Mises Wire

Three Cheers for Hoppe

The leftist rag Mother Jones doesn’t like Blake Masters, the Republican nominee for the US Senate from Arizona. It’s no surprise that this magazine would oppose a conservative candidate, but according to the author of the piece, Noah Lanard, Masters is guilty of a terrible sin.

On Election Day in 2005, then–Stanford sophomore Blake Masters sent two emails to the listserv of his vegetarian co-op. In the first, Masters, now the Republican Senate candidate in Arizona, urged classmates to read an article about a California ballot measure “[i]f you must worship that miserably peculiar American diety [sic] called Democracy.” In the second, he put together a reading list that could have easily served as a crash course in anti-democratic libertarianism.

Two of the articles were by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, a German economist best known for his 2001 jeremiad Democracy: The God That Failed. One, a 1995 paper titled ‘The Political Economy of Monarchy and Democracy, and the Idea of a Natural Order,’ argued that ‘the historic transition from monarchy to democracy represents not progress but civilizational decline.’ In addition to advocating ‘the abdication of democracy,’ Hoppe wanted people to accept a ‘natural order’ under which a ‘voluntarily acknowledged ‘natural’ elite—a nobilitas naturalis’ reigns supreme.” See this.

I’m sure that you noticed something is missing. Lanard says, in effect: “Hoppe thinks that monarchy is better than democracy! How evil can you get!” Of course, he doesn’t tell us that Hans prefers an anarcho-capitalist society, one with no state at all, to monarchy. Hans thinks that absolute monarchy is also a stage in the decline of political institutions.

But let’s put this point aside. Hans does think monarchy is better than democracy. Why is this wrong? Lanard doesn’t tell us. We are just supposed to gasp in horror at the thought that Hans has criticized democracy. No need to look at arguments.

Maybe the point is supposed to be this. Masters is running in a democratic election for the Senate. If you don’t like democracy, aren’t you being inconsistent in running for office? Not at all. There is nothing wrong with monarchists thinking that one candidate for office would be better than another and supporting him.

As the heroic Tom DiLorenzo, another target of Lanard’s venom, points out, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were also critical of democracy, yet they are viewed as Founding Fathers. “Apparently, some of Masters’ old politically conniving left-wing college classmates from Stanford sent the Lying Media Scum (LMS), including Mother Jones, some old emails that Masters passed around to his undergraduate classmates seventeen years ago alerting them to some publications by myself, Murray Rothbard, and Hans-Hermann Hoppe. As every decent person knows, that should certainly disqualify anyone from holding public office in America, if not being a legitimate member of the human race in general. The emails prove that Masters ‘hates democracy,’ says the old commie rag. Actually, that statement makes Masters sound a lot like James Madison who, in Federalist #10, described democracy as ‘the violence of faction’ that would inevitably destroy civil government if not ‘bound by the chains of the Constitution,’ as his neighbor Thomas Jefferson said. The whole purpose of the Constitution, Madison said, was to constrain and limit democracy. (It never worked out that way, by the way). It goes without saying, therefore, that neither Madison nor Jefferson would be qualified to hold public office in America according to the ‘Mother Jones’ criteria.”

But maybe it’s something else that’s bothering Noah “Open Borders” Lanard. Hans talks about genetics! He believes in an elite of noble families! “As Hoppe—a major influence on Curtis Yarvin, the self-proclaimed absolute monarchist blogger who recently made his first ever political contribution to his friend Masters’ campaign—explained in one of the articles Masters recommended: ‘because of selective mating and marriage and the laws of civil and genetic inheritance, positions of natural authority are more likely than not passed on within a few—noble—families.’ The path forward was to provide ‘ideological support’ to ‘all decentralizing or even secessionist social forces’ so that the natural elite could reemerge in new jurisdictions.” Lanard make it sound as if Hans were supporting a dictatorship by the Master Race. He has neglected a point he himself noted in passing earlier in the article. Hans thinks that the natural leaders would be “voluntarily accepted”—they aren’t imposed on anybody. Apparently, Lanard can’t take seriously the fact that Hans wants a social system with no state at all. To repeat, Hans is an anarcho-capitalist.

Lanard has done us one favor. He refers us to Hans’ great paper, The Political Economy of Monarchy and Democracy and the Idea of a Natural Order

If we examine this article, we’ll see that it’s full of insights and confirms Hans’ place as a major political thinker. First of all, he explains why monarchies are likely to be better than democracies. Both are states, agencies of compulsion, but privately owned agencies of compulsion are likely to be less oppressive that those owned by the non-existent “public.” “The defining characteristic of private government ownership is that the expropriated resources and the monopoly privilege of future expropriation are individually owned. The appropriated resources are added to the ruler’s private estate and treated as if they were a part of it, and the monopoly privilege of future expropriation is attached as a title to this estate and leads to an instant increase in its present value (‘capitalization’ of monopoly profit). Most importantly, as private owner of the government estate, the ruler is entitled to pass his possessions onto his personal heir; he may sell, rent, or give away part or all of his privileged estate and privately pocket the receipts from the sale or rental; and he may personally employ or dismiss every administrator and employee of his estate. In contrast, with a publicly owned government the control over the government apparatus lies in the hands of a trustee, or caretaker. The caretaker may use the apparatus to his personal advantage, but he does not own it. He cannot sell government resources and privately pocket the receipts, nor can he pass government possessions onto his personal heir. He owns the current use of government resources, but not their capital value. Moreover, while entrance into the position of a private owner of government is restricted by the owner’s personal discretion, entrance into the position of a caretaker-ruler is open. Anyone, in principle, can become the government’s caretaker. From these assumptions two central, interrelated predictions can be deduced: (1) A private government owner will tend to have a systematically longer planning horizon, i.e., his degree of time preference will be lower, and accordingly, his degree of economic exploitation will tend to be less than that of a government caretaker; and (2), subject to a higher degree of exploitation, the nongovernmental public will also be comparatively more present oriented under a system of publicly-owned government than under a regime of private government ownership.”

For Murray Rothbard, the primary issue in modern politics was war, and Hans follows in the footsteps of his revered mentor: “From the vantage point of elementary economic theory and in light of historical evidence, then, a revisionist view of modern history results. The Whig theory of history, according to which mankind marches continually forward toward ever higher levels of progress, is incorrect. From the viewpoint of those who prefer less exploitation over more and who value farsightedness and individual responsibility above shortsightedness and irresponsibility, the historic transition from monarchy to democracy represents not progress but civilizational decline. Nor does this verdict change if more or other indicators are included. Quite to the contrary. Without question the most important indicator of exploitation and present- orientedness not discussed above is war. Yet if this indicator were included the relative performance of democratic republican government appears to be even worse, not better. In addition to increased exploitation and social decay, the transition from monarchy to democracy has brought a change from limited warfare to total war, and the 20th century, the age of democracy, must be ranked also among the most murderous periods in all of history.”

Like Murray, Hans is not only a theorist but a man of action. What can we do about the terrible reign of mass democracy? “First, the idea of democracy and majority rule must be delegitimized. Ultimately, the course of history is determined by ideas, be they true or false. Just as kings could not exercise their rule unless a majority of public opinion accepted such rule as legitimate, so will democratic rulers not last without ideological support in public opinion. Likewise, the transition from monarchical to democratic rule must be explained as fundamentally nothing but a change in public opinion. In fact, until the end of WW I, the overwhelming majority of the public in Europe accepted monarchical rule as legitimate. Today, hardly anyone would do so. On the contrary, the idea of monarchical government is considered laughable. Consequently, a return to the ‘ancien regime’ must be regarded as impossible. The legitimacy of monarchical rule appears to have been irretrievably lost. Nor would such a return be a genuine solution. For monarchies, whatever their relative merits, do exploit and do contribute to present-orientedness as well. Rather, the idea of democratic republican rule must be rendered equally if not more laughable, not in the least by identifying it as the source of the ongoing process of de-civilization.”

If you took seriously the Mother Jones lies, you would expect Hans to call for a return to monarchy. But he doesn’t. He wants a voluntary order of society. “The natural outcome of the voluntary transactions between various private property owners is decidedly non-egalitarian, hierarchical and elitist. As the result of widely diverse human talents, in every society of any degree of complexity a few individuals quickly acquire the status of an elite. Owing to superior achievements of wealth, wisdom, bravery or a combination thereof, some individuals come to possess ‘natural authority’, and their opinions and judgments enjoy wide-spread respect. Moreover, because of selective mating and marriage and the laws of civil and genetic inheritance, positions of natural authority are more likely than not passed on within a few — noble —families. It is to the heads of these families with long-established records of superior achievement, farsightedness, and exemplary personal conduct, that men turn with their conflicts and complaints against each other, and it is these very leaders of the natural elite who typically act as judges and peacemakers, often free of charge, out of a sense of obligation required and expected of a person of authority or even out of a principled concern for civil justice, as a privately produced ‘public good.’”

We should learn all we can from this great thinker. Murray Rothbard respected him, and so should we.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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