A Tiff : Hoppe and Tom Fleming and My Response
Hans Hoppe posted what I thought was a sentimental statement on the five year history of his movement on the libertarian web site VDARE. It’s titled The Property And Freedom Society—Reflections After Five Years
In this article, he gives us his interpretation of the history of his organization, the Property And Freedom Society. (of which I am a member.) It describes, as all members of these political groups tend to, the reason why the conservative and liberal wings broke up at The John Randolph Club: they were based upon a relationship between Murray Rothbard, a libertarian, and Tom Fleming, a conservative. And after Rothbard’s death, the society broke apart because there was no replacement for Rothbard that could work comfortably with Fleming. There is no mystery here. This is how the partnership process works. When one partner dies, the remaining partner tends to hold onto the previous set of commitments, and the new partners want to be seen as new peers, and to write new commitments.
However, Hoppe states that Tom Fleming is ‘a difficult person’. Which is not just hoppe’s opinion, but pretty much everyone else I’ve mets opinion. And I’m not sure it’s an insult. I know I’m considered difficult by plenty of people. Intellectuals are rare, and for them, the unsophisticated are often a lot of work to deal with – it’s just frustrating. Coming to terms with people who have different metaphysics from you, is awfully hard work, and very painful at times. It’s just irritating. And these petty realities are just part of the problem of being a human being. I think Tom has done good work. I think a lot of people think he’s difficult. I think a lot of people are put off by Hoppe. That doesn’t matter to me. I just want to know if they’re right or not. I care that my waiter is pleasant. I care that my intellectuals are either correct or insightful. Their manners are immaterial to me.
Tom’s response only served to confirm Hoppe’s statement. The title says it all Hans Hoppe Welcomes You to his Fantasy Island
Now I’ve only met Tom I think once, and I’m not sure where it was. And he seemed an intelligent and civil guy. But, I was kind of thrown by his response. You should read it.
Myself, I am over-reactive on purpose. I found that as a rhetorical device, false-hostility will give your opponent incentive to invest in, and stay with a complex argument — and that when you’re done, and get to agreement it’s more satisfying. I learned it from watching Friedman, who never gave in. And I supposed I picked up some of it from Hoppe.
The comments, per usual, are more interesting than the author’s post.
My Response below is visible at Chronicles Magazine here.
This is a very interesting series of posts to read. I’m a supporter of both LVMI and PFS. (I have given them money.) I’m probably one of the most literate members of the faction in the private sector. And I agree that it’s a tough crowd to spend time with. Yes, it was extremely difficult to get past the doctrinal attitude and Randian cultishness that you are complaining about in order to understand and make use of the philosophical content that’s in their line of thinking. What made it worthwhile was the number of answers provided by them, and the vast amount of effort they put into educating people of all stripes that made it easy to become involved in this branch of the history of ideas.
First, I don’t really care about someone’s rhetorical posture. I have never found Hoppe’s theatre anything other than entertaining, and have found him helpful and a good mentor if you’re worth his time – which I can count on having received in seconds or minutes at best. And if you accepted praxeology (I don’t for technical reasons having to do with closed systems of logic – and praxeology is a subset of behavior and so it’s a falsely closed system) you’d also look at the world as Hoppe does: if you disagree you’re just wrong because it’s logically impossible to disagree. I am pretty certain he actually believes it. And I have never pressured him on any point and found anything other than honesty underneath his posture. This posture is an incredibly effective, controversial, and therefore valuable, rhetorical device. But it’s important to understand that it’s a rhetorical device. Every single TV Producer understands this, or we wouldn’t have talking-head shows to entertain ourselves with. Part of his knowledge base, (as was Friedmans and Rothbards) is this somewhat intentionally antagonistic posture. It undermines the opposite posture: opting out of the argument. Again, this is an ancient rhetorical technique in the european model.
In fact, I suspect that the members of this blog, who have left comments above, do not understand the emotive rhetorical device they themselves are using. Or rather, that Hoppe is baiting in order to obtain engagement, and most of the comments above are attempting to force methodological conformity derived from assumptions of equality under the civic republican tradition – the presupposition of majority sentiment rather than superiority of ones argument. While I’m not certain, Hoppe’s method may in fact, be the only device possible to use against the method that you’re using.
And I think you’re relying upon that sentiment rather than the veracity of any argument you possess. I don’t think that needs to be the case. I think that your method lacks an analytical foundation and you’re stuck between a desire for positivist solutions to unarticulated moral problems, and relying upon majority sentiment and tradition as an argument. (WHich is the default human position in any field of endeavor.)
Unlike your majority position, I think Hoppe, Rothbard and Mises have fallen into, or intentionally embraced, a logical Godelian trap in an effort to find a pseudo-scientific device with which to fight the pseudo-scientific positivism underlying the rationalizations of democratic socialism. So while they have advanced the body of thought, they have failed to date. Hayek failed as well, at least, to make a strong enough argument, because he relied too much upon psychology rather than calculation — and the two wings of theorists failed, (Along with Talcott Parsons) to actually uncover the problem.
Despite these failings, as a research program the Anarchists have proved very fruitful. While Rothbardianism is flawed, for technical reasons this group members would not understand without quite a bit of unwilling-and-skeptically-expended effort, the structure of Misesian, Rothbardian and Hoppian argument is a strong analytical foundation for discussing what have been, for all of the history of thought, undefinable abstractions.
They haves provided an alternative framework (property and calculation) to the process of balance-of-powers-through-debate, which is the technology of republican government. Or rather, they have show that WITHOUT reliance on a calculative framework, that rhetorical debate devolves into either error or fraud. They see property as a moral argument rather than necessary argument – and they do so because they failed to articulate the full spectrum of human behavior by relying on the easy-epistemology allowed by the records left from the exchange of money. They did not include the invisible institutional economy of sacrifices that people make by NOT doing things with their property, their time, their bodies and their money. I suspect the Misesians make these errors because they are a little too enamored of infinite property rights — a bias which stops them from seeing and articulating the limits of property rights, and how those limits can be calculated. (Calculation being necessary when time, permutation and content are beyond human perception without such tools.) And I suspect that they intuit, if not understand, that if they did explain that full spectrum of human action, that they’d be confronted with the necessity, rationality, and morality of redistribution and public services.
Rothbardianism and Misesianism are an attempt to create a luddite religion based upon trade, rather than a technical political order based upon land holding, trade route holding, market participation, coordination, calculation and adaptation. I suspect that this is simply an unconscious attempt to justify the Jewish maternal minority sentiment that comes from non-land-holding disaporic people, as opposed to the european majority fraternal sentiment of land-holding soldiers. These are sentiments, derivations and residues that we rarely if ever understand of ourselves. This Misesian and Rothbardian jewish wing is in direct contrast to the Hayekian and Christian wing’s sentiments of group persistence in order to be able to defend and hold land, and in holding and defending land, hold and defend markets and trade routes. These sentiments are the underlying difference between the Jewish and Christian wings of libertarianism: jewish reliance on words and systems of though and christian reliance on the republican and militaristic models of land holding. We cannot escape our Hayekian knowledge no matter how hard we try. and in turn, these two libertarian programs are attempts to find a solution to the problem of maintaining freedom and prosperity without having to confront the reality of the necessity of using violence to retain that freedom – when that freedom originated uniquely in the west precisely because it was obtained by, and held by, violence. In other words our political dialog is distracted by the contra-rational desire to ignore the necessity of using violence to retain sufficient power to retain freedom.
The question remains which wing of classical liberal thought, whether it be the ‘liberal’ factions or the conservative factions, have made progress in articulating a framework for political economy once the epistemological boundary conditions imposed on the republican model by hard money were broken by the adoption of fiat money. The Austrian prescription is a return to the gold standard. Which is wrong, because the insurance provided by fiat money, or at least, paper money, is too valuable to ignore. This is simply the only solution that they can think of – and since they’re economists rather than information architects, they fall into a selection bias.
We must understand that Misesian and Rothbardian thinking is that of luddites, just as was Marx – they are trying to return to a technology they understand without understanding why it’s necessary and what alternatives that there may be. These regressive ideas are conservative solutions — historical solutions to a problem of increasing individual participation in a market consisting of larger and larger numbers of people with increasingly localized and fragmentary knowledge, and operating in real time, in order to exploit opportunities that present themselves because of necessary and permanent asymmetry of information in a large population engaged in diverse production.
The gold standard It is not the only solution. There are others. There is a very good one in particular. But you cannot understand that solution unless you understand the value of the methodology used in the Misesian, rothbardian, and hoppian models, and the limits of knowledge brought to bear by Popper and Hayek.
This information-weakness in our existing political and economic institutions is the underlying problem of political economy with the civic republican model — If you can fathom it from the few and admittedly abstract words I’ve posted here. The problem is one of practical epistemology that allows experimentation and innovation without exposing us to the risk of human hubris on one end, and corruption, theft, and slavery on the other.
And debates like this one over form and protocol, manners and arrogance, are frankly beneath me, and should be beneath anyone who is concerned about discovering real solutions to the problem of political economy. Both sides of this dispute, from my standpoint, are simply acknowledging their failure when they rely upon ideological, methodological, or rhetorical conformity as a means of argumentative discovery of the solutions we seek. All I read into Hoppe’s piece was sentimental reflection, and tame taunting elitism. Perhaps this is one of those debates among academics that is so important precisely because the stakes are so small. And I don’t think the above retort does much to disprove hoppe’s taunt. The tactical response would be to tease him and therefore disprove him rather than reinforce his position.
And the real argument here is that everyone within this absurdly minority movement, just like all desperate little academic movements, is that it’s desperate for followers. And not operating logically, but instead, using silly socio-political tricks because we’re all desperately seeking confirmation biases in the face of a problem we cannot comprehend, rather than understanding each other’s position and desperately seeking a solution to political economy. Libertarianism is a fantastic research program within the branch of conservatism. And the world needs the movement simply because conservatives have failed to muster and articulate a rational and technical alternative to encroaching socialism. Historicism is insufficient because HISTORICAL MODELS FAILED. EACH OF THEM FAILED.
The Austrians and Anarchists are very close to providing a rational solution to political economy. I suspect that they (myself included perhaps) will fail for the same reasons that this silly dispute of egos and manners illustrates.
Even if someone were to publish an essay with the solution in it, and the truth of it were patently obvious, I would venture that everyone in every faction would desperately seek to use whatever content was inside that essay to justify his own position in order to keep his followers or demonstrate that he was right all along.
Hume told us what the problem is. Kant failed to find a solution. A legion of political economists have spent a hundred and fifty years trying to find an answer. They came closest in the 1930’s. But Mises, Hayek and Parsons failed, just as Weber and Pareto failed. And because they failed the political sector reached out to Friedman, which provided a temporary solution even if it was the wrong one, and Hayek, because his sentiment was correct even if his solutions were faulty. The conservatives hoped to get enough people into the property society that they could counteract the dependence society. But they used general liquidity (cheap money) rather than direct investment, and so the money was used for consumption not innovation and increases in productivity. The liberals, having converted us from a saving to a debt society, the conservatives hoped to alter it, but only accomplished further indebtedness. Only the libertarians have attempted to reconvert us to mans greatest innovation: the saving and investment society.
But the way we solve our political problem is not debt, or even monetary policy. It is to create an innovation over the greek city state and the roman empire and the anglo mercantilist and american consumer republic. And to understand why we need to innovate beyond that model: the limits of human perception in a complex division of knowledge and labor. And that when we break with hard money, AND at the same time pool information (accumulate quantities in categories using numeric values of abstract objects we call property) we launder the necessary causal information needed to make rational decisions. And in doing so we also remove the incentive for people to obtain and hold that information, and to be disciplined and truthful in their valuations. The information needed to evaluate Property cannot be embodied in numbers. It’s a perishable not conveyed by the number. Numbers and values are subjective judgements, not objective truths. This is the error of both liberal positivists and the general political fantasy of scientific politics sought by the socialists.
The solution is to fix our institutions of banking and accounting, so that we possess sufficient information to make rational decisions under the economically stable civic republican model. This change in institutions is a technical problem, not a philosophical, religious or cultural one. And as a technical problem, it is a solvable problem. It does not ask anyone to ‘believe’ anything. Faith is not a strategy. Hope is not a tactic. As weber said, all advancement in institutions is calculative.
The second half is to understand that it is bureaucracy that is a danger to us, not government. A bureaucrat lives outside the market, as does a priest, a politician, a union laborer, or a welfare recipient. They are no different – they are class descriptions of the same behavior. But government is the means by which we concentrate all forms of capital. It is a joint stock company whose membership is paid for by respect for property rights, and frankly, whose dividends are paid for in public services and redistribution. The problem we enter into is when public services become the purpose of government, rather than the concentration of capital necessary to provide the joint stock company with competitive economic advantage so that there are returns great enough that redistribution can be performed in one form or another. Aside from the transforming from the saving society to the debt society, the transformation of government from creating wealth to consuming it is the artifact of the 20th century. It is far easier for the houses of government to debate over spoils, than it is to debate over the creation of prosperity so that it can distribute the spoils.
The anarchists are working on solving, and have largely solved, the problem of bureaucracy. And the solution is not anarchy. The solution is privatization of the bureaucracy, and the improvement of our institutions such that the knowledge that was provided by individuals THROUGH hard money, can be provided by individuals through shared investment in borrowing from the public’s future commitments in exchange for mutual gain, while retaining accountability, and with those who are willing to be accountable because they possess knowledge by which to make rational decisions. Under this model, the government may make rational decisions about investments, and we are protected from enslavement by either debt or the bureaucracy.
This is too much content for a posting, too poorly articulated for the scope of the problem. But I was trying to put the different factions into a context so that we could focus on the real problem: finding an answer to providing institutions that deliver both freedom and prosperity.
And for my side, I consider Hans Hoppe a gift to all of us. He’s innovative, creative, pedagogically gifted, and most of all, funny.