first to make sure that they do in fact know the essentials of the faith and secondly to save future misunderstandings. . . . Another writer came to me at the same time . . . and tested what was being told him by how far it corresponded with his experience. With such a criterion, it was no wonder that he did not persevere. Evelyn, on the other hand, never spoke of experience or feelings. He had come to learn and understand what he believed to be God’s revelation, and this made talking with him an interesting discussion based primarily on reason.
That is to say, Hoppe comes to the Right intellectually determining what is true. I would say Hoppe’s conversion is consistent with how Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn has described a person of the Right. “The true rightist is not a man who wants to go back to this or that institution for the sake of a return; he wants first to find out what is eternally true, eternally valid, and then either to restore or reinstall it, regardless of whether it seems obsolete, whether it is ancient, contemporary, or even without precedent, brand new, ‘ultramodern’…. The right stands for liberty, a free, unprejudiced form of thinking, a readiness to preserve traditional values (provided they are true values), a balanced view of the nature of man, seeing in him neither beast nor angel, insisting also on the uniqueness of human beings who cannot be transformed into or treated as mere numbers or ciphers.”
But is the example of Hoppe viable for society in general. Is the road to a libertarian order paved with intellectual truth? In a post titled Philosophy for Dummies, the Bionic Mosquito discussed the philosophical underpinning of a potential Libertarian order. Consider this exchange with one of his commentators.
“The answer will not be found via epistemology – aka man’s knowledge. It will be found in metaphysics. And if Maxwell is right (as I believe he is), then this will be discovered only by accepting revelation – finding God from the top down, not from the bottom up.”
Being a Christian, I certainly have a mind to accept this proposition, but hasn’t Hans Hoppe already done what you deny is possible?
Starting with the correct epistemology (logical deduction from axiomatic truth), he’s traced a logical thread in discovering correct axiology (private property rights, traditional family, Ten Commandments), and in so doing, has pointed toward the correct metaphysics (Christianity).
Okay, so maybe he has not accepted the Christian metaphysic himself, but he does see the favorable consequences such a metaphysic can have on the axiology he sees as the only one consistent with the correct epistemology.
Maybe I’m incorrectly applying these terms. How would you describe Hoppe’s work in terms of the hierarchy of epistemology, axiology, and metaphysics?
I do think I’m correct that he places epistemology at the top of the hierarchy, and this to me is interesting, because as you say, this was a prime characteristic of the Enlightenment, a development in human history that Hoppe himself has soundly criticized. I don’t think he’s done anything contradictory here. I just think he’s used the fundamental Enlightenment tool (precedence of epistemology) in a more disciplined manner in order to re-discover and validate older truths that the Enlightenment itself by and large erroneously rejected.
ATL, you can see that sometimes my enthusiasm gets the better of me. In my post, entitled “Philosophy for Dummies,” of which I included myself in the first rank, I made such an absolute statement. Now that I am stuck with it, let’s see if I can do something sensible with it.
From the post: “Metaphysics: The study of ultimate reality; gives shape and order to the material world; its claims are either true or not. Metaphysical claims include: God exists; the soul exists; the world operates according to the laws of logic.”
I did not have in mind Hoppe. I had in mind the work of natural theology – finding God from the ground up, instead of from the top down (revelation). While I am not well-versed in this study, I am exposed to a couple of sources.
So I wasn’t thinking about Hoppe. I was thinking about “God exists,” maybe even “the soul exists.” In reference to Hoppe’s work, you offer: “…and in so doing, has pointed toward the correct metaphysics (Christianity).” But what is meant by “Christianity”? Does it make a difference if we believe God exists (if we accept that the gap in the pyramid is there and will always be there), or do we just have to act in accord with a few of the commandments and a sprinkling of the Sermon on the Mount?
I guess I was thinking this because as long as we build a foundation for things we think we can control, the structure will be both unstable and subject to manipulation by those who wish to control us. Perhaps coming to the understanding that no matter the foundation man builds, we will never be able to close this gap is necessary if we want a stable structure.
You know, they tried finding God in Star Trek: The Final Frontier. They found a charlatan. Perhaps this is all man is capable of finding when he attempts to find the
In the same book review noted above, Waugh is quoted as believing that:
Civilization-and by this I do not mean talking cinemas and tinned food, nor even surgery and hygienic houses, but the whole moral and artistic organization of Europe-has not in itself the power of survival. It came into being through Christianity, and without it has no significance or power to command allegiance. . . . It is no longer possible, as it was in the time of Gibbon, to accept the benefits of civilization and at the same time deny the supernatural basis on which it rests. . . . Christianity . . . is in greater need of combative strength than it has been for centuries.
I think Hoppe might agree with Waugh’s statement. So, is Hoppe Right? Of course, but perhaps he would agree that the necessary Christian society for libertarianism to flourish will require, as explained by Bionic, more metaphysics than epistemology.
There is one last point of disagreement between me and Dr. Hoppe that I alluded to in the opening paragraph. He states that, “there has been no second Mises or Rothbard. Not even close, and we may have to wait for a long time for this to happen.” I think that person has arrived in the person of Hoppe himself. Thank you Dr. Hoppe, may you live long to bless us with your wit and wisdom.