The State, the Intellectuals, and the Role of Anti-Intellectual-Intellectuals
My first public appearance as a speaker in the United States took place
more than two decades ago here in New York City, in 1986, at the first
major Mises Institute conference, held to celebrate Murray Rothbard's
sixtieth birthday. And so I am particularly pleased to be back here.
Now, let me begin with the definition of a state. What must an agent be
able to do to qualify as a state? This agent must be able to insist
that all conflicts among the inhabitants of a given territory be brought
to him for ultimate decision making, or be subject to his final review.
In particular, this agent must be able to insist that all conflicts
involving himself be adjudicated by him or his own agent.
And implied in the power to exclude all others from acting as ultimate
judge, as the second defining characteristic of the state, is the
agent's power to tax. That is, to unilaterally determine the price that
justice-seekers must pay for his services.
Now based on this definition of a state, it is easy to understand why a
desire to control a state might exist. For whoever is a monopolist of
final arbitration within a given territory can make laws, and he
who can legislate, can also tax. And surely, this is an enviable
More difficult to understand is how anyone can get away with
controlling a state. Why would others put up with such an institution?
Now I want to approach the answer to this question indirectly. Suppose
you and your friends happen to be in control of such an extraordinary
institution. What would you do to maintain your position, provided of
course: you didn't have any moral scruples? (laughter)
You would certainly use some of your tax income to hire some thugs.
First, to make peace among your subjects, so that they stay productive and
there is something to tax for you in the future. But more importantly:
because you might need these thugs for your own protection, should the
people somehow wake up from their dogmatic slumber and challenge you.
Now this will not do however, in particular if you and your friends are
a small minority in comparison to the number of your subjects. And only
if you are a small minority can you live a comfortable life on the backs
of others. For a minority cannot lastingly rule a majority solely by
brute force. It must rule by opinion. The majority of the population
must be brought to voluntarily accept your rule.
This is not to say that the majority must agree with every one of your
measures. Indeed, it may well believe that many of your policies are
mistaken. However, it must believe in the legitimacy of the
institution of the state as such. And hence, that even if a particular
policy may be wrong, that such mistake is an accident that one must
tolerate in view of the fact that some greater good is provided by this
Yet how can one persuade the majority of the population to believe this?
And the answer is: only with the help of the intellectuals. Now how do
you get the intellectuals to work for you? To this the answer is easy.
The market demand for intellectual services is not exactly high and
stable. Intellectuals would be at the mercy of the fleeting values of
the masses, and the masses are uninterested in intellectual,
philosophical concerns. The state, on the other hand, can accomodate
the intellectual's typically over-inflated egos, and offer them a warm,
secure, and permanent berth in its apparatus.
However it is not sufficient that you employ just some
intellectuals. You must essentially employ them all, even the ones who
work in areas far removed from those that you are primarily concerned
with, that is philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities. For
even intellectuals working in mathematics or the natural sciences for
instance can obviously think for themselves, and so can become
potentially dangerous. It is thus important that you secure also their
loyalty to the state.
Put differently: you must become a monopolist. And this is best
achieved if all educational institutions, from kindergarten to
universities, are brought under state control, and all teaching and
researching personnel is state-certified.
But what if the people do not want to become educated? For this,
education must be may compulsory. And in order to subject the people to
state controlled education for as long as possible, everyone must be
declared equally educable. The intellectuals know such
egalitarianism to be false, of course, yet to proclaim nonsense such as
everyone a potential Einstein, if only given sufficient educational
attention, pleases the masses and, in turn, provides an almost unlimited
demand for intellectual services.
Now, none of this guarantees correct statist thinking, of course. It
certainly helps however, in reaching the correct statist conclusion, if
one realizes that without the state one might be out of work, and may
have to try one's hands at the mechanics of gas-pump operation, instead
of concerning oneself with such pressing problems as alienation, equity,
exploitation, the deconstruction of gender and sex roles, or the culture
of the Eskimos, the Hopes, and the Zulus. (applause)
Now, in any case, even if the intellectuals feel underappreciated by you,
that is by one particular state administration, they know that help can
only come from another state administration, but certainly not from an
intellectual assault on the institution of a state as such. Hence, it
is hardly surprising that, as a matter of fact, the overwhelming
majority of contemporary intellectuals, including most conservative or
so-called free-market intellectuals, are fundamentally and
Now has the work of the intellectuals paid off for the state? I would
think so. If asked whether the institution of the state is necessary, I
do not think it is exaggerated to say that 99% of all people would
unhesitatingly say yes.
And yet, this success rests on rather shaky grounds, and the entire
statist edifice can be brought down, if only the work of the
intellectuals is countered by the work of anti-intellectual
intellectuals, as I like to call them.
The overwhelming majority of state supporters are not philosophical
statists. That is, statists because they have thought about the
matter. Most people do not think much about anything philosophical at
all. They go about their daily lives, and that is it.
So most support stems from the mere fact that the state exists, and has
always existed as far as one can remember, and that is typically not
farther away than one's own lifetime. That is, the greatest achievement
of the statist intellectuals is the fact that they have cultivated the masses'
natural intellectual laziness or incapacity, and never allowed for the
subject of the state to come up for serious discussion. The state is
considered as an unquestionable part of the social fabric.
The first and foremost task of the anti-intellectual intellectuals,
then, is to counter this dogmatic slumber of the masses by offering a
precise definition of the state as I have done at the outset, and then
to ask if there is not something truly remarkable, odd, strange,
awkward, ridiculous, indeed ludicrous about an institution such
I am confident that such simple definitional work will produce some very
first but serious doubt regarding an institution that one previously
had been taking for granted. And that seems to be a good start. Again,
recall: a state is an institution that decides who is right and wrong in
conflicts involving itself.
Now, further, proceeding from less sophisticated yet not incidentally
more popular pro-state arguments to more sophisticated ones: to the
extent that intellectuals have deemed it necessary to argue in
favor of the state at all, their most popular argument, encountered
already at kindergarten age, runs like this:
Some activities of the state are pointed out: the state builds roads,
kintergarten schools, it delivers the mail and puts the policeman on the
street. Imagine there would be no state. Then we would not have these
goods. Thus, a state is necessary.
And at the university level, a slightly more sophisticated version of
the same argument is presented. It goes like this:
True, markets are best at providing many or even most things, but there
are other goods that markets cannot provide or cannot provide in
sufficient quantity or quality. And these other so-called 'public
goods' are goods which bestow benefits unto people beyond those people
who have actually produced or paid for them. Foremost among such goods
ranks typically education and research. Education and research for
instance, it is argued, are extremely valuable goods. They would be
underproduced however, because of 'free riders'. That is, cheats who
benefit via so-called 'neighborhood effects' from education and research
without actually paying for it. Thus, the state is necessary to provide
otherwise underproduced or unproduced 'public goods' such as education
Now these statist arguments can be refuted by a combination of three
First, as for the kindergarten argument, it does not follow from the
fact that the state provides roads and schools that only the state can
provide such goods. People have little difficulty recognizing
that this is a fallacy. From the fact that monkeys can ride bikes, it
does not follow that only monkeys can ride bikes.
And secondly, immediately following, it must be recalled that the state
is an institution that can legislate and tax. And hence,
that state agents have little incentive to produce efficiently. State
roads and schools will only be more costly, and their quality will
be lower. For there is always a tendency for state agents to use up as
many resources as possible doing whatever they do, but actually work as
little as possible doing it.
Now third, as for the more sophisticated statist argument, it involves
exactly the same fallacy encountered already at the kindergarten level.
For even if one were to grant the rest of the argument, it is still a
fallacy to conclude from the fact that states provide public goods that
only states can do so. But more importantly, it must be pointed out
that the entire argument demonstrates a total ignorance of the most
fundamental fact of human life, namely scarcity. True, markets will
not provide for all desirable things. There are always unsatisfied
wants as long as we do inhabit the Garden of Eden. But to bring such
unproduced goods into existence, scarce resources must be expended,
which consequently can no longer be used to produce other likewise
desirable things. Whether public goods exist next to private ones does
not matter in this regard. The fact of scarcity remains unchanged.
More public goods can only come at the expense of less private goods.
Yet what needs to be demonstrated is that one good is more important and
valuable than another one. This is what is meant by 'economizing'.
Yet can the state help economize scarce resources? This is the question
that must be answered. In fact, however, conclusive proof exists that
the state does not and can not economize. For in order to
produce anything, the state must resort to taxation or to legislation,
which demonstrates irrefutably that its subjects do not want what the
state produces but actually prefer something else as more important than
those things produced by the state.
Rather than economize, the state can only redistribute. It can produce
more of what it wants, and less of what the people want. And to recall,
whatever the state then produces will be produced inefficiently.
Finally, the most sophisticated argument in favor of the state must be
briefly examined. From Hobbes on down this argument has been repeated
endlessly. It runs like this:
In the state of nature, that is before the establishment of a state,
permanent conflict reigns. Everyone claims a right to everything and
this will result in interminable war. There is no way out of this
predicament by means of agreement, for who would enforce these
agreements? Whenever the situation appeared advantageous, one or both
parties would break the agreement and conflict would result. Hence,
people recognize that there is but one solution to the desirable goal of
peace, namely the establishment, per agreement, of a state. Namely, a
third independent party as ultimate judge and enforcer.
Yet, if this thesis is correct, and agreements require an outside
enforcer to make them binding, then a state by agreement can never come
into existence. For in order to enforce the agreement which leads to
the establishment of a state, to make this agreement binding so to
speak, another outside enforcer, a prior state, would already have to
exist. And in order for this state to come into existence, yet
another still earlier state must be postulated, and so an infinite
On the other hand, if we accept that states do exist, and of
course they do, then this very fact contradicts the Hobbesian story.
The state itself has come into existence without any outside
enforcer. At the time of the alleged agreement, no prior state existed.
Moreover, once a state is in existence, the resulting social order still
remains a self-enforcing one. To be sure, if A and B now agree on
something, their agreements are made binding by an external party, the
state. However, the state itself is not so bound by any outside
enforcer. There exists no external third party insofar as conflicts
between state agents and state subjects are concerned. And likewise,
there exists no external third party for conflicts between different
state agents. Insofar as agreements entered into by the state are
concerned, that is such agreements can only be self-binding on the
state. That is, the state is bound by nothing except its own
self-accepted and enforced rules, the constraints that it imposes on
Yet this is precisely what the Hobbesian story wants to rule out as
impossible, namely a social system capable of producing peace and
security based on the self-enforcement of rules.
Now this brings me to the final step in my argument.
If the failures of the pro-state arguments are so apparent, and the
anti-state or anarchist position is so compelling, why then are
anti-intellectual intellectuals so unsuccessful in making their case?
The reason is, that ideas don't spread on its own. For ideas to spread
it requires proponents of these ideas. And these proponents cannot live
off love and air alone. Anti-intellectual intellectuals too require
resources to sustain a living, so that they can write and teach. And if
they want to be effective in their work, they require an institutional
support system that helps promote and distribute their ideas.
This is the crux of the problem, then. True, the distribution of ideas,
also unorthodox ideas has become much easier in recent decades with the
development of the internet. However this does not change in the
slightest the fact that 99% or so of all intellectuals are directly or
indirectly supported by the state, and that 99% or so of all
institutional support of education and research is state-financed, with
That is to say, there is simply not enough financial support available
for anti-intellectual intellectual endeavors to turn the currently
miniscule minority of principled anti-state intellectuals into the
critical mass necessary to overcome the overwhelming odds in favor of
True, some anti-intellectual intellectuals have managed to slip through
the cracks, and a few have even attained pampered positions within the
current statist education and research system. But these are
institutional accidents, which are quickly repaired within the system,
by either corrupting these individuals, or rendering them institutional
ineffective and freezing them out. Hence, there is no way around the
insight that there are not enough anti-intellectual intellectuals around
because there is insufficient funding to support them in larger numbers,
compelling many potential anti-state intellectuals to choose other,
Hardly surprising the state had its hands in creating this situation.
Namely, by doing its very best to destroy what I call the natural
elites. Natural elites are men of independent wealth and independent
minds. Competing as such most directly with the state's monopolist
aspiration as ultimate judge, natural elites everywhere are considered
potentially dangerous by the state. Accordingly, to reduce this danger,
the state has co-opted members of the natural elite into the state
system and thereby made their wealth dependent on continued friendly
behavior on their part. Or else it has confiscated or threatened to
confiscate their wealth. And in any case it has sucked them all into
the very same education system as everyone else.
To be sure, there still exist wealthy men. Indeed, more of them exist
today than ever before. But increasingly less of them can be described
as independently wealthy, because most of their wealth can be destroyed
in the blink of an eye by the state.
Nor is there a lack of intelligence to be found among these people. But
as a result of decades of relentless educational propaganda, their once
independent minds have become dulled, clouded, and corrupted. They feel
guilty about their wealth and dabble in politically-correct so-called
'social endeavors' to compensate for their alleged sins.
And in any case, the rich and famous today embrace the very same
easy-to-be-manipulated high-time-preference lifestyle of "don't worry,
be happy" as the masses.
Yet not all hope is lost. Because there exists the Mises Institute,
which, within the twenty-five years of its existence, has become the
world's leading center of anti-statist intellectual work. And despite
all efforts to the contrary, and however reduced in numbers and
strength, there still exists some remnants of a natural elite, as the
presence of you, the supporters of the Mises Institute, proves.
Together, with your help, the moral and economic perversion that is the
state can be exposed. With some luck, we may actually initiate a
genuine social revolution, namely the triumph of liberty and with it,
unheard of prosperity over state tyranny, impoverishment, and waste.
Or we may at least contribute to the fact that matters do not become
worse, or become worse only more slowly. And in any case, together, we
can take pride in the fact that we made a contribution to keep moral and
economic truths alive.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe delivered
the above at the Mises Institute's 25th Anniversary Celebration, 13
October 2007, in New York City. The above is a transcription of the mp3
available at Mises.org.