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Hoppe Review in English

January 14, 2004

Here is an English version of  my review of Hoppe's  Myth of National Defense, which appeared in Frankfurter Allgermeine Zeitung, January 5, 2004 (from the German):

Libertarians argue in favor of competition because it furthers efficient solutions and prevents monopolies. When it comes to questions of national security, however, many of them prefer to trust and freely leave the monopoly of power to the state. After reading these essays the justification for this trust will be seriously challenged.

Hoppe and his co-authors claim that it is a myth that the state rather than the market should be better able to guarantee the safety of its citizens. They present their arguments in four chapters. The first two analyze the state’s security achievements from a theoretical and historical perspective, whereas the other two examine the market alternatives and their practical applicability.

Luigi Bassani and Carlo Lottieri, illuminating the history of thought on this topic, look at the criticism of the state power monopoly. In doing so they refer to earlier essays by German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer, Belgian economist Gustave de Molinari (to whom this volume is dedicated), and American economist Murray Rothbard, who points out that force may only be used in the defense of persons or property. But which war has fulfilled this prerequisite (68), he asks rhetorically.

Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddin, Bertrand Lemennicier and Gerard Radnitzky argue against the thesis that democracy is more peaceful than other forms of government. A historical comparison shows that monarchy used to be much more peaceful (Kuehnelt-Leddin), and that the bellicosity of democracy has its roots in its incentive structure (Radnitzky). Regarding risk minimization and following the logic of competition it would be better if weapons, even nuclear weapons, could be traded freely (Lemennicier).

Joseph Stromberg gives many examples of efficient private defense systems, for example mercenary groups, militias, or guerillas, while Larry Sechrest attacks the thesis that the private navy was supplanted by a state version for technological reasons. Instead, this change was largely due to political motives, as is shown in the Paris declaration of 1856 (272). Finally, Jeffrey Hummel explains the historically successful model of state founding through conquest with free-riding motives of the conquered.

Deterrence is an external effect of weapons that profits those without weapons as well (spill-over-effect). Strangely enough, this was used to justify state armament only, not private armament, according to Walter Block, who also shows the weaknesses of the thesis that security is a public good and hence needs to a state monopoly. Assuming consistent security needs, the abolition of the state would create a market for security in which diverse insurance providers could guard more accurately and cheaply than the state against individual risks, according to Hoppe. As far as political reform is concerned, only secession can lead to a totally free society. To pave the way for this, a lot of convincing has yet to be done, says Guido Hülsmann.

With this collection of essays the authors have advanced quite a long way in the right direction.


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