I have been asked by a few people to comment upon this speech given by Hans-Hermann Hoppe at the 12th annual meeting of the Property and Freedom Society. The PFS is an Austro-libertarian organization founded by Hoppe, for the purpose of promoting libertarian ideas. This conference is like the Burning Man of libertarianism. The heavy weights of the movement tend to show up at this thing and give speeches. Undoubtedly, my past comments about libertarians is what has prompted people to forward this to me.
Before watching the speech or reading the text, I was struck by a very small bit of nostalgia. Libertarianism, at least in the US, is a dead movement. Talk to alt-right types and they are mostly former libertarians. Many of them were Ron Paul supporters. That was their gateway into politics. For the last decade, libertarianism has been hemorrhaging adherents, mostly to the dissident movements, but some have become mainstream conservatives. Hearing the name “Hoppe” felt like a blast from the past.
This is a topic some in the alt-right discuss, but mainstream debate assiduously avoids any discussion of the libertarian implosion. Fox News, for example, still has a stable of libertarians. Conservative sites like NRO keep a few around like Sloppy Williamson and Chuck Cooke. There are some think tank people, who seriously discuss a fusion of Buckley Conservatism, neo-conservatism and libertarianism, but that’s mostly whistling past the graveyard. All three of those movements are headed to the ash heap.
Unlike many people in this thing, I did not make the trip here from libertarianism. In my teenage years, I read Smith, Locke, Hobbes, Bastiat, Mill and some others. Then I was exposed to libertarianism, but I was never swayed. By that point I had seen enough of the world to know that most people would never go along with it. Blacks need structure or you get Somalia. Some Europeans have a strong drive toward clannishness. Stupid people, of course, could never make it work. Libertarianism is a smart white guy thing.
My observation, as an aside, is that libertarianism was most popular with upper middle-class white guys from the suburbs. There, things seem to work and the non-whites they experience are mostly like them, just not white. Poor people, like me, get to see the diversity of life up close and in person, at a young age. I suspect that exposure to this reality is why so many nice suburban white boys have embraced the alt-right. To paraphrase the old gag, an alt-righter is a libertarian who has been mugged by diversity.
Putting that aside, the impossibility of libertarianism has always been my biggest problem with it. You see it in the Hoppe speech. He points this out early in his talk. Even if you assume libertarianism is a possible form of human organization, how do you get there from a non-libertarian starting point? How do you maintain the libertarian order? Hoppe correctly points out that most libertarians ignore these questions. Many, he calls them fake libertarians, embrace the blank slate and egalitarianism as a way to dodge the issue.
Even Hoppe, at least in this talk, ignores the first question. Instead he focuses on the second question, by way of an example of two neighbors. One is abiding by the rules of the libertarian paradise, while the other is not. He then concludes that there must be a mechanism to physically remove the bad neighbor. In order to have such a mechanism, without violating most of the rules of libertarianism, you have to have a society of people with common heritage, language and culture. Perhaps even an ethnostate.
That still presents a problem. Let’s assume you have an ethnostate with a common heritage and belief system. Even in the narrowest ethnic groupings, there is enough variety of personalities, to guarantee some members will not cooperate with the libertarian rules. To police this requires either an Übermensch or a society composed mostly of them, so that when they act in concert, they can police the ranks, yet never be tempted by the power that permits them to police the ranks. A land of angels, rather than men.
Although libertarians never put it this way, and Hoppe does not in his speech, the underlying assumption is that libertarianism can become a civic religion. That way, a common moral code can do a great deal of the policing, but also give temporary license to deal with those who refuse to respect the libertarian culture. Addressing the problem of the bad neighbor becomes a civic virtue. On the other hand, civic religions have given us the Terror, the Holocaust, the Holodomor and the Cultural Revolution.
Of course, there could be no risk of something like that happening in the libertarian paradise. The reason is it would require cooperation. Getting two libertarians to agree on splitting the lunch bill is impossible. That’s because no two libertarians can agree on the definition of libertarianism. Academic communism had this problem. This suggests a defect at the core of the ideology. That defect, of course, is that there is no way to make it square with objective reality, particularly the biological reality of humanity.
In defense of Hoppe, who has always been willing to examine the criticisms of his ideology and adjust to them when necessary, he takes seriously the arguments from the alt-right and allied movements, with regards to race and ethnicity. He also takes seriously the reality of politics. Theory is worthless unless it can inspire a practical political agenda with real influence in society. He goes onto to list a bunch of agenda items he would like libertarians to embrace. Most are a hat tip to the biological realists.
Watching the speech, I got the feeling I was listening to a eulogy. I doubt that was the intent, but that’s how it felt to me. The universalist ideology created by Murray Rothbard and others was a creature of the 20th century. It’s utility was always in its value as a critique of communist and socialist economics. The 20th century was largely a debate among white people about how white people would transact and regulate commerce with one another. That’s a settled argument now, so libertarianism is no longer relevant.