Book Review: Hans-Hermann Hoppe – Defying Leviathan

By Andy Duncan, Vice-Chairman of Mises UK

I used to be a singer in a rock and roll band.

Well, okay, maybe not, but I was a lead guitarist in a punk rock band. I even had my Fender copy tuned so I could play the major rock chords with a single sliding finger, just like those anarcho-punk legends, Crass.

If only our band had possessed some luck, a good manager, a driving licence between us, some money, a van, and a small pet monkey named Brian, we might have made it big. Especially if the lead guitarist had actually possessed any talent.

But, alas, this punk dream faded, as it did for a million others, and my brush with anarchy submerged itself for another twenty years. However, much to my surprise it resurfaced, a little rusty but largely unscathed, when it experienced a depth charge blast from Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s mental mind bomb, Democracy: The God That Failed.

There are few in the world who dare promote the dissolution of all forms of government, especially in the hostile spitting face of a billion state-supporting rent seekers. And of those few brave men, only a tiny handful, mostly Austro-libertarians, possess the requisite economic theory, moral strength, and political knowledge to really frighten all of those state-loving horses. Foremost amongst them is Professor Hoppe, a man in the proper Austrian tradition of being a German speaker by birth, though also a man at odds with many inside proper libertarian circles, as opposed to those Christmas-voting leftist libertarian turkeys who believe the state is the ultimate guarantor of individual rights. Which makes about as much sense as taxman with genuine friends. Proper libertarians divide themselves into two broad camps; Minarchists and Anarchists; those who believe in a minimalist night-watchman state, on the grounds that even though the state is odious and should be limited in every way possible, it is still necessary to provide security; and those who believe that we need no odious government at all, because even security, that last bastion of the coercive apparatus of the state, can itself be provided on the open market.

However, when you educate yourself away from leftist-libertarian socialism, as some of us poor schlepps have had to do, this question of security, which divides the Minarchists and the Anarchists, is like the great family secret you can never find the answer to. It is the mad aunt in the closet, the uncle who should be kept away from his nephews, and the grandmother with the glass eye who does unspeakable things to goldfish. This question of security is simply never discussed. At least, never any place you can find it. You are either sensible, and a Minarchist, or a Barking moonbat, and an Anarchist.

Which is why I am glad that Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe has broken the log-jam and tried to answer this divisive question of security, with his editorship of The Myth of National Defense. Fortunately, as well as buying the book, you can also read the whole of its text online, courtesy of a PDF file.

Hoppe has assembled his wide-ranging collection of essayists, and their ideas, around the following pair of double-think concepts:

First: Every “monopoly” is “bad” from the viewpoint of consumers. Monopoly here is understood in its classical sense as an exclusive privilege granted to a single producer of a commodity or service; i.e., as the absence of “free entry” into a particular line of production. In other words, only one agency, A, may produce a given good, x. Any such monopolist is “bad” for consumers because, shielded from potential new entrants into his area of production, the price of his product x will be higher and the quality of x lower than otherwise.

This is contrasted with:

Second, the production of security must be undertaken by and is the primary function of government. Here, security is understood in the wide sense adopted in the Declaration of Independence: as the protection of life, property (liberty), and the pursuit of happiness from domestic violence (crime) as well as external (foreign) aggression (war). In accordance with generally accepted terminology, government is defined as a territorial monopoly of law and order (the ultimate decision maker and enforcer).

Hoppe contends that both principles are incompatible. Either monopoly is good or monopoly is bad. It cannot be both. However, to counter this Minarchists argue that security is a special product, one which defies the first principle, because without statist coercion we would all be wolves at each others’ throats in a Hobbesian world of Homo homini lupus est, suffering from a continual under-production of security. Hoppe argues otherwise, basing much of his anarchistic case on the original ideas of Gustave de Molinari, who predicted in the Production of Security what would happen in a monopolised security system:

If…the consumer is not free to buy security wherever he pleases, you forthwith see open up a large profession dedicated to arbitrariness and bad management. Justice becomes slow and costly, the police vexatious, individual liberty is no longer respected, the price of security is abusively inflated and inequitably apportioned, according to the power and influence of this or that class of consumers.

The British police, in particular, seem to have taken Molinari to heart. In large swathes of the UK they see their job as being no more than handing out crime numbers, so that victims of theft can claim on their private insurance policies. Sometimes, the British police can sometimes hardly be bothered to do even that small task. The thought of coming out of their warm cosy police stations, or comfortable motorway police cars, and actually chasing down burglars and muggers is far too much like hard work. It is much better to stay behind a desk drinking tea and processing lucrative car speeding fines. British courts are also a superlative home for the overpaid and the underworked, with the price of justice set far too high for most ordinary people, and some innocent men and women spending years banged up on remand, at Her Majesty’s pleasure, while indolent government justice officers tea-break their tortuous way through endless triplicated paperwork.

Hoppe’s book is divided into four sections; State-making and war-making; Government forms, war, and strategy; Private alternatives to state defence and warfare; and Private security production and practical applications.

After an introductory chapter of his own, Hoppe hands over the baton to Luigi Marco Bassani and Carlo Lottieri, for a first section chapter on the relative modernity of the state, which they claim has only properly existed since the Florentine time of Niccolo Machiavelli, rather than the dawn of time, as the state’s denizens would prefer us to believe. Thus, having existed only briefly, the state is a concept which has a before. Therefore, it may also possess an after, which we can all happily work towards. They also describe how the state mainly arose as a vehicle for those who wished to become a new ruling class, after feudal times, and how, as free institutions and free markets threw off the ever-increasing strictures of the nation state, this ruling class saw its only hope for survival in the creation of supra-national bodies, such as the European Union, to use them explicitly as a means of controlling the free movements of goods, people, capital, and ideas, while still retaining full control over a coercive and parasitic stream of lovely jubbly taxation income, for themselves, their families, and their friends.

This essay is followed by The Master, the mighty Murray N. Rothbard. Hoppe reproduces one of Uncle Murray’s best ever pieces, which you may have read before, on War, Peace, and the State. This lucid morality tale tells us about how and why the state has killed millions since its Renaissance inception; how and why we can tackle all of the state’s arguments, which it uses to aggress against us in the form of taxation, regulation, and straightforward oppression, as it pursue its own agenda against other states; and how and why we should always try to work towards the maxim that no man should aggress against any other man at any other time, except in the case of self-defence. No anarchist, or aspiring anarchist, should ever leave home without reading this essay first.

The second section of the book then begins with what I feel is the best written essay in the book: Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s piece entitled Monarchy and War, on the dangers of modern democracy. Rather than give you a blow-by-blow account of this bitingly acidic tour-de-force, let me just regale you with a few quotes:

Democracy reappeared in a more civilised form in Athens, but when Socrates, in a truly political trial, praised monarchy, he was condemned to death. Remember also that Madriaga said rightly that our civilization rests on the death of two persons: a philosopher and the Son of God, both victims of the popular will.

Top quality.

It will be interesting to see if Mel Gibson makes his next film project ‘The Death of Socrates’. I would love to see it, but I do hope Mr Gibson avoids scripting the dialogue in classical Greek.

Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn is particularly caustic about the terrible effects of the French Revolution, with its introduction of mass murder, conscription, and caretaker-king democracy:

It [The Revolution] wanted to bring liberty and equality under a common denominator, something Goethe considered only charlatans would promise. Equality, indeed, could merely be established in some form of slavery – just as a hedge can only be kept even by constantly trimming it.

Now that is an analogy to cut out and keep. If you ever see me using it again at some future date, please forget you ever saw me quote it here first. Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn also thinks one of the worst outcomes of the French Revolution was its export of democracy to the nascent United States, and the subsequent goal of the United States to then make the world a safe place for this same mob rule beauty pageant, otherwise known as democracy:

It was the destruction of the Habsburg Empire that made Germany the geopolitical winner of World War I. Bordering after 1919 on only one great power—France—it was now the direct or indirect neighbour in the East of partly artificial, partly militarily indefensible states. As His Magnificence, the rector of Breslau University, Ernst Kornemann, pointed out in 1926, the time to take advantage of this advantageous situation would come sooner or later. And it came. What Hitler actually inherited from these nincompoops who had dictated the Paris Suburban treaties was not only an internal situation characterized by the economic uprooting of important social layers and the imposition of an unworkable form of government, but also a uniquely profitable geopolitical position due to the division of Austria-Hungary. If Hitler had had any sense of humor, he would have erected a colossal monument to Woodrow Wilson.

You may disagree with what Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn says about the horrors of democracy, but his writing really is wonderfully entertaining.

We then head into what I thought was the most disturbing and contradictory part of Professor Hoppe’s book: Bertrand Lemennicier’s chapter on nuclear weapons. After various mathematical proofs, based on Game theory, the author concludes that nuclear proliferation is a desirable thing to encourage, in terms of world peace. He also believes that the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and other members of the nuclear club, have no intrinsic right to prevent this spread of nuclear weapons.

I found this essay rather jarring, particularly after reading Murray Rothbard’s earlier piece, which states that we should try to remove nuclear weapons from the world as a priority action in every possible sphere, as they are immoral weapons of evil. And even if I could force myself to believe Lemennicier’s argument that various world governments should be the recipients of nuclear proliferation, one shudders at the thought of various non-governmental men, currently somewhere at large in the Hindu Kush, getting hold of such devices. Nuclear mushroom cloud over London, anyone?

I hope and pray that I and my children never live to see that day.

Gerard Radnitzky then puts a firm leather boot into the lie that democracy is more peaceful than any other form of government, decrypting virtually every war of the twentieth century, most of which involved democracies, often in the role as aggressors. This is a wide-ranging chapter which balances theory with reality, but which essentially comes at us with the premise that what democracy encourages is the creation of total war and the deliberate targeting, with lethal munitions, of other states’ civilians:

The democratic method tempts you to expand collective choice, because it appears to be so simple to use and almost costless (a facile mechanical process). It invites you to sin — galloping interventionism. The consequences: Because of the redistributive bias of democratic constitutional rule, it transforms the state into a vast redistributive machinery and the society into the “churning society”—interventionism, welfarism, collectivism—with consequences that go far beyond anything known under predemocratic social choice.

After this heavy, but necessary, opening half to the book, we get to the more interesting stuff. Joseph R. Stromberg talks about mercenaries, guerrillas, militias, and the ways in which they have been combined for successful defence, as in the American Revolution against the armed might of Great Britain. Larry J. Sechrest then writes a fascinating chapter on naval privateering and its warfare for profit, which helped keep the mighty British navy at bay when the early United States spent several decades consolidating its early freedom, mostly through a successful reliance on naval privateers.

So why did privateering die out then? Stromberg concludes his chapter with the riposting answer:

The fact is that privateering disappeared precisely because it was so effective. Career naval officers feared and resented the competition it represented, and those few nations with large public navies wanted to make sure that smaller nations could not challenge their domination via the less costly alternative of private armed ships. These were the primary motives behind the Declaration of Paris, signed by seven maritime nations in 1856, which prohibited privateering by the signatories and greatly hastened its ultimate end.

Whatever the case, the knowledge I gained from this essay certainly helped make the Russell Crowe film, Master and Commander, far more entertaining, especially when Captain ‘Lucky’ Jack Aubrey argued with ship’s doctor, Stephen Maturin, about the nature of warfare and anarchy, and how to fight a Boston-built privateer.

Jeffrey Rogers Hummel answers another important question in the next highly instructive chapter. If governments are so bad, why do they so dominate the world? Hummel paints an optimistic picture portraying the state as a macro parasite which grew from the revolution in agriculture following hunter-gatherer times, where large bodies of people could produce enough food to carry free riders and wipe out remaining hunter-gatherers through slaughter and the diseases induced by people living in civilised proximity. The rulers of these early states could then introduce religious or secular ideologies to maintain the organic growth of statehood, leading us towards the present day cacophony of worldwide states. However, Hummel surmises that modern states which can lower their statist free-riding burden will become dominant through their consequential wealth-generation abilities and the superior weapons systems which this will also provide. Hence, the state may wither on the vine as such advantages become apparent, especially if just one truly anarcho-capitalist state could emerge with a large enough population to hold all the other states at bay.

No doubt Hummel has the United States in mind, for this torch-bearing role. But with those rapidly growing flat-tax economies in Eastern Europe, who knows where the wind of freedom will blow next?

We then come to the book’s important fourth section, where Walter Block, Professor Hoppe, and Jörg Guido Hülsmann, discuss how the private production of security could actually come to genuine fruition, in a future world based on reality rather than hope.

Block lays open the public goods theorists who insist that only states can provide defence, by taking all of their arguments apart and leaving them wanting. Hoppe then follows up with a demonstration of how reliance on the state for defence has left us in a state of perpetual war, with a continual and a permanently insecure destruction of private property, and how a system of insurance could provide us with a reliable system of both internal and external defence. He also argues why this system would lead to a far more peaceful world than the one we currently have, where airlines are stopped by the state from having $50 dollar guns on their flight decks, so a $400 billion dollar US state defence system can then fail to prevent terrorist outrages involving airliners. If you are going to read just one chapter from this book, read this one.

Hülsmann then concludes this book with how secession, down to the level of the individual, may be the method by which we can reach Hummel’s anarcho-capitalist wonderland.

All in all, The Myth of National Defense is a fabulous book, and one which I can highly recommend even to confirmed Minarchists, so they can refute it at their leisure. Its one drawback is that it does lack the organic unity of the Professor’s earlier book on democracy, mainly because he failed to write the whole thing himself. But just the chapter by Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, alone, makes up for this.

Is it really possible for the state to be removed from our lives and for us to survive to tell the tale afterwards? You will have to make up your own mind, but after reading it myself I can only say one thing:

Ich bin ein Barking moonbat.

Auf wieder hören…

(This book review by Andy Duncan was first published on Samizdata.Net in 2004.)


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