Hoppe: Habermas’ Anarcho-Conservative Student

(Primary version of this post, with picture of Hoppe! at Barry Stocker’s Weblog)

Hoppe and Habermas

Hans Hermann-Hoppe is Jürgen Habermas’ most surprising doctoral student, a major figure in the area where anarcho-capitalism and ultra-conservatism cross over. (Click for a very short article by Hoppe which summarises his positon in a discussion of immigration) Hoppe wrote a doctorate with the Frankfurt School Marxist, Habermas in the 1970s. Hoppe is not very forthcoming about this, as can be seen by checking his CV at his own website, but does situate himself in relation to Habermas in his book The Ethics and Economics of Private Property. The startling conjunction of Marxism and Anarcho-Conservatism is a bit lessened if we appreciate Habermas’ position as a bridge between left-liberalism and Marxism, so that he can be better regarded as someone who has domesticated Marx within welfarist or egalitarian liberalism, rather than as an advocate of revolutionary Marxism.

Hoppe’s Version of Discourse Ethics

Hoppe takes up the discourse ethics of Habermas (and Karl-Otto Apel) which is itself an attempt to fuse a neo-Kantian ethics of pure universal law with an account of language use and communication as what attempts universal meaning. Habermas takes discourse ethics up in a ‘deliberative democracy’ in which all social and economic questions are debated in a public sphere so that agreement can be reached upon a political solution, within the limits of the existing legal and constitutional structure. Hoppe’s take on this is that discourse ethics must rest on the individual’s self-property in the individual’s body. The right to dispose of that naturally given property is taken as something that we cannot try to deny in discourse, without getting into self-contradiction since the source of discourse is the self which necessarily has property in its body as an aspect of being an individual self. This is itself a development of John Locke’s view of property, though how far Hoppe’s interpretation accords with Locke’s own philosophy as a whole is a matter of debate (and I think it is not).

Hoppe , Rothbard and Austrian Liberalism

Hoppe’s main influence came later, when he worked with the best known anarcho-capitalist thinker, the American historian, economist, political theorist and activist, Murray Rothbard. Rothbard himself tooted his views in Austrian Liberalism (also known as Austo-Libertarianism and and Austrian Economics). The best known representative of ‘Austrian Liberalism’ is F.A. Hayek, though is also the most moderate representative. Rothbard was a follower of Hayek’s teacher, Ludwig von Mises, who was much more minimum state and conservative in his thinking than Hayek, though Hayek moved some of the way in that direction later in his life. It’s significant that Hayek dropped the aristocratic ‘von’ from his name, unlike Mises who decided to ignore Austria’s abolition of aristocratic titles after the Republic was refounded after World War Two. Like Hoppe, Rothbard was strongly associated with the Mises Insitute. The institute would perhaps be more accurately known as the Rothbard Institute, since it leans towards anarcho-capitalism rather than Mises’ own minimum state position. Though it gives great attention to Mises, it leans towards Rothbard where Rothbard had a different position (naturalistic ethics rather than subjective ethics, anarchism rather than a minimum state). Hayek and Milton Friedman were fellows of the Institute, but it’s important to appreciate that they are not really libertarians by Mises/Rothbard standards. Hayek and Friedman never denied the need for some public services and some aid for the poorest, a position rejected by core Mises Institute thinkers. The Institute, and Hoppe, can be better understood by noting the connection with the Paleo-Conservative/Neo-Confederate, Paul Gottfried who is more radical minimum statist than Hayek or Friedman, and who strongly prefers the Confederate military commander Robert E. Lee as an American icon to Abraham Lincoln (who defeated the secession of the slave owning Confederate States of America from the Union in the Civil War).

Hoppe against Democracy

Hoppe generally describes himself as libertarian or anarcho-capitalist, but I cannot see that he would reject the ultra-conservative label, or I certainly do not see how can do so consistently, since he prefers monarchy to democracy. That is he prefers rule by one hereditary individual to rule by a representative assembly, or by direct democracy, and clearly regards the global move from monarchy to democracy as regrettable. His explanation is that a hereditary ruler has a great interest in maintaining the state since it belongs to that ruler and the descendants of that ruler in perpetuity. The hereditary ruler’s interest in maintaining the state is certainly greater than that of elected politicians, as these politicians are temporary and have a greater interest in extracting resources from the state than in maintaining it’s long term existence. That’s not a position I share, but it is very interesting to note the existence of the argument and think about it before arriving at a view of it. The conservative side of Hoppe can also be

Bodrum: Centre of Anarcho-Conservatism

Hoppe has founded his own association, Property and Freedom which meets every year in Bodrum. Turkey is not the most obvious place for a centre of anarcho-capitalism, but Hoppe had a wealthy Turkish supporter Gülçin İmre, and Bodrum’s a great place for a holiday. I’m sure the beaches and bars provide much needed relaxation from struggling against democratic decadence.

Hoppe Misusing Hayek?

The website evades these more radical aspects of Hoppe’s thought though, relying heavily on quotations from Hayek who never even used the word ‘libertarian’ as he found its too radical. As time went by Hayek, did become more anxious to distinguish himself from left-liberals, so he replaced the self-description of liberal with the quaint term ‘Old Whig’, also wishing to avoid the term conservative. This refers to the earliest supporters of the British Parliament against royal power in the Seventeenth Century. The association uses the phrase ‘culturally conservative libertarians’, next to a quote from Mises commenting on Hayek. This contradicts by association, that is it associates Hayek with two terms he rejected: libertarianism and conservatism, but avoids outright contradiction by directly quoting Mises.

Back to Habermas: Locke behind Marxism and Libertarianism

How could Hoppe move from Habermas’ moderate Marxism to a radical anarcho-conservatism? There is not much literature on this, or discussion by Habermas or Hoppe, but G. A. Cohen has some interesting things to say about Marxism and capitalist libertarianism (mostly with reference to Robert Nozick in Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality. Cohen himself has moved from Marxism to a very radical form of liberal egalitarianism. One reason Cohen has for this transition is that Marxism is not innately egalitarian, or certainly not in a consistent way. It emphasises the idea that property comes from labour, using the Lockean idea also used by many anarcho-capitalists and free market libertarians. Cohen suggests that Marxism is about the labourer having absolute property rights over the products of that labour, excluding income transfers with an egalitarian purpose.

Habermas and Capitalist Libertarianism: Pure Transparent Community

I would add that Habermas’ gaol of an ‘ideal speech situation’ in his theories of discourse ethics and deliberative democracy is itself utopian, the dream of speech detached from any distortions of self-interest and subjectivity. That utopia might be better realised in the self-governing micro-communities of property owner imagined by Hoppe, rather than in a nation state as Habermas imagines. Habermas takes this even beyond the nation state to the European Union and a then a global cosmopolitan public sphere.

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10 thoughts on “Hoppe: Habermas’ Anarcho-Conservative Student

  1. Diego

    Thank you for commenting on my post, unfortunately it's not clear to that you read the whole post before commenting on it. If you read the whole thing you will see that I very clearly say that his preferred position is 'propertarian' i.e. a form of anarchism, and not a form of monarchy. I also link to an online text to support what I say.

    What is the point of your comment?

  2. Mr. Stocker,

    I believe Diego thought your comment might imply to some readers Hoppe is a monarchist; he pointed to my post which makes it clear he is not.

    As for your comment, "Hoppe generally describes himself as libertarian or anarcho-capitalist, but I cannot see that he would reject the ultra-conservative label"–I am not sure if Hoppe uses the term "ultra-conservative," but he does write, in his opening address to the PFS in 2006, "As culturally conservative libertarians, we are convinced that the process of de-civilization has again reached a crisis point and that it is our moral and intellectual duty to once again undertake a serious effort to rebuild a free, prosperous, and moral society."

    However, Hoppe is clearly not a traditional conservative; see, for example, ch. 5 of A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, bearing the title "The Socialism of Conservatism."

    You wrote, "The website evades these more radical aspects of Hoppe’s thought though, relying heavily on quotations from Hayek who never even used the word ‘libertarian’ as he found its too radical."

    I am not sure what website you mean. I am in charge of both Hoppe's website and that of the PFS, and can assure you that none of these evade Hoppe's thought.

    By the way, more information on Hoppe's argumentation ethics is listed on his website here, including, among his own writings: "The Ethical Justification of Capitalism and Why Socialism Is Morally Indefensible," ch. 7 of A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism; "On the Ultimate Justification of the Ethics of Private Property," ch. 10 of The Economics and Ethics of Private Property; and "Four Critical Replies," Appendix to The Economics and Ethics of Private Property. See also my own Defending Argumentation Ethics: Reply to Murphy & Callahan and New Rationalist Directions in Libertarian Rights Theory; Frank van Dun's Argumentation Ethics and The Philosophy of Freedom, Marian Eabrasu's A Reply to the Current Critiques Formulated Against Hoppe’s Argumentation Ethics, and Wikipedia's entry on Discourse Ethics.

  3. Stephen Kinsella
    This is the website I am referring to
    http://propertyandfreedom.org/

    The bit I am referring to is
    on this link
    http://propertyandfreedom.org/about/
    The relevant passahe
    The Property and Freedom Society stands for an uncompromising intellectual radicalism: for justly acquired private property, freedom of contract, freedom of association—which logically implies the right to not associate with, or to discriminate against—anyone in one’s personal and business relations—and unconditional free trade. It condemns imperialism and militarism and their fomenters, and champions peace. It rejects positivism, relativism, and egalitarianism in any form, whether of “outcome” or “opportunity,” and it has an outspoken distaste for politics and politicians. As such it seeks to avoid any association with the policies and proponents of interventionism, which Ludwig von Mises had identified in 1946 as the fatal flaw in the plan of the many earlier and contemporary attempts by intellectuals alarmed by the rising tide of socialism and totalitarianism to found an anti-socialist ideological movement. Mises wrote: “What these frightened intellectuals did not comprehend was that all those measures of government interference with business which they advocated are abortive. … There is no middle way. Either the consumers are supreme or the government.” (“Observations on Professor Hayek’s Plan,” 1946))

    As I said in the original post, I'm extrapolating somewhat Another way of putting is to say that Hoppe is referring to Hayek's name in a way which might mislead people. I'm not making a moral accusation, I'm sure H-H Hoppe is a very honourable individual, like all of us he might fall back on misleading ambiguities from time to time. In all honesty can you say that the Hayek of *The Road to Serfdom* is proposing what Hoppe proposes? Does not the 1944 Hayek represent a moderate version of Classical Liberal/Libertarian thinking while Hoppe represents one if its most radical thinkers. That's not an accusation, it's a fact. I greatly prefer early Hayek to Hoppe, I don't see that I've misrepresented his position, and I would like to think any anarcho-capitalist who stumbled on my blog would be aided in finding a sympathetic figure.
    Thank you for your link to Mises.org. A website I consult with great frequency, via email updates and an RSS feed and checking it for stuff by and about Mises and Rothbard. Indeed I occasionally link to it in the blog I fail to see what it is in the linked item that contradicts what I'm saying. Hoppe is happy to describe himself as a conservative in some respects, and I point this out. Where have I misrepresented Hoppe? Though you didn't notice I do link to Hoppe in the post, which I suppose is some minute benefit for Hoppe and those who follow him. I can't see that I'm misleading anyone if I indicate the existence of different, less culturally conservative, and less a-statist versions of Classical Liberalism/Libertarianism which I happen to prefer.

  4. Mr. Stocker,

    "As I said in the original post, I'm extrapolating somewhat Another way of putting is to say that Hoppe is referring to Hayek's name in a way which might mislead people. I'm not making a moral accusation, I'm sure H-H Hoppe is a very honourable individual, like all of us he might fall back on misleading ambiguities from time to time. In all honesty can you say that the Hayek of *The Road to Serfdom* is proposing what Hoppe proposes?"

    Hoppe is quoting Mises, not Hayek (the piece quoted is here, and makes it clear Mises disagreed with Hayek).

    Hoppe is a Misesian. Hayek was good on many issues, especially for his time, and Hoppe thus quotes him favorably on one point, but of course nowhere implies Hayek was completely on board with an agenda as radical even as Mises's was. See e.g. Walter Block's “Hayek’s Road to Serfdom,”.

    See also Hoppe's views critical of Hayek's "knowledge" paradigm, quoted in this post.

    "Does not the 1944 Hayek represent a moderate version of Classical Liberal/Libertarian thinking while Hoppe represents one if its most radical thinkers."

    Yes. Hayek was liberal for his day but had many compromises; see Block. Mises was much more radical and principled, and Hoppe is more in the Rothbardian-Misesian tradition, and nowhere hides this. YEt Hayek was an Austrian and a liberal, so he is our ally, of course.

    "Where have I misrepresented Hoppe?"

    I am not sure you do, but you seemed to imply Hoppe had misreprented the affinity between his and Hayek's views. I think he clearly does not, and just wanted to note that.

  5. Thanks very much for the reference Stephen. All I was really saying in the first place is that a particular page in one website associated with H-H Hoppe might at a quick glance look like its linking Hoppe with Hayek. I was certainly not suggesting that Hoppe makes dishonest claims in his substantive works or that the website is inherently dishonest. I've already said in this comment that I'm sure Hoppe is an honourable individual and I certainly would not expect anyone reading the post to think him to be making dishonest claims.
    I had two main purposes in the post
    1. To give some publicity to the fascinating situation in which one of Habermas' students has developed an anarcho-capitalist position.
    2. To talk a bit about the distinctions between different currents within Libertarianism. It's important for everyone to understand what he differences are.
    Hoppe as someone who has connected with Austrian Liberalism/Economics is of course well informed about Hayek and a high level scholar in these matters. I may have taken a slightly humorous attitude to aspects of Hoppe's ideas I don;t agree with, but overall my real interest is to show left inclined academics that Habermas' theories contain tensions which are best dealt with from a more 'libertarian' point of view. In that respect I have a lot in common with Hoppe and those influenced by his work, even though in the end I would stop short of the more radical proposals. Even my very mitigated libertarianism is strong stuff for most academics, as you will have noticed.

  6. Barry,
    Thanks. In response to, "overall my real interest is to show left inclined academics that Habermas' theories contain tensions which are best dealt with from a more 'libertarian' point of view"– you may find of interest Hopppe's coments on Marxism in this post.

  7. The hereditary ruler’s interest in maintaining the state is certainly greater than that of elected politicians, as these politicians are temporary and have a greater interest in extracting resources from the state than in maintaining it’s long term existence. That’s not a position I share …

    I think that HHH's observation is correct and I would like to see an explanation in simple logic which refutes it.

    The 20th century was really where the rubber of all of these theories met the road and where everyone can see that the non-hereditary rulers of many countries set them on suicidal courses which literally brought their states and even their people to the brink of extermination. Stalin, Hitler and Mao although they eventually became absolute rules were the products of democratic movements as opposed to being kings or emperors. Stalin apparently did not groom his son for succession. Mao's children died or were abandoned. Hitler had no children. To say that these leaders governed with little or no regard to the long term health and wealth of their state would be a gross understatement.

    But this tendency is not only apparent when considering extreme cases. Looking at recent US history I see only one president with sons who seemed to be groomed for eventual succession, George H. W. Bush, the rest to my knowledge only had daughters or in the case of Reagan an adopted son. One of the contrasts between GHWB and GWB (and also Obama) is that the former had a more pronounced tendency to conservatism (refraining to step into a quagmire by occupying Iraq and raising taxes in an attempt to fix the yawning budget deficit) whereas the son GWB and successor Obama with no sons and apparently not grooming their daughters to assume power, both have what is (to me) a much more recklessly suicidal approach to fiscal policy and foreign wars.

    In summary I find HHH's argument not only to be logical but also to be borne out by historical evidence.

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