The Power of Hoppe
His ideas, I mean. The video below is a good demonstration of the power of ideas– as Bacon said, “Scientia potentia est” (“knowledge is power”). This is the video of a talk Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe gave in April 2011 at the 2nd Austrian School Conference, Mises Institute Brasil, in Porto Alegre, entitled “State or Private Law Society?” (pictures from the event). [Update: The text version of the speech may be found in this article.] It’s a truly masterful presentation of the Austro-libertarian defense of what Hoppe calls the “private law society.” For example, Hoppe here brilliantly and succinctly argues that there is but one correct answer to the problem of social order–the libertarian-Lockean rule (see 7:49- of Part 1). At 8:32-9:04, Part 1, he explains why the only answer to the question of who owns your body, is you–who else would own it? And that all other competing rules are either incoherent, contradictory, or obviously unfair. And (at 9:25-10:04, Part 1) that when you appropriate an unowned resource, who else would have a better claim to it than the person who had it first?
Fernando Chiocca, of Mises Brasil, told me that the audience was riveted and loved it; he got standing ovations,
and one reaction in particular was pretty interesting. We have only a couple of Austrian professors in Brasil, and one of them wasn’t acquainted with Hoppe’s work. (He is what we used to call “old school Austrian,” whose ideas were shaped in the era before the modern Mises Institute website, and mainly influenced by Hayek.) In a matter of seconds after Hoppe’s speech, he was in our bookstore buying all Hoppe’s books that we had for sale, requesting autographs from Dr. Hoppe, repeating how marvelous Hoppe was, and declaring to everyone his instantaneous conversion to “Hoppeanism”.
I am reminded here of what Lew Rockwell wrote of Hoppe in his festschrift:
This same Hoppean effect—that sense of having been profoundly enlightened by a completely new way of understanding something—has happened many times over the years. He has made contributions to ethics, to international political economy, to the theory of the origin of the state, to comparative systems, to culture and its economic relation, to anthropology and the theory and practice of war. Even on a subject that everyone thinks about but no one really seems to understand—the system of democracy—he clarified matters in a way that helps you see the functioning of the world in a completely new light.There aren’t that many thinkers who have this kind of effect. Mises was one. Rothbard is another. Hoppe certainly fits in that line. He is the kind of thinker who reminds you that ideas are real things that shape how we understand the world around us. … Often times when you first hear a point he makes, you resist it. I recall when he spoke at a conference we held on American history, and gave a paper on the U.S. Constitution. You might not think that a German economist could add anything to our knowledge on this topic. He argued that it represented a vast increase in government power and that this was its true purpose. It created a powerful central government, with the cover of liberty as an excuse. He used it as a case in point, and went further to argue that all constitutions are of the same type. In the name of limiting government—which they purportedly do—they invariably appear in times of history when the elites are regrouping to emerge from what they consider to be near anarchy. The Constitution, then, represents the assertion of power.
When he finished, you could hear a pin drop. I’m not sure that anyone was instantly persuaded. He had challenged everything we thought we knew about ourselves. The applause was polite, but not enthusiastic. Yet his points stuck. Over time, I think all of us there travelled some intellectual distance. The Constitution was preceded by the Articles of Confederation, which Rothbard had variously described as near anarchist in effect. Who were these guys who cobbled together this Constitution? They were the leftovers from the war: military leaders, financiers, and other mucky mucks—a very different crew from the people who signed the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was out of the country when the Constitution was passed. And what was the effect of the Constitution? To restrain government? No. It was precisely the opposite, just as Hoppe said. It created a new and more powerful government that not only failed to restrain itself (what government has ever done that?), but grew and grew into the monstrosity we have today. It required a wholesale rethinking of the history, but what Hoppe had said that shocked everyone turns out to be precisely right—and this is only one example among many.