Friday, September 13, 2013

Dumpster Diving and Libertarianism

The Left-of-center website, Demos, has a somewhat dishonest attack on libertarianism by a Mr. Matt Bruenig. Bruenig is happy to announce that a libertarian from the Cato Institute has agreed to discuss the nature of libertarianism with him. He then pulls one of the more dishonest stunts that one can pull in a debate or discussion—he set up an extreme, minority position as if it is the mainstream and then demanded his opponent justify it.

This is similar to conflating left progressives with the Communist Party USA. It was a shameful stunt when pulled by McCarthyites, Birchers and others on the extreme Right and it is just as shameful when pulled by left progressives, such as Mr. Bruenig.

Bruenig demands that his Cato discussant defend the antics of Han-Hermann Hoppe, who is absurdly described as “a very prominent libertarian academic.” In truth, Mr. Hoppe is hardly “prominent,” though he and his small band of followers would rush to agree with Bruenig—which makes Bruenig the one keeping odd company.

Bruenig notes Hoppe’s affiliation with the paleolibertarian Ludwig von Mises Institute—formed by a former staffer from the Conservative Book Club, well after Mises died. Now, if you were to take the budgets of the various libertarian-oriented think tanks and combine them together, you would probably find that this organization represents less than 1% of libertarian funding of ideas in any one year.
If you were to look at the archives of Reason magazine, the premier magazine of a libertarian nature for decades, I don’t think you will find one magazine article that even references Hoppe. I have long followed the academic conferences that are sponsored by libertarians groups such as the Atlas Foundation, the Institute for Humane Studies and Liberty Fund, and I don’t remember one such event sponsoring Hoppe as a speaker or one where his ideas were taken seriously.

In fact, one reason Hoppe founded his Property & Freedom Society, mentioned by Bruenig, was because the libertarian-leaning international group of academics, the Mont Pelerin Society, wasn’t keen on him. Hoppe’s “alternative” is a hodge-podge of fringe Right-wing conservatives, racists and so-called paleolibertarians—precisely the kind of people that Mont Pelerin would generally shun. That Hoppe founded this organization is not evidence he is a mainstream libertarian figure—it proves the very opposite.

I should point out that even many of the people associated with the Mises Institute have little affinity with Hoppe’s views, especially the ones singled out by Bruenig, and some have been publicly critical. For instance, Walter Block wrote a critical analysis of Hoppe in the Reason Papers, though many libertarians would think his criticisms didn’t go far enough. Block has not been alone—especially in regard to Hoppe’s perceived racism and anti-gay bigotry, perceptions I think are wholly justified.

Hoppe’s influence on modern libertarianism is extremely minor. Mr. Bruenig ignored the Mount Olympus of libertarianism and went searching in the gutter instead. The reality is that the vast majority of libertarians, if asked about Hoppe, would respond: “Who?”

Bruenig, however, pretends that no libertarian has spoken out against Hoppe and his views. “
Is anyone in the libertarian community willing to denounce Hans-Hermann Hoppe as not one of them, and call him the lunatic he clearly is? Or is he still going to get an invite to the next convention?”

This is on par with: “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Both questions are dishonest because they are meant to imply something as true, which is not.

Bruenig discovers that, “Hoppe
is a huge fan of discrimination of basically all sorts: racist, sexist, classist, and all the others. In fact, if there is any overarching theme in Hoppe's work, it is that the problem with our status quo society is that, because it is democratic, the majoritarian tendency reigns, and that majoritarian tendency is to protect people from discrimination.”

This is like someone taking a 747 to Boston and pretending they have “discovered” North America. Many libertarians have noted Hoppe’s prejudicial, extremist views long before progressives like Bruenig had any idea who he was. Libertarians were concerned that Hoppe was cloaking his bigotry in libertarian terms. Bruenig reveals NOTHING about Hoppe that libertarians didn’t expose first, and condemn.

If Bruenig did any research for his article he should have known this. That leaves the uncomfortable assumption that he either did very little research or he ignored the context of the libertarian movement in order to make it appear that libertarians are in lockstep—or goose-step if you prefer—with Mr. Hoppe.

Hoppe has tried to justify his petty bigotries by the claim, in twists of bizarre logic, that a property-based, free society would discriminate—coincidentally against all the very groups that Hoppe himself dislikes: non-white immigrants, blacks and gays.

Bruenig accidentally gives away the flaw in his own argument that Hoppe is the
"Libertarian Extraordinaire.” He notes that Hoppe thinks some “libertarians are hopelessly confused” because “they believe that in this world of free markets and private property, gays will be super-free to love who they want to love, live how they want to live.” Actually, in my experience, that pretty much encapsulates the view of most libertarians.

Bruenig claims:

Hoppe realizes that in a world of a true lock down on private property, with no regulation on how such property might be used, there would be unbelievable amounts of social coercion to prevent people from living the lives they'd like. If you don't get on board with the dominant culture, you literally will find yourself with nowhere to live, work, eat, and will summarily die. Also, notice how old school he is even in 2001 comparing LGBTQ people to pedophiles. Bold move, Hoppe, bold move.

Bruenig says Hoppe “realizes” this because this is precisely the sort of bizarre claim that Bruenig himself wants to be true, albeit for very different reasons. Hoppe imagines this to be the case because there are people he hates and he wants to argue this hatred would be sanctioned in a property-based, depoliticized market. Hoppe does this to give approval for his own prejudices against these people. Mr. Bruenig does it because he wants to give sanction to his prejudices against markets and libertarians.

But, is this the case? Hoppe’s argumentation is wrong and Bruenig applauding his logic doesn’t make it correct. In fact we have countless examples of how markets and property have done the very opposite of what Hoppe and Bruenig seem to wish were the case.

Police harassing Stonewall customers
Gay establishments existed long before anti-discrimination laws. In fact, they existed in the face of anti-gay laws of the worse kind. The fact that individuals owned private property allowed them to set up gay establishments. Yes, those clubs were harassed and often shut down—by the government. Police harassment of gay clubs was, and to some extent still is, a problem. Private property and market-incentives created gay establishment and government closed them.

Apartheid, and its little brother, Jim Crow, were not examples of markets. Blacks didn’t ride in the front of the bus because the states passed laws making it illegal to do so. In South Africa, the laws forbade the hiring of blacks for certain professions—without the law people were hiring blacks for those very professions. The government prosecuted employers for the crime of hiring black workers.

And, as the Civil Rights struggle showed, when white business owners did try to treat customers equally they were often violently attacked by hate groups like the Klan, who were usually in cahoots with the local police department. It wasn’t the protection of private property that was the problem here, but the systematic violation of those rights by bigots who had government power behind them.

Immigrants are another favored target of Mr. Hoppe—particularly those from non-European cultures, by which Hoppe seems to mean non-Whites.

During recent waves of “illegal” immigration we had property owners and markets acting very differently from policy-makers and government. Politicians passed laws making it a crime to rent property to someone without verifying they were a citizen first. Why? This was “necessary” because without the force of government, private-property owners were quite happy to rent apartments and homes to them.

Politicians passed laws making it a criminal offense to hire these people unless they provided government papers certifying they had a “right” to work in the United States. If employers wished to discriminate they could have easily done so. Even the anti-discrimination laws would not have required them to hire “illegal immigrants” in most cases. But, employers were hiring these people and the political process had to step in forcibly to prevent it. Even with these extraordinary state interventions employers are still hiring “illegals” to this very day.

In other words, private property and depoliticized markets have been sanctuaries for victims of discrimination and bigots knew it. If this were not true there would be no need for these laws.

Bruenig ends his piece by claiming “I didn’t pull this man out of some backwater obscurity.” I would argue the lady doth protest too much. That is precisely what he did.

Beyond his blanket condemnations of libertarianism there is nothing in Bruenig’s article that is critical of Hoppe that wasn’t said first by libertarians—and said better.

Resources: Various libertarian sites have been critical of Hoppe. For instance, the Rightwatch blog had multiple exposes of Hoppe during the years it was in operation, 2005-2008. Libertarian activist and intellectual, Tom Palmer, published dozens of critiques of Hoppe on his personal blog. For that he was rewarded with an anti-Palmer website from Hoppe acolytes, along with numerous anti-gay slurs from Hoppe and his small band of followers. In 2005 the World Freedom Conference hosted libertarian policy analyst Oliver Marc Hartwich who gave a presentation on “The Errors of Hans-Hermann Hoppe.” What is noteworthy, but ignored by Mr. Bruenig, is that outside the limited circles of the Mises Institute, there is a shortage of academic libertarian organizations and/or publications that bother to take Mr. Hoppe seriously at all.

For a discussion of why depoliticized markets actually undermine conservative values—the opposite of what Hoppe and Bruenig believe—see “Conservatism versus Liberal Capitalism.


  1. Hoppe is fully aware that people owning private property could chose to allow immigrants to move there if they wished and he doesn't oppose this. What racism he has is entirely based around how he perceives economic outcomes would be likely to play out in a free society and as such if he is wrong about racial intelligence differences the system he advocates would have no negative effects on minorities. Basically he is different in how he perceives a free society would organize itself when compared with the average libertarian. It is interesting to note, however, that much of Hoppe's ideology is just the logical extension of Murray Rothbard's ideas. Who I must point out is the premier inspiration for Ron Paul along with Ayn Rand. Are you honestly going to be so dishonest that you wont acknowledge that Ron Paul is basically the lifeblood of the modern libertarian movement? If you can't acknowledge that there has always been a certain degree of racialist undertones in libertarian thought you are equally as dishonest a s champagne socialists who refuse to acknowledge the racism of Che or Stalin etc

    1. Dear Anonymous:

      First, you seem to assume that anyone who dares disagree with you is dishonest. Ayn Rand called that the argument from intimidation: Are you going to be so dishonest as to disagree with me? What a question!

      Hoppe is a bigot, full stop. He hangs out with Nazis and racists and he promotes them in his seminars. There is little to say to him but that he should go back from whence he came.

      Ron Paul is a conservative who has opposed civil liberties and social freedom except for specific kinds that appeal to the Right. I agree that Hoppe is an extension of Rothbard and Rothbard was a terrible scholar and a bad influence on libertarianism, Ron Paul is even worse, much, much worse.

      You seem to think that racism, or as you bigots prefer to call it "racialist" thinking has always been present in libertarian thought. Rubbish. You are rewriting history to the same degree that Rothbard rewrote it.