Friday, March 6, 2020

Insights of a Gifted Mind

Hans Hoppe gave an in-depth interview to Jeff Deist at the Mises Institute.  The entire interview is worth a read, as it covers a wide variety of topics – from Hoppe’s personal history to some of his most controversial writing.  In this post I will cover some of the topics that are – and have been – of interest to me in my writing. 

Suffice it to say, I truly admire the work that Hoppe has done.  This began well before I started this blog, but only grew when I was challenged to challenge Hoppe in the same way that I challenged left-libertarians.  I can truly say that taking up this challenge has offered to me one of the handful of meaningful paths that have brought me to my current thought. 

With that, let’s begin.  Hoppe begins with a look back at his childhood, a child of refugees from East Germany, having fled the Soviet darkness:

Germany had lost a devastating war, and the German population was subjected to a systematic, American-led reeducation campaign, a Charakterwaesche (character-wash), as I was to realize only many years later, of truly enormous proportions, which involved a complete rewriting of history from the victor’s viewpoint, essentially portraying Germans as congenital villains.

Germans living in the east at the end of World War Two were subject to one of the most brutal forced expulsions in history, with as many as fourteen million forced from their homes and one million killed.  I have examined this history via a book by R.M. Douglas, Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans after the Second World War.  I cover this history with these several posts:

Germans, at Nuremberg, were subjected to trials that made the Soviets proud; Germans were thereafter forced – by law – a to accept a historical narrative of total, complete, and unique guilt for the war; they were thereafter required to reiterate this fiction as a condition for re-unification.

Truth doesn’t need law to defend it; when laws are used to protect against speech or inquiry, it is safe to assume that the laws defend lies.  When you find law defending a narrative, it is only proper to believe the exact opposite.  It was into just such a world where Hoppe was born.

The next topic of note from the interview is that of the role of Christianity in the development of the West and in the development of the liberty – to the extent we have it – that we enjoy.  It cannot be denied that it is in the Christian West where “the idea of natural human rights and human freedom,” as Hoppe puts it, was fully developed.

The Christian notion that each person is created in the image of God contributed to the uniquely Western tradition of individualism and was instrumental in abolishing, at long last, the institution of slavery within the Christian orbit (all the while it lingered on outside the West, even until today).

Without this notion that all men are made in God’s image, on what basis could institutions like slavery be properly abolished?  This is not to suggest that all men are created equal – not in any egalitarian sense that the word is used today.

And the institutional separation and jealous competition for social recognition and authority in the West between the Christian church and its hierarchy of popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests, on the one hand, and all worldly power with its hierarchy of emperors, kings, nobles, and heads of households on the other contributed greatly to the uniquely Western tradition of limited (as opposed to absolutist) government.

I first came across this idea in Fritz Kern’s, Kingship and Law in the Middle Ages.  I have written about this book in the following posts:

I have further developed this history in several other posts too numerous to list here.  The Church and the king were competing authorities, neither fully sovereign and each providing a check upon the other.

Now for one of the more controversial aspects of Hoppe’s work, regarding Hoppe’s views about physically removing those who have goals and lifestyles that would destroy a libertarian social order:

This harks back to your earlier question concerning Hoppephobia. The whole affair, most likely initiated by one of the usual left-libertarian suspects from the DC beltway, was a deliberate attempt to smear and malign me personally and with that also the program of a realistic or right-libertarianism first outlined in the book.

I am certain that this was the intent of the individual who first challenged me to challenge Hoppe; if I ever come across this individual, I will truly thank him for starting me on this aspect of my journey.

Essentially, I did not say anything more controversial or scandalous in the short passage than that anyone insisting on wearing a bathing suit on a nude beach may be expelled from this beach (but be free to look for another one), just as anyone insisting on nudity may be expelled from a formal dinner party (but be free to look for another party).

Yes.  Such examples – at least at this moment in time – are not considered scandalous by today’s standards of wokesterism. 

In my example, however, it was not nudes but homosexuals that figured. I wrote that in a covenant established for the purpose of protecting family and kin, people openly displaying and habitually promoting homosexuality may be expelled and compelled to look for another place to live. But in some “woke” circles, mentioning homosexuality and expulsion in one and the same sentence apparently leads to intellectual blank-out and a loss of all reading comprehension.

This is unfortunate, and more so when it is the view taken by those who otherwise might be considered philosophical allies.  Walter Block is, unfortunately, one of these.  I have addressed this issue in the past, where Block (and other critics of Hoppe’s view) ignore the conditions set by Hoppe in his example where he explicitly writes:

In a covenant concluded among proprietor and community tenants for the purpose of protecting their private property…. Likewise, in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin…

What is so complicated about “my property, my rules”?  In any case, Block now offers a more recent example, addressing Hoppe’s supposedly anti-libertarian view on private property and community:

To wit, he should have written here removal from a condo, or from a voluntary association, or from a club, not from “society” as a whole

I don’t even know what this objection means or how it applies to Hoppe’s example.  Hoppe was explicit about the “society” from which such people must be expelled, he was not writing about “society as a whole,” whatever that means – the world, the hemisphere, the continent?  Are they to be sent to the moon?  Not according to Hoppe.

In any case, in my earlier post I addressed all of this – and shared it with Block.  I need say no more, other than it would be good if this mischaracterization by those who consider themselves allies with Hoppe would stop.

Next is the highly controversial (within libertarian circles and almost nowhere else) issue of immigration and open-borders.  I have written dozens of posts examining this question (look for the word immigration or borders on this page for a sampling).  Hoppe offers the most libertarian view, yet is demonized as a xenophobe.  To begin, what Hoppe says about “immigration” in a completely private property order cannot be denied by any libertarian:

Ideally, with all pieces of land and everything on them privately owned, there would be a huge variety of entrance requirements, i.e., of degrees, respectively, of openness and closedness. …all migration would be by invitation and invariably the full cost principle would apply.

In a world of private property, borders would be “managed,” not “open.”  This is so obvious on its face that it is mind-boggling that libertarians don’t get it.

Is it not up to the property owner – whether a private home or business – to decide the entrance requirements for those whishing to enter?  Would libertarians require, by force, open borders to private property?  Would libertarians support forcing others to pay the cost of such access?  Laughable.

Either the inviting host or the invited guest or both jointly would have to pay the full cost associated with the guest’s presence. No cost could be shifted and externalized onto third parties, and the inviter and/or invitee would be held liable for any and all damage resulting from the invitation to the property of others.

In a world (or community) of fully private property, would this not be the case?  Yet, since we do not live in a world of complete private property, what would be the most libertarian position in our world, a world of state borders?  What “policy” would come closest to mimicking this perfectly libertarian policy?

If and as long as there is a state with so-called public property in place, as happens to be the case in today’s world, then the best one may hope for is an immigration policy that tries to approach this ideal of a natural order.

I have written of this policy: it would be one of invitation, where the one doing the inviting would take on any liability generated by the one invited – up to and including being held liable for any crimes committed.


…in today’s world the sometimes mentioned “wilderness” of mountaintops, swamps, tundra, etc., is no longer truly wild and thus ready to be homesteaded.

Of course, in practice, immigrants don’t go to such places.  Yet, the proper objection is even more fundamental:

There is no inch left on earth today that is not claimed to be the “property” of some government. Whatever wilderness there is, then, it is wilderness that has been barred and prevented by some government, i.e., with taxpayer funds, from being homesteaded by private parties (most likely by neighboring property owners). If anyone, it is domestic taxpayers who are the legitimate owners of such wilderness.

Every square inch of government-controlled land has been “improved,” to a more or less degree, by the government using money appropriated from the taxpayer.  Libertarian theory would hold, unequivocally, that it is the taxpayer who is the rightful owner of the government-controlled property.

It was the stolen property from the taxpayer that paid for the improvements of government-controlled property.  Justice requires a return of stolen property to its rightful owner.  In other words, there is no unowned wilderness lands.

From these realities (private property is managed, not open; there is no unowned wilderness), proper libertarian conclusions can be reached regarding immigration and borders in a world of state-controlled property.

Finally, regarding Hoppe’s argumentation ethics.  The presuppositions of Hoppe’s position are as follows:

…first, each person is entitled to exclusive control or ownership of his physical body (that he and only he can control directly, at will) so as to act independently of others and come to a conclusion on his own. And secondly, for the same reason of mutually independent standing or autonomy, both proponent and opponent must be entitled to their respective prior possessions, i.e., the exclusive control of all other, external means of action appropriated indirectly by them prior to and independent of one another.

Hoppe does not see this as replacing the natural law argument for liberty; it is an argument for those who do not hold to a natural law, objective value in ethics:

In response to the relativist proponent it is essentially pointed out that by virtue of his own engagement in argumentation he has already effectively rejected his own thesis, because argumentation is an activity, a special, conflict-free form of interaction between a proponent and an opponent with the specific purpose of clarifying and possibly coming to a mutual agreement concerning some rival truth claims.

I have read and considered Hoppe’s argumentation ethics in the past, including arguments for and against by others; I don’t recall ever coming across a more concise and clearly worded explanation of its purpose.  He does not view it as a replacement for natural law; it is a complement for those who will deny an objective natural law.  In other words, it is an answer for the ethical relativist.


There is much more to the interview, and I thank Jeff Deist and the Mises Institute for bringing it to us; I especially thank Hans Hoppe for sharing his time with us.


  1. I find that Hoppe tends to sound outrageous at the outset, but if you are truly open-minded and try to judge other opinions fairly and objectively, you can't help but see that he has a point.

    Argumentation ethics is one point of Hoppe's works that still makes me scratch my head, though. The appeal to the willingness to debate a point peacefully to reach a mutually satisfactory conclusion as the proof that private property is natural and necessary rests on an assumption - that debates are meant for clearing out misunderstandings in the first place.

    That's not the case in many instances of "debate", though. Take the candidates' debates that we are treated to during election season, for example. There is no intention of reaching the truth - it's just a rhetoric contest to see who can sound clever or righteous or whatever. And I sadly find that to be the rule, rather than the exception, in my experience.

    My conclusion has been that argumentation ethics illustrates the point that a society of civil and intelligent people is necessarily a private property society, but not that the willingness to "debate" (loosely defined to include the pointless arguments described above) is proof that private property is universal. A socialist may very well "debate" you with the goal of inciting others to help take your stuff, or just to signal virtue to his watching friends.

    In other words, it seems to me that we've not quite reached a stage where it becomes relevant for people to understand the subtle point that civil debate implies respect for private property. We need to get some civil debate going first!

    1. He's coming from a slightly different angle. You're confusing argumentation with debate, Hoppe holds that if you are trying to establish the validity of a certain truth-claim, you have to employ arguments, and the presuppositions of argumentation are those of private property. Therefore if you advocate for something that denies private property, you're contradicting yourself.
      It's an impossibility proof more than anything, it estblishes that it is impossible to argumentatively defend any non-libertarian ethic without contradiction, but it stops there.
      It doesn't tell you why you should value truth or coherence - and I don't even thik it's possible -, but that's not the point of his argument. That's why you need a pre-rational justification for valuing truth, and the christian worldview is most likely the best one for that purpose.

    2. Nilo,

      "That's not the case in many instances of "debate""

      I think Hoppe is setting up his ethical argument justifying self ownership in a situation in which people are arguing specifically about ethics. (It doesn't necessarily apply to when people are arguing about whether to buy Cheetos or Doritos, which is basically what modern politics is all about).

      In such a conversation as Hoppe has envisaged, there are only a few arguments against self ownership to contemplate:

      1. The Nihilist Argument

      If you are arguing that there is no true ethic, then why should anyone listen to your truth claim about there being no truth in ethics? You've invalidated your own argument. How can your proposed ethical truth that there are no truths in ethics be true... if there are no ethical truths?

      2. The Non-Universal Statist Argument

      If you are arguing that there is an ethical truth, but that it must be enforced with aggression committed by some against others, i.e. some own themselves and others to boot (if only in degree), then you're ethical system is not universalizable and cannot be regarded as a natural law applicable to every person in every time and place. In other words, it is ad hoc, not a priori. It is man made, not God made.

      3. The Universal Argument Against Self Ownership

      If you are arguing that there is a universal truth, but that it entails something like 'equal other ownership' of all people, places, and things, such that everyone owns a slice of everyone else and owns only an equal slice of himself, then you have committed a 'performative contradiction'. How can you put forth any argument whatever if you don't have complete ownership of your own body? Wouldn't you first have to get the approval of all other owners, i.e. every other human on earth? By putting forth the argument you are demonstrating an inalienable control of your body, and thus ownership of it. Demonstrating self-ownership while repudiating it is a philosophical contradiction.

      I think Hoppe would be the first to concede that his argument, though philosophically sound, won't be the one to magically persuade everyone of the merits of liberty. Most people won't get it, and that's okay. This is why he's shifted gears to the realm of historical narrative. This is what influences people. This is where the ideas of liberty can and will win.

      Disclaimer: I may have mashed up Hoppe's argumentation ethics with Rothbard's defense of self ownership in "Ethics of Liberty" in my mind, but I stand by it.

  2. Bionic,

    I have spent some time clicking through links to previous posts you have written and the comments included in those posts. I am convinced of a few things:

    -The more I learn, the less I know.
    -The more I learn the more aware I become of my own ignorance.

    It is also apparent that there is simply not enough time to explore all the avenues, so I must pick and choose what I read, what I listen to, and make up my own mind according to what I believe to be true. Finally, I am convinced that you are generally headed in the right direction and I encourage you to be steadfast in your search for the truth.

    “The words of the wise are like goads, and the anthologies of the masters are like firmly embedded nails driven by a single Shepherd. But beyond these, my son, be warned: There is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body. When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: Fear God and keep His commandments, because this is the whole duty of man.”
    (Ecclesiastes 12:11-13, Berean Study Bible)

    “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NIV)

    Beyond all the books written and the comments made, there is this: ‘Fear God and love Him with everything within you and love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ Easily said, not so easily done. The continuous debate over thick vs. thin libertarianism is simply the working out of the details of that admonition.

    Which mirrors the same struggle within my own soul.

    1. Roger, I have written a post yesterday that I have currently scheduled to be published on this coming Wednesday diving into some of the themes you raise in this comment.

      It is uncanny that you have written these words today.

  3. Awesome! I shall look forward to seeing it.