Monday, October 4, 2021

Countering the Abuse of Power


Hans Hoppe has delivered a wonderful essay and lecture, The Idea of a Private Law Society: The Case of Karl Ludwig von Haller.  Who is von Haller?

Karl Ludwig von Haller (1 August 1768 – 20 May 1854) was a Swiss jurist, statesman and political philosopher. He was the author of Restauration der Staatswissenschaft (Restoration of Political Science, 1816–1834), a book which gave its namesake to the Restoration period after the Congress of Vienna, and which Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel strongly criticized in §258 of Elements of the Philosophy of Right.

Von Haller's work, which was burnt during the Wartburg Festival, was a highly systematic defense both of the principles of dynastic legitimacy and monarchy founded on territorial lordship, as well as of pre-modern republics like those of the Swiss city-states, and the most consistent rejection of modern political ideas of the social contract, public law, and state sovereignty.

His books burned because he rejected the social contract, public law and state sovereignty.  Already sounds like a great guy.

In [Restauration der Staatswissenschaft] he uncompromisingly rejected the revolutionary conception of the State, and developed a natural and juridical system of government, arguing at the same time that a commonwealth can endure and prosper without being founded on the omnipotence of the state and official bureaucracy.

Sounds almost Hoppean.  Unfortunately, it seems the book is only available in German; and this, among countless other reasons, is why we have been blessed to have Hoppe in our number.  And, as I could never do justice to depths of Hoppe’s examination of the work, I will only focus on one specific point raised by Hoppe:

The stability of every society, i.e., the peaceful, tranquil and convivial association of men, is always threatened from two sides. On the one hand by the envy of the have-nots vis-a-vis the haves, and on the other hand by the abuse of power by the powerful.

We know very well the envy of the have-nots.  Envy, worse than jealousy, wants to destroy.  One can use the term “envy” to describe all of Critical Theory, the process of tearing down with nothing offered as replacement.  It is destruction solely for the sake of destruction – seeing something or someone better, with more (wealth, happiness, stability, generosity, whatever) as nothing more than a target to destroy.  Taking traditional western culture and ripping it apart.

But it is on the second concern that I wish to comment, regarding the only protection against the abuse of power by the powerful.  Ultimately, it is the Golden Rule, or, to put it in terms that work in an Aristotelian-Thomistic framework of man’s highest purpose: fulfillment through other-regarding action, or love.  As long as any other value is seen as man’s highest purpose, there will be abuse of power by the powerful.

What does this mean?  If “power” is attained by love, because love is the highest purpose or value held by man, then those who best excel at love will be the most powerful.  Those who most excel at love will be the least likely to abuse power.  As the archetypal example…Jesus Christ.  Our most impactful stories tell of one man laying down his life for another.

I have previously written several posts on this issue, prompted by a question offered by Ira Katz.  His question:

Is it inherent in the nature of free market capitalism for the most wealthy individuals and/or corporations to capture government power?

My answer, in short: yes.  If you want the long version, here are the posts that examine this:

-          One Answer to An Important Social / Political / Economic Question of Our Time

-          Free Market Capitalism as the Highest Value (Part Two)

-          The Way Out and the Way To (Part Three)

-          Virtuous Governance

But here is the condensed response.  Hoppe himself offers the answer (big surprise, I know….).  Regarding Haller’s examination of the social contract theory, Hoppe writes:

A theory, as he notes exasperatedly, so patently false, from beginning to end, as to be almost risible; a chimera so devoid of common sense and detached from reality that only an “intellectual”—a “sophist” in Haller’s terminology—could invent it. And yet a theory that would literally turn the world upside down. That would transform lowly servants into rulers of princes and children into masters of parents (chap. 4, esp. p. 25n6, and also p. 284), and that would be destructive of all human liberties (p. 335 f.).

The social contract theory is grounded in four propositions, as summarized by Haller:

1.       Originally, in the state of nature, mankind had lived outside of any social relations, i.e., in exclusively extrasocial relations, side by side with each other and in a state of complete freedom and equality.

2.       However, in this state of affairs the natural human rights and liberties were not secure.

3.       Hence, people associated with each other and delegated the power to arrange for and assure general, all-around protection and security to one or several people among them.

4.       Through this institution of a state, then, the freedom of each individual would be better and more securely safeguarded and protected than before.

Hoppe then examines each, and finds each one wanting: “mere fiction or fake, without any factual basis whatsoever”; “the very height of absurdity.”  It is to Hoppe’s critique of the second of the four propositions where Hoppe touches on the question posed by Katz – and does so far more effectively and in far fewer words than I was able.

Even critics of the social contracts theory let this [second] proposition often slide by uncommented.

Hoppe does not:

True enough, the potential danger emanating from some person C or the fear of an attack by C may help tie A and B together. But the association of A and B is not itself based on insecurity or fear. Rather, it is the result of mutual trust or even love. A and B do not fear each other or believe their rights to be endangered or infringed upon by their association, but to the contrary, A and B trust or love each other and associate for this reason.

Would A and B band together if they did not trust each other, did not love each other?  How does A know that B is not also in league with C unless A trusts him?  Why would A risk his life in support of B unless he loves him?

Fear and mistrust are reasons not to associate, but to distance and separate oneself from others. To assert instead, as Hobbes does, for instance, that social relations emerge out of a state of affairs of universal fear, out of a bellum omnium contra omnes, is simply absurd, then.

If it was a “war of all against all,” why would A and B band together?  It is, as Hoppe says, simply absurd.

As well, contra all social contract theorists, as in particular the natural mutual attraction and association of the sexes demonstrates once again, human cooperation based on trust and love precedes all conflict and war, and human cooperation is always available and capable (again: not unfailingly, but as satisfactorily as humanly possible!) of dealing also with such extraordinary, extra- or antisocial events (see pp. 303–05).

It is love that joins people together; it is love that allows one man to trust another, knowing that each love their neighbor.  Is it unfailing, a promise of utopia?  Of course not.  We are human, we are fallen, there is corruption in us all (albeit some far more than others – the “some” being those who have assumed the position of leviathan, heads of the so-called social contract).


As Hoppe will often do, he turns a light on a point too often ignored.  In this case, and specifically in deconstructing the nonsensical social contract theory, he demonstrates that it is through bonds based on love that we find peace.  Bonds based on fear or a false sense of security (as the social contract crowd claims) will be subject to abuse of power by the powerful.

And, therefore, we return to man’s purpose: beatitudo, fulfillment through other-regarding action.  Love.  It is the basis for the natural law ethic that provides the possibility for a natural rights-based non-aggression principle law regime to develop and thrive.

Absent this natural law ethic grounded on love, there is no hope for a natural rights law regime of the non-aggression principle. 


  1. This is excellent. Regarding the final paragraphs, I might add that love is close and familiar. It attenuates with distance and time. Same with contracts.

    1. That's a wonderful reason to keep any state, whether natural or artificial (in Haller's terminology), small and any confederacy or league of such states decentralized.

  2. Thanks Bionic for commenting on Hoppe's article. I didn't get a chance to read it partly because of the length. But it is important to critique things like social contract theory since so much things have been excused by and built on top of it.

    Francis Schaeffer comments that John Locke was fine on political theory up to a point but mixed in more secular ideas on top of the political theory of some of the Scottish Reformers like Samuel Rutherford.

  3. I also wanted to comment on this paragraph.

    "What does this mean? If “power” is attained by love, because love is the highest purpose or value held by man, then those who best excel at love will be the most powerful. Those who most excel at love will be the least likely to abuse power. As the archetypal example…Jesus Christ. Our most impactful stories tell of one man laying down his life for another."

    I really like this logic. Of power going to those who love who are identified by their Christ-likeness. I am not saying churches should get all the power. But I for one want to see churches take back much of the societal work that the state encroached on over the 20th century.

    I say that because, when done genuinely, knowing there is even corruption within churches, churches are supposed to be led by men who excel at Christ-likeness. No one can do that perfectly or even be perfect in carrying out the qualifications of elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. But men who demonstrate those characteristics will be motivated by love and less likely to abuse power given to them. Even Peter says elders are not to "lord it over" those in the church. Obviously there are abuses with churches to, but the standard is clear and aligns with what you were talking about in this article.

    1. RMB,

      I agree. The Church, like any institution populated by man, is prone to corruption, sin, and vice, but at least this particular one's whole reason for being is to point to the one true standard. The Catholic and Orthodox faiths have pointed to the same standard for a long time now. Through all the noise of human fallibility and periods of war, corrupt Popes, and domination by secular authorities the Church still remains standing and the traditional faiths have been kept alive.

      “It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.” - G.K. Chesterton

    2. RMB: "But I for one want to see churches take back much of the societal work that the state encroached on over the 20th century."

      Yes. This must happen. And no law stops it from happening.

  4. The Holy Elder Sophrony (+1993) speaks about how Christ inverted the pyramid of the powerful here:

  5. There's a biographical note on Haller, and abridged translation of his work on Carslbad blog:

  6. Social contract theory is extremely attractive to those afflicted by Hegel's malaise, that neurotic dissatisfaction with not being able to comprehend and control every aspect of the world (the original "alienation").

    Tell an intellectual that society in its natural state of decentralization is underdeveloped and in need of "structure"... he'll be first in line to do the "structuring".

    Top-down social management is like intellectual crack. Cheap, quick, powerful high, but ultimately a self-destructive indulgence. And a crack addict can never learn to appreciate the fine wine of a decentralized system.

    1. Haller and Hegel seem to represent the poles of conservative thought, although Haller's side has been neglected for a long time. It's too bad we cannot trace the history of libertarian thought to him, even though he was the first radical libertarian theorist.

  7. Well, Jesus did say that "Those who would be greatest among you must be the servant of all."

    This sounds like a contradiction, but the older I get and the more I embrace the concept, the more truthful it becomes.

    Good work, BM.

    1. This goes along with Pageau's insight that Christ represents the perfect reconciliation of what we perceive to be opposites. He is the ultimate king and yet the ultimate servant. He is the ultimate victim (having died on the cross bearing the weight of all human sin for the ages past and future and having a mind to comprehend that fully, and a God rejected by His creation) and yet the ultimate victor. He calls on us to be selfish (that we should want His offer of salvation) and yet selfless in how we abide His law of loving our neighbors and enemies. He is the alpha and the omega.

  8. cosmic,

    "Top-down social management is like intellectual crack. Cheap, quick, powerful high, but ultimately a self-destructive indulgence. "

    That is because it is thinking that you can be God. Like Satan, he says in his heart that he will be like the Most High.

    1. Indeed. It's no accident that Hegel declared Man to be God in the making (through "dialectics").

      Also no accident that Marx took Hegel one step further in the Satanic direction, realizing that in order to create a new world and stand as its God, he would first have to destroy the world as it currently is.

      It's funny how recurrent is this theme of the militant atheist going "there is no God, so we must become one", without ever realizing the contradiction. You even see it quite often in popular culture.

  9. "Absolutism, including monarchical absolutism, is certainly a political aberration which was always rejected by European "conservatives." C. L. von Haller, to name only one typical representative of Romantic conservatism, (no less than Ludwig von Gerlach) equated royal absolutism with Jacobinism." - EvKL, "Leftism"

    This was the first sentence that alerted me to von Haller's presence in history. The more I researched on the guy the more I was fascinated by his potential as a right wing figure who advanced a political doctrine not of absolute monarchy but of Medieval kingship and feudalism, such as Hoppe has (I believe rightly) identified as the closest approximation of a long lasting, territorially expansive and culturally significant period of political liberty. There had to a 'Bastiat of the right' (Catholic, counter-revolutionary), so to speak.

    When I looked into von Haller myself I was frustrated to find that none of his works on political theory had been translated into English. Me not being a poly-linguist, I had hit a dead end.

    Now that Hoppe has published his essay, I became aware (via a Mises Institute comment) of another Haller scholar, Nigel Carlsbad, who has written a biography of the man and a chapter by chapter volume by volume commentary on Haller's major work, "The Restoration of Political Science." ("Anonymous" posted links to them) Notice the antiradical nature of his title. He wasn't attempting to invent something new, to his mind, but rather he wanted to restore the former glory of our shared political heritage of Christendom. But his political theory was likely a more consistent, coherent and more liberty-minded version of what actually occurred in the Middle Ages. He wanted to make explicit what Christendom enjoyed implicitly. Excepting Hoppe, Haller may have written the only political treatise which has captured all that is best of the Middle Ages. Althusius is the only historical figure I can think of who has done something even approaching this.

    It will take me weeks or perhaps months to read all that Carlsbad has written on Haller. At the moment, it is hard to do anything but that.

    This man seems to be the perfect intellectual representative of all the conclusions Bionic and we hangers-on have reached over the past several years at this blog. Pro-Traditional Christianity. Devout Faith in Christ. Anti-Enlightenment. Anti-Revolutionary. Pro-Private Law Society. Pro-Political Decentralization. Anti-Egalitarianism. Pro-Authority. Anti-State (as we know it).

    I hope there are others like me who are excited about this. I think it is a great discovery of Hoppe's which turns on its head our traditional libertarian notions of regarding Enlightenment figures like John Locke as our intellectual forebears (even the great Rothbard fell into this trap to some degree). As always, the truth is a bit more nuanced than that.

  10. Haller's book is now available in English translation:

    1. Ordered. Thank you for the link.

    2. I just purchased it for myself last fall. I have read through it cover to cover, and it is fantastic. An instant classic and perhaps my favorite book on political science, or at least in contention with Hoppe's "Democracy," Jouvenel's "On Power," and Kuehnelt-Leddihn's "Leftism." The introduction by Jack Vien, the translator, is great as well. He has a Substack that is worth checking out.

  11. "The stability of every society, i.e., the peaceful, tranquil and convivial association of men, is always threatened from two sides. On the one hand by the envy of the have-nots vis-a-vis the haves, and on the other hand by the abuse of power by the powerful."

    These two groups seem to work together in a somewhat symbiotic manner to get what they want, but it is always the powerful who gain the most. There are innumerable "small" people who are envious and provide the muscle for those who direct them. The "leaders" may be envious as well, but it is more likely the lust for power which drives them more than the desire to see someone else taken down.

    Unfortunately, those who are the least powerful always gain the least. In fact, they may not be any better off materially than before, but gain only personal satisfaction knowing that they did their part to destroy others.

    What is important to remember is that both the powerful and the envious work to destroy the productive, independent, self-sufficient persons who form the base of any successful society. This appears to have been a problem throughout the entirety of human history.

    "Who can stand before envy?" -- Proverbs 27:4