There is perhaps no more polarizing figure in the world of anarcho-capitalist theory (and in libertarianism in general) than Hans-Hermann Hoppe. His supporters label him the most brilliant mind in the movement and the philosophical heir to Murray Rothbard, the father of anarcho-capitalism. His detractors go as far as to label him a fascist, claiming that he is in large part responsible for the current fusion between the alt-right and paleolibertarians occurring before our eyes.
It is precisely because of Hoppe’s controversial nature that my interest was piqued when I learned that he was slated to deliver a speech entitled “Libertarianism and the Alt-Right” at the 2017 conference for the Property and Freedom Society, the group he had founded in 2006. While I am not attempting to dismiss all of his work by any means (and actually find that he has made many valuable contributions to libertarian theory throughout his career), I believe that prominent academics should be held to a higher standard. For that reason, I will detail my critiques below.
Early on in his speech, Hoppe rightfully criticizes certain members of the alt-right (including Richard Spencer) for embracing socialism. While I fully agree with him that on that aspect, I find his criticism to be incomplete by omission.
I will preface this by saying that yes, libertarianism is about the non-aggression principle (often referred to as the NAP) and self-ownership. One can choose to discriminate based on race without aggressing upon others, which means that they are perfectly within their rights to do so in a libertarian society. While Hoppe, through his body of work, often criticizes what he refers to as degeneracy or cultural decay, he seems far less apt to criticize the racial views of someone like Spencer.
Hoppe attacks the libertarian group Students For Liberty, calling them “Stupids for Liberty” and criticizing them for their motto of “peace, love, liberty,” as if peace, love, and liberty are bad things or things we shouldn’t strive for. But rather than condemning the rampant racism throughout the alt-right movement, Hoppe chooses to refer to brushing off the accusations of racism as a “strategically wise” move on their part. Though this may in fact be true, he does not address or even acknowledge the fact that there is a fair amount of racism within the alt-right. While I have often argued that there are those who cry “racism” when no such racism exists, it would be naïve to argue that every claim is baseless.
In his defense, Hoppe does state much later in his speech that he feels it is a “strategic error to make ‘whiteness’ the exclusive criterion on which to base one’s strategic decisions,” based on the fact that many of those in power who have caused the current conditions are white themselves. However, the use of the phrase “the exclusive criterion” instead of simply saying “a criterion” seems to imply that he believes race should still be considered alongside other factors.
Again, while both are technically acceptable under the NAP, it seems rather odd to choose to criticize non-traditional lifestyles or a desire for peace and love over racism. While it is true that a “degenerate” may choose to live off the state, thereby furthering aggression against innocent people through taxation, it is also true that a racist may choose to use violence to achieve his ends (whether they be an ethno-state or the elimination of or violence against what they view to be an inferior race.) I would argue that a “degenerate” who believes in treating others as individuals is far more likely to advance liberty for all than someone with traditional values who also hates others based on the color of their skin.
Another area of Hoppe’s speech that received considerable attention was his assertion that those libertarians who are in favor of “free and unrestricted immigration” are fake libertarians. For the sake of argument, I will assume that Hoppe was referring to those libertarians who believe that state borders should never be enforced, even while the state exists (as opposed to those who want the state to restrict immigration until a stateless society is achieved) and not about those who want the state to force property owners to allow others onto their private land (as the latter is rarely seen in the libertarian movement, except among the much-derided libertarian socialists.)
In the view of the open-borders libertarians, the only legitimate land boundaries are those marked by private property. While those in favor of open borders are often straw manned as communists, it is actually their support of property rights and freedom of association that brings them to their position. For who is the state to tell someone that they cannot rent out a spare room in their house to someone who was born in a different country? Who is the state to tell a business that they cannot hire the best person for the job in question, even if that person lives on the other side of a national border? Likewise, who is the state to tell someone who lives a mile from the US/Mexico border that they cannot build a cabin in the woods on a piece of virgin land just into Texas?
In his essay “On Free Immigration and Forced Integration,” Hoppe validates his argument for restricted immigration by saying that while the state exists, it should act as if it is the true property owner of the country, given that many of its citizens would not want certain people on their property in a stateless society. However, when this argument is applied to other issues, the true scope of its state-expanding nature can be observed.
It is quite possible that an individual private property owner, in a stateless society, would not allow those who use marijuana onto his land. Although I personally find it to be a foolish reason, those property owners would be well within their rights to do so in accordance with libertarian philosophy. But, allowing the state to imprison those who possess marijuana (or commit numerous other victimless crimes) is a blatant violation of the non-aggression principle and an apology for totalitarianism. Giving the state the power to act as a private property owner opens the door for all sorts of injustice. It can essentially excuse any action that the state commits on public property. It is hardly fair to call a libertarian who realizes this a “fake” one. It is especially ironic that Hoppe’s mentor, Murray Rothbard, supported open borders for a good portion of his life (as does Hoppe’s colleague at the Mises Institute, Walter Block.)
As he does in much of his work, Hoppe injects his own personal social conservatism into his speech, decrying those libertarians who see a “live and let live” attitude as sufficient for a free society. He views this outlook as juvenile, suggesting that it appeals to a child looking to rebel against his parents. He uses several different examples, including a neighbor who lets his property turn into a trash heap, a neighbor who refuses to help you with anything and does not keep his promises, and a neighbor who refuses to speak to you in your own language, to make the point that a common culture is needed among those who live in the same geographical area.
The trash example would be a highly unfortunate occurrence, but in reality, does not have much to do with culture; it has much more to do with individual hygiene and cleanliness habits. The idea of “live and let live” usually refers to the actions of others that do not have a direct effect on you, not a scenario in which your yard smells like garbage because of the person living next to you. The issue of a neighbor who does not keep his promises can be dealt with by not taking him at his word, as well as the fact that social capital would likely be especially important in an anarcho-capitalist society (so much so that the neighbor would essentially be shooting himself in the foot). But this too is more about the individual trustworthiness of that neighbor than anything else. A neighbor who refuses to speak to you in your own language is hurting himself as well, given that he is cutting himself off from much of the community if he is doing this to more than one person; he would be incentivized to find some way to communicate with others in order to procure trade and maintain his own well-being.
Even for all its faults, America is an example of the fact that people of different cultures can live side by side. Despite the sensationalized news coverage, statistics show that those alive today are arguably living in the most peaceful time in human history, a time when the world is more interconnected and those of different cultures interact with each other more than ever before. It is when someone wants to initiate violence against another that a problem arises, not when they want to practice their religions, celebrate their holidays, or speak their languages. Research shows that living among others unlike oneself makes one more tolerant of other cultures, not less. And while it is perfectly within someone’s rights to choose to be intolerant, a world full of people who are tolerant of each other is much more likely to be a peaceful one.
I have personally worked with, befriended, or been acquaintances with, people of all sorts of different nationalities and religions: Muslims, Ecuadorians, Iranians, Jews, and Kenyans, among others. At no time have I felt the need to use violence against these people, nor have I felt that their presence in this country has negatively affected me anymore than the presence of those who share the same skin color or upbringing as myself has. If anything, my experiences have helped reduce any future conflict with such individuals by introducing me to alternative perspectives.
After his points about culture, Hoppe goes on to say that those who advocate communism, socialism, or democracy should be “physically removed” from a libertarian society, with violence being used if necessary. While I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he is referring to a scenario in which someone has already agreed to this punishment as a condition of moving into a community (based on his previous statements), I thought that this was worth mentioning, due to the fact that I’ve run into many of his supporters who believe that mere advocation of one of these ideologies sufficiently applies as aggression (to which violence as self-defense is legitimate). Ironically, this is the same type of argument that Antifa uses to justify punching Nazis. As Murray Rothbard once said, “The libertarian, who believes in freedom of the will, must insist that while it might be immoral or unfortunate for A to advocate a riot, that this is strictly in the realm of advocacy and should not be subject to legal penalty.”
Each person has a right to speak their mind and express a preference, no matter how damaging that preference might be if put into action.
Last but not least, in outlining a libertarian strategy, Hoppe advocates in his speech that we aim our message at “white Christian couples with children,” as they are the “most severely victimized people.” If we were talking only about taxation, this may be true. To be clear, I agree that we should preach the libertarian message to the aforementioned group using the taxation argument; I have no problem with that. But we must remember that taxation is not the only way that government victimizes its citizens (as well as the rest of the world). Just as the well-off (and even the poor) are often victimized by taxation, the poor are victimized by corporatist regulations that help keep them in poverty. People of all races are victimized by the Drug War (although it disproportionately affects minorities). Foreigners, especially those in the Middle East and Africa, are victims of U.S. foreign policy; pointing out how government causes wars that wouldn’t otherwise occur can help bring those who are anti-war to our side.
Focusing solely on white married Christians is a terribly misguided strategic mistake, as the message of freedom spreads far beyond any one race or religion. Anyone who wants to choose how to live their own life and agrees not to aggress upon others can be part of our movement, regardless of race, religion, or marital status. Hoppe should be free to live in the socially conservative private community that he desires, but such a community should not be held up as a rigid libertarian standard.
* John M. Hudak is an anarcho-capitalist writer whose work has been featured at Think Liberty, Antiwar.com, and JohnMHudak.com. He is the Connecticut State Coordinator for Adam Kokesh’s 2020 presidential campaign.