A Libertarian for Our Side

Jared Taylor, American Renaissance, January 2002

Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy — The God that Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy and Natural Order, Transaction Publishers, 2001, $44.95 ($24.95 softcover), 304 pp.

Libertarians, to the extent they have any influence on American policy, have been bitter opponents of immigration control. From the Cato Institute, to the Libertarian Party, to the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, their generally laudable opposition to government control leads them to view border control as just one more intolerable act of government tyranny. A Journal editorial on July 3, 1990 put the matter as bluntly as possible when it proposed an amendment to the Constitution: “There shall be open borders.”

Hans-Hermann Hoppe, professor of economics at University of Nevada Las Vegas, is a different kind of libertarian. He shares — even surpasses — the usual libertarian contempt for government intrusion and compulsion, but recognizes “free immigration” for what it is: forcing strangers into communities of natives who want to be left alone. Prof. Hoppe recognizes that the right to discriminate, to keep out undesirables, is a fundamental freedom that only the servile would ever give up.

Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy — The God that Failed

This forceful correction of the mistaken view of immigration in what Prof. Hoppe calls “left-liberal libertarianism” — the kind that attracts nudists, homosexuals, dope smokers, and misfits of all kinds — is just one of the excellent points he makes in a book that is as potentially subversive as The Communist Manifesto.

Our Enemy, the Government

The classic, liberal position has been that the only legitimate function of government is to protect property against crime, fraud, and foreign invasion. However, as Prof. Hoppe points out, even when a government is chartered with limited powers, it develops a taste for bossing people around, and expands its reach. In the United States, despite a Constitution that lists federal powers and even states clearly the government has no powers not specifically granted, bureaucrats now run a “protection” racket that goes well beyond property. Prof. Hoppe writes:

In the name of social, public or national security, our caretakers ‘protect’ us from global warming and cooling and the extinction of animals and plants, from husbands and wives, parents and employers, poverty, disease, disaster, ignorance, prejudice, racism, sexism, homophobia, and countless other public enemies and dangers.

Prof. Hoppe argues that it is in the very nature of government — which he defines as “a territorial monopoly of compulsion” — to increase its powers and exploit citizens: “Once the principle of government — judicial monopoly and the power to tax — is incorrectly accepted as just, any notion of restraining government power and safeguarding individual liberty and property is illusory.” In his view, the solution is not to tinker with policy, thereby leaving the monopolist of compulsion in place, but to abolish government entirely and turn over its few useful functions to private, competing organizations. Whether his proposed substitute for government would actually work (more about which below), his critique of public power is relentless and devastating.

All government is bad, but some kinds are worse than others, and Prof. Hoppe argues strongly that democracy is much worse than monarchy. The crux of his argument is that kings behave like owners who want to keep up the value of their property, while democratically elected rulers act like tenants who want to get as much out of their temporary occupancy as possible. A king has a proprietary, long-term interest in his country and wants to pass it on to his heirs in the best possible condition. A president is different: “Instead of maintaining or even enhancing the value of the government estate as a king would do, a president . . . will use up as much of the government resources as quickly as possible, for what he does not consume now, he may never be able to consume.”

Likewise, kings are not in the business of large-scale transfer of wealth from one class of citizens to another. There are limits to what the nobles and the people will tolerate, and it is clear to everyone if a king unfairly takes something from a subject and gives it to another. Prof. Hoppe recognizes that the popular image of monarchy is one of ruthless exploitation, but points out that not even the most powerful kings had anything like the tax-gathering powers common in democratic countries. In no monarchy did taxation even begin to approach levels now universal in Europe and the United States.

Democracy is the perfect system for the tax man. First, it promotes the false idea that people are equal, which leads to indignation over inequality of wealth and income. “There is nothing ethically wrong with inequality,” Prof. Hoppe explains, but politicians win office by promising to reduce it. This means redistribution, or seizing someone’s property and giving it to someone else. Because people have the illusion that it is “their” government that taxes them, and because the money does not go right out of one man’s pockets into another’s — as it would in a straightforward robbery — democratic citizens are much easier to loot than subjects of a king.

Even more important, since democratic government theoretically offers anyone the chance to win office or to persuade the taxing authorities to hand over some of the loot, it fosters a spirit of larceny: “Everyone may openly covet everyone else’s property, as long as he appeals to democracy; and everyone may act on his desire for another man’s property, provided that he finds entrance into government.” Furthermore, since candidates win office by appealing to covetousness, “advocacy and adoption of redistributive policies is predestined to become the very prerequisite for anyone wanting to attain or retain a government caretaker position,” and “prime ministers and presidents are selected for their proven efficiency as morally uninhibited demagogues.” Kings, by contrast, are not necessarily bad men. Some may be harmless dilettantes or even far-sighted patriarchs.

Prof. Hoppe points out that the broader the franchise, the greater the socialist vote. Welfare programs do not arise when only white male property owners can vote, as was originally the case in the United States. However, it is not shiftless dullards who milk democratic systems best; it is clever manipulators who arrange for such things as farm subsidies, protection from imports, arts grants, or free public university education for their children. “Democracy is immoral,” writes Prof. Hoppe, “. . . [because] it allows for A and B to band together to rip off C .”

The combination of egalitarian thinking and government lust for power results in what may be democracy’s worst offense: welfare. Subsidies for single mothers reward reckless procreation. Subsidies for the poor reward laziness. Social Security and Medicare reward heedless consumption rather than saving for retirement. All these programs reduce the need for family loyalty because they make it possible for people to live at public expense rather than count on kinsmen.

What is worse, undermining the family undermines the one social unit government has never before been able to invade. The millions of people dependent on government rather than on family members can be brazenly manipulated by social worker busy-bodies. As Prof. Hoppe puts it: The welfare state “uproot[s] individuals from their families to isolate and atomize them, thereby increasing the state’s power over them . . . From the point of view of the government’s rulers, their ability to interfere in internal family matters must be regarded as the ultimate prize and pinnacle of their own power.” Kings had no interest in transfer payments, much less the money to pay for them.

Immigration policies of democratic governments are also vastly inferior to those of monarchies. Kings want to improve the quality of their kingdoms, encouraging immigration of skilled workers and expelling criminals, losers and incompetents. As Prof. Hoppe explains, democratic governments may want more losers and incompetents:

[B]ums and unproductive people may well be preferred as residents and citizens, because they create more so-called ‘social problems,’ and democratic rulers thrive on the existence of such problems. Moreover, bums and inferior people will likely support egalitarian policies, whereas geniuses and superior people will not. The result of this policy of non-discrimination [in immigration policy] is forced integration: the forcing of masses of inferior immigrants onto domestic property owners who, if the decision were left to them, would have sharply discriminated and chosen very different neighbors for themselves.

As a libertarian, Prof. Hoppe is a strong advocate of free trade, but scorns the idea that it must go hand in hand with “free immigration,” which is conceptually entirely different. Free trade occurs only when there are willing sellers and buyers of goods; imports cross borders only when they are wanted. Immigrants walk across the border whether they are wanted or not. Even if there are employers who want immigrants, it does not follow that other citizens want to share parks, schools, shopping malls, streets, and movie theaters with them. Therefore, if capitalists really want foreign workers, they should keep them in self-sufficient company towns rather than force them on the public.

Prof. Hoppe recognizes that antipathy towards those outside one’s own group is perfectly natural, but it need not interfere with trade:

From the fact that one does not want to associate with or live in the neighborhood of Blacks, Turks, Catholics or Hindus, etc., it does not follow that one does not want to trade with them from a distance. To the contrary, it is precisely the absolute voluntariness of human association and separation — the absence of any form of forced integration — that makes peaceful relationships — free trade — between culturally, racially, ethnically, or religiously distinct people possible.

As Prof. Hoppe explains, whether domestically or internationally, “private property means discrimination.” When people have lost the right to discriminate they have lost the use of their property. Moreover, “a society in which the right to exclusion is fully restored to owners of private property would be profoundly unegalitarian, intolerant, and discriminatory,” which is why democratic societies fear this basic freedom.

Prof. Hoppe argues that the power of exclusion should revert to “states, provinces, cities, towns, villages, residential districts, and ultimately to private property owners and their voluntary associations.” Just as households do, towns or neighborhoods have every right to keep out anyone they don’t like. Restrictive covenants in property agreements should likewise be legal, so people can establish neighborhoods that suit them. Instead, Prof. Hoppe points out, “every nook and cranny of American society is affected by government management and forced integration; accordingly, social strife and racial, ethnic, and moral-cultural tension and hostility have increased dramatically.”

Race is only one of many criteria on which the right to discriminate should be restored:

Not to be able to exclude others means not to be able to protect oneself. The result of this erosion of private property rights under the democratic welfare state is forced integration. Forced integration is ubiquitous. Americans must accept immigrants they do not want. Teachers cannot get rid of lousy or ill-behaved students, employers are stuck with poor or destructive employees, landlords are forced to live with bad renters, banks and insurance companies are not allowed to avoid bad risks, restaurants and bars must accommodate unwelcome customers, and private clubs and covenants are compelled to accept members and actions in violation of their very own rules and restrictions.

And, as government control seeps into every corner of American life, legislation and regulation metastasize. The Code of Federal Regulations now takes up 26 feet of shelf space, “revealing the almost totalitarian power of democratic government.” No king ever dreamed of telling his citizens whom they could or could not hire, how much wheat they could or could not plant, or where they could or could not have a smoke.

Conservatism

Besides being a libertarian, Prof. Hoppe is a conservative 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.” This “natural state of affairs” is reflected in the traditional morality found in almost every society, and people violate it at their peril. Prof. Hoppe argues that in a democratic welfare society, “most [people who call themselves] conservatives . . . do not recognize that their goal of restoring normalcy requires the most drastic, even revolutionary, antistatist social changes . . .” He says it is impossible to rehabilitate the family and traditional morality without abolishing the welfare state that undermines them. He singles out Patrick Buchanan in particular for the warning that, “combining cultural conservatism and welfare-statism is impossible, and hence, economic nonsense.” Any conservative who wants to restore sane values will have to overthrow or at least eviscerate the state, and is therefore a revolutionary rather than a conservative.

Prof. Hoppe argues very forcefully that the fatal flaw of classic liberalism was the failure to understand that no monopoly power to tax and compel can be satisfactorily contained, even with a written constitution. He points out that once a liberal has conceded the legitimacy of any kind of taxation, he is at the mercy of socialists who want to raise taxes. Any debate over higher taxes is reduced to an argument about costs and benefits rather than a debate about principle, and in a democracy demagogues always win those arguments.

Prof. Hoppe is prepared to tread even on holy ground: “the American Constitution must be recognized for what it is — an error.” This is because “contrary to the original liberal intent of safeguarding liberty and property, every minimal government has the inherent tendency to become a maximal government.” The history of the United States demonstrates this perfectly.

With what, then, should we replace government? Prof. Hoppe thinks private, competing insurance companies could protect against crime and invasion — the only really essential function of government — just as they do against natural disasters. He also thinks that in the absence of government, natural aristocrats would arise to arbitrate contract disputes between citizens. He suggests it might be well to abolish government even if nothing replaced it, noting that although their function is protection, governments in the 20th century caused the deaths of some 170 million people through war and massacre.

Prof. Hoppe is not optimistic government can be abolished soon — indeed, it is expanding relentlessly towards a global government that would be colossally repressive — yet he reminds us that “every government can be brought down by a mere change in public opinion, i.e., by the withdrawal of the public’s consent and cooperation.” He suggests that once a critical mass of opinion were achieved, a few cities might withdraw from the state and form libertarian, no-government societies whose success would prompt imitators.

Short of abolishing government, Prof. Hoppe sees secession and ever-smaller units of limited government as a next-best solution: “[S]ecession always involves the breaking away of smaller from larger populations. It is thus a vote against the principle of democracy and majoritarianism.” A variety of small states is always better than one big state, because any single wicked government action will affect fewer people. Also, where there is freedom of emigration, neighboring governments are in a kind of competition, since productive citizens will move out if there is too much taxation and coercion. Finally, in a big country like the United States, it is easy to loot fellow citizens because there are millions of them and they live far away. People in small communities who know each other hesitate to use the tax system to shake each other down.

It is a mistake, moreover, to assume that national wealth requires bigness. A tiny country can be wealthy so long as it is integrated into the world economy. Switzerland is far richer than Brazil, and Hong Kong (before the Chinese took it back) and Singapore are clear success stories.

Prof. Hoppe acknowledges that ignorance and stupidity are among the built-in obstacles to abolishing democratic government. Most people do not realize that anything the government gives them it first had to take from them or from someone else. Thus, only an elite will spearhead a movement to abolish or drastically curtail government. Prof. Hoppe quotes Wilhelm Röpke: “the ‘revolt of the masses’ must be countered by another revolt, the ‘revolt of the elite.’” Unfortunately, in the United States, “elites” are as likely to figure how best to get on the receiving end of transfer payments as to lead a movement to abolish them.

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