Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Democracy: The God That Failed
I have recently finished reading Hans-Hermann Hoppe's book "Democracy: The God That Failed". In the book, he provides a unique and captivating analysis of democracy as a system and how "privately" owned monarchies tranformed into unlimited social democracies. Hoppe puts forth a very compelling arguement as to why democracy is even worse than the tyranny of a monarchy, and therefore he advocates the abolition of democracy, namely through the mechanism of secession (even down to the individual level, if practically possible).
He demonstrates that, as bad as a monarchy may be, the king ultimately has much more of an incentive to take care of his estate, pay off debt, not impose too high taxes or inflation, and even avoid extended wars. In short, the monarchal ruler has a time preference that always tends towards looking towards the future. The democrat, the four year politician, on the other hand, has none of these incentives. The democratic politician functions in the present only, with little or no concern for the future. Instead of having an incentive to keep the "estate" and pass it on in good condition for the future, the four year politician is merely a temporary "stewart", and will act as such. Therefore, the democratic ruler will incur considerably higher debt, inflate more, tax more, spend more and get involved in extended wars. All immediate and long-term problems will be arbitrarily left to the politicians and individuals of the future to deal with.
The Democracy, therefore, is a system in which everything is viewed in the short-term, and the rulers arbitrarily shift in and out of power. As a result, the government will be empowered to grow beyond that which even the most tyrannical monarchy would be able to sustain. While the king has an incentive to preserve the long-term output of his property, the congressman or president has only the incentive to appease the demands of the masses in the short-term and never really worry about the long-term consequences. The time preferance difference between a democracy and a monarchy is thus considerably wide. As tyrannical as a monarchy can be, a democracy inevitably completely cracks open the floodgates to expansive government power without any real incentive to avoid unintended and long-term consequences.
Hoppe further demonstrates that a Democracy is inherently prone to redistributionism or welfarism, whereas the monarchy has little to none of such mechanisms. Thus, in a democracy, where free acess to political power and voting is the rule of the day, people tend to look towards their government as a benevolent agent of the public, as a way for particular interest groups to "rule" others by using their acess to the state. Inevitably, then, a democracy is prone to massive redistribution between special interest groups, with each group demanding the "equal oppurtunity" to plunder the other. The democratic politician promises the massess utopias and special favors to select groups. While the king and his nobles were the parasites in a monarchy, in a democracy everyone is a parasite or a potential one. In a democracy, both the mob and the government are parasites between varying interest groups, but the government functions more as a demagogue and "magic multiplier" that allows the extra parasitism of the masses or special interests to occur in the first place.
In short, while all governments are inevitably run by a separate group from "society" at large that is confined to a relative minority in comparison to the overall population, this is much more obvious to the people in a monarchal system. But in a democratic system, this reality is expressly blurred, as people consider themselves to be one and the same with the government; "by the people, for the people", etc. Consequentially, the considerable negation or violation of the liberty of the individual in their person and property is inevitable in such a political atmosphere. Everyone battles for special interest control over others, usually "one's betters" in some form, through legislating new positive laws. Instead of applying pre-existing private law, the democracy arbitrarily legislates "public law" of out thin air, on the basis of a vague and subjective "public good" or "general welfare" that special interest groups use to lobby the government for special priviledges and exemptions to their group, as well as selective oppressions and revokations of rights with respect to another group. Further, in a democracy, you increase the number of governmental parasites, and thus government jobs continually and substantially increase. Democracy merely vastly increases the amount of parasites in both government and society at large.
Hoppe convincingly demonstrates that a literal social regression, a process of decivilization occurs as a result of democracy. He shows that if you subsidize the poor, you will get more poor people. If you subsidize criminals, you get more criminals. If you subsidize single mothers, you get more divorces and single mothers. If you subsidize abortions, you get more abortions. If you subsidize the mentally ill, you get more mental illness. If you subsidize the irresponsible and immoral, you get more irresponsible and immoral people. These things increase as a natural reaction to subsidizing such things, because it fosters and supports whatever is being subsidized. Obviously, it's not that more of such people are born, but that more of them flock to the government to be subsidized, and that once subsidized, this fosters the particular behavior or trait in question and makes such people complacent and dependant on the state.
It should not be necessary to point out that, as bad as a monarchy may be, it does not possess anywhere near this level of egalitarian government intervention. Further, it is also not necessarily the case that all democratic interventions are egalitarian in nature; some are more fascist in nature, where a heirarchy is artificially imposed rather then naturally arising; essentially, a state of affairs in which buisiness groups and upper-class special interests are parasites allied with the state, the corporations functioning as the middle man between the lay public and the government; a merging of buisiness and state. While this set-up parallels a monarchy (king + nobles or king + merchants) or mercantalist system in a sense, its effects are vastly intensified when done democratically, as access to political power and is so vastly multiplied. As a result, the amount of kings and nobles, (I.E. politicians, allied corporations and allied unions) increases considerably. In short, mercantalism as applied to democracy in a modern industrial economy leads to a corporate-state, a unification of buisiness interests and government that goes further than old pre-industrial mercantalism could manage.
"The People" becomes merely a synonom for the corporate lobbying parasites. Such a system of neo-mercantalism is "democratic heirarchy" or "national socialism". The resulting right-wing democratic-fascist state is truly no better then a left-wing democratic-socialist state. Although fascist states may tend to be less democratic then communist states, fascism still often results from democratic processes (I.E. the democratic process yields an imposed retrogressive heirarchy; it is only after the democratic process that the dictators, military-industrial parasites and secret police cement their power; by the time a significant amount of people overcome the propaganda, their personal liberties have been long since yanked from under their feet and the democratic process has only lead to a dictatorship or strict oligarchy), and both fascism and communism are varying forms of statism and socialism. Many democratic states could be said to be a relative mixture of these two systems (left-social democracy and right-social democracy), some being more like social and internationalist democracies, others being more like fascist and nationalist democracies, others being somewhat watered down versions of the latter two, and still others trying in vain to have an interventionist "midway point" or equilibrium between the two, which when stretched to its limits, yields maximum despotism due to mixing two tyrannies into one.
There are a number of areas, however, where I believe Hoppe "goes too far" in terms of what he defines to be decivilization to the extent that he may very well be advocating some things that violate libertarian ethics or are questionable strategies for the libertarian movement to persue. In particular, these area are integration, segregation and immigration - as well as the matter of libertarian alliances or kinship with other groups. Now, as for immigration, Hoppe indeed does a good job of debunking the notion of pure "free immigration", on the basis of the violations of private property that it inevitably entails, and on the other hand he sharply critisizes the protectionist anti-immigration crowd that includes people such as Pat Buchannan.
However, while he does make the case against free immigration and for at least some restrictions on immigration, I cannot help but feel that he does not adequately make the case for immigration in itself being bad. Maybe it's the old "civil libertarian" leftist in me, although I doubt it, but while I can grasp the injustice of pure free immigration, and I can grasp the injustice of completely banned immigration, I cannot bring myself to believe that "too much immigration" in itself is unjust. So long as that immigration was not invasionary, in violation of private property and/or forced by the state - then it is perfectly legitimate. I do not believe that immigration in itself is inherently prone to violate property rights.
The real point, I would think, is that it is ultimately up to a number of factors: (1) if the immigrants are trying to enter private property, it must be at the discretion of the owner(s) of the property, and therefore in such a situation it is an unpredictable variable as to wether or not they will be "integrated" or "segregated", "naturalized" or "separatized" (2) if the immigrats are entering unowned, un-homesteaded land, then they are 100% entitled to ownership and the fruits of that land by the first-use rule. Although Hoppe does not directly state it, I am almost left with the impression that he views "ownership" of certain unhomesteaded land as somehow directly or indirectly belonging adjacent private property owners.
I would assume that, in an anarcho-capitalist system, there would be no "public property", and therefore "immigration" would be free insofar as land is not homesteaded. Every individual would be free to homestead property from previously un-owned property or voluntarily exchange with others for previously owned property. The result of free hometsteading and free exchange will not naturally occur in total segregation, nor would it occur in total integration - it will be a matter of probabilities and subjective value judgements. The natural result would not be heavy or uniform in either direction, it will be unpredictable and relatively random in nature. Thus, I do not quite understand or agree with why Hoppe ultimately insists that immigration in itself needs heavy restriction, even to the point of enforced overt and/or total separationism as the so-called natural law. My "interpretation" of the natural law would inevitably point to something else. While I do indeed see that to a certain extent, like-minded and like-cultured people will inherently come together, band into their own communities, this does not mean that everyone in that community inherently must keep a community that way, nor does it mean that there also won't be a certain degree of naturally integrated communities.
So while any natural tendency towards segregation may exist, if an "alien" (anyone not in the "norm" group) happens to move very close "next door", but on homesteaded property just outside the private border, it would not be legitimate to privately enforce segregation, for obviously we would now be violating libertarian ethics by unjustly confiscating or destroying justly aquired private property. So while I agree that a degree of restriction on immigration would be necessary, and that people will be free to band into like-minded and like-cultured communities, in order to truly respect property rights, it cannot be an overt policy of total enforced separation.
The legitimate separation between cultural or religious groups can only exist insofar as it does not violate people's property/homesteading rights, just as the legitimate integration between cultural or religious groups can only exist insofar as it does not violate people's property/homesteading rights. If people are free to band into like-cultured communities, they are also free to band into diverse communities. This inherently rules out total isolation. Especially in America, due to the cultural diversity that exists within it, there is an rather inevitable slow natural process towards integration to a certain extent. For if Jones, a black man, homesteads property just outside the border of Jack's, a white man, property, and this process occurs naturally on a larger scale, then enforced total segregation "across borders" becomes not only impractical economically but quite questionable in the light of libertarian ethics. Lastly, I have to remark that a puritanical and fundamentalist dedication to the concept of separationism is essentially collectivist thinking in that it seeks isolated uniformity in terms of culture, race or religion. Further, it strikes me as ironic that libertarianism, a doctrine revolved around voluntary human action and cooperation, would be mixed with a fundamentalist advocacy of uncooperation based on cultural or religious groups.
Hoppe advocates a strict alliance between culture conservatives in general and libertarianism, while at the same time he believes that people who aren't so culturally conservative do not belong in the libertarian movement, that they should be totally rejected and isolated from libertarianism. On this front I have to sharply disagree with the author. While I do think that alliances in general with any group, whether that group be very temporary and limited or permanent and expansive in scope, is a good thing so long as liberty is the unifying goal. While people with culturally conservative views may be welcome in the libertarian movement and may very well contribute alot of material to it, I believe Hoppe makes a grave error by trying to imply that libertarianism requires that one be culturally conservative. Let the man speak for himself:
"There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society. Likewise, in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal. They – the advocates of alternative, non-family and kin-centred lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism – will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order."
But libertarianism, in my view, is truly blind or agnostic to "cultural" or "personal" things of such a nature. I do not oppose allying indirectly or directly with cultural conservatives or cultural liberals. But to identify libertarianism as centric to a particular culture, to such matters of concience, seems to result in the ostracization and isolation of perfectly good libertarians who just so happen to have a somewhat different cultural view or lifestyle than "traditionalists", and evengelical christian groups. In short, one is not 100% required to be "culturally conservative" in order to adhere to libertarian ethics. One can believe that different cultural groups can and should voluntarily get along and form communities while being a radical libertarian, even an anarcho-capitalist, simultaneously. There is nothing inherently contradictary about this.
What is contradictary is to put forth a wonderful theory of property rights and natural order and then exclude groups that one has a pet peeve against. It seems to me that Hoppe, while correct in terms of believing in objective natural law and natural rights, is overly underemphazing the other side of the coin, the subjectivity of value judgements and concience. I think in this respect, this "exclusion of the unwanted", Hoppe is actually advocating violating the natural rights of certain minority groups. It is absurd to suppose that a libertarian community requires a particular lifestyle choice or culture. To claim that libertarianism requires that no atheists, agnostics, neopagans, homosexuals, bisexuals, drug addicts or any such minority or unpopular manners of lifestyle exist, that all such groups must be overtly excluded from society, is to grossly twist libertarianism into one's inner most personal prejudices.
So the atheist or gay libertarian gets booted from their own desired community in Hoppe's version of a libertarian society. But such enforced total segregationism inevitably violates the right of person and/or property of such people. It is erroneous to consider the natural order to deem such things as "illegal" under the natural law, as the lack of statist intervention does not prevent the advent of human beings with diverse lifestyle choices from quite naturally existing. Even if it is not his intention, the effect of what Hoppe is saying is that particular minority groups that he doesn't like are to be denied the fruits of liberty by being excluded by law from a libertarian society, and even disallowed from homesteading property just outside its borders. Hoppe is effectively denying the one area in which equality is achievable and desirable: equality in natural rights under the law.
Further, while Hoppe does critique Neoconservatives and Populist Conservatives (such as Pat Buchannan), his virtually total concentration on the trouble with "modal" (overly left-leaning and/or egalitarian) libertarians, while certainly important to point out, obscures the equal problem of what Walter Block has deemed to be "Shmodal" (overly right-leaning and/or puritan) libertians. In short, while obviously the "left-libertarian" diliniates from libertarian ethics on economic issues, the "right-libertarian" obviously diliniates from libertarian ethics on personal issues. While this two-dimensional spectrum is not perfect, it provides a new insight that a one-dimensional spectrum completely blurs. Another spectrum would simply be a verticle line with libertarianism on one end, with anarcho-capitalism obviously at the furthest reaches, and statism on the other end; and a horizontal line with left and right on each respective end. Thus, left and right is relevatively meaningless, for it is just rhetoric and diliniations between liberty and tyranny.
Left and right are truly confused, middle of the road doctrines. In either case, Hoppe does not quite seem to grasp the extent to which cultural conservatism has moved in a statist direction in recent years, as much as total moral relativism and egalitarianism has. While Hoppe is correct in critisizing the left-libertarians that proclaim things such as homosexuality and multiculturalism as something to be enforced, this does not mean that people who oppose enforcement cannot at the same time believe that pure separationism or segregation across private property borders cannot justly be enforced as absolutes. In short, opposing enforced integration does not have to imply or require that one therefore support enforced segregation. The laughable biblical interpretations of fundamentalist christians do not consitute the natural law.
The unjust nature of enforced integration is not a moral justification for enforced segregation being "the law". But if we rely on fundamentalist culturally conservative views, it is "the law" that groups such as homosexuals not be allowed to exist in a community or homestead at the edge of its borders. The point should be that, while private property owners have a right not to allow someone onto their property, it cannot legitimately be "the law" that they must not allow such a person onto their property, and it further cannot legitimately be "the law" that such and such a group can be expelled from their justly aquired property or have it confiscated. The application of what Hoppe is saying to religion frankly bothers me. As Murray Rothbard noted in "The Ethics of Liberty", the alleged conflict between the religious or traditionalist view of natural rights and the scientific, secular or agnostic view of natural rights is illusory. The fundamental principles are exactly the same thing. Let Rothbard illustrate the point:
"In the controversy over man's nature, and over the broader and more controversial concept of "natural law," both sides have repeatedly proclaimed that natural law and theology are inextricably intertwined. As a result, many champions of natural law, in scientific or philosophic circles, have gravely weakened their case by implying that rational, philosophical methods alone cannot establish such law: that theological faith is necessary to maintain the concept. On the other hand, the opponents of natural law have gleefully agreed; since faith in the supernatural is deemed necessary to belief in natural law, the latter concept must be tossed out of scientific, secular discourse, and be consigned to the arcane sphere of the divine studies. In consequence, the idea of a natural law founded on reason and rational inquiry has been virtually lost.
The believer in a rationally established natural law must, then, face the hostility of both camps: the one group sensing in this position an antagonism toward religion; and the other group suspecting that God and mysticism are being slipped in by the back door. To the first group, it must be said that they are reflecting an extreme Augustinian position which held that faith rather than reason was the only legitimate tool for investigating man's nature and man's proper ends. In short, in this fideist tradition, theology had completely displaced philosophy. The Thomist tradition, on the contrary, was precisely the opposite: vindicating the independence of philosophy from theology and proclaiming the ability of man's reason to understand and arrive at the laws, physical and ethical, of the natural order. If belief in a systematic order of natural laws open to discovery by man's reason is per se anti-religious, then anti-religious also were St. Thomas and the later Scholastics, as well as the devout Protestant jurist Hugo Grotius. The statement that there is an order of natural law, in short, leaves open the problem of whether or not God has created that order; and the assertion of the viability of man's reason to discover the natural order leaves open the question of whether or not that reason was given to man by God. The assertion of an order of natural laws discoverable by reason is, by itself, neither pro- nor anti-religious."
An exellent critique of right-libertarianism and left-libertarianism equally, including a critique of Hoppe (and thus advocacy of "plumb-line" libertarianism that is neither left or right; not culturally, economically or socially) by Walter Block, a fellow anarcho-capitalist, is here: Libertarianism Is Unique. In regaurd to Hoppe's statements on immigration, Block comments as follows: "I regaurd Hoppe's view on immigration to be a retreat from libertarianism, and an embrace of conservative principles". In regaurd to Hoppe's comments about libertarianism requiring one to be a conservative, block states: "According to Hoppe, 'conservatives today must be antistatist libertarians and equally important, ... libertarians must be conservatives'. I have no real objection to the first part of the statement. Indeed, I warmly support the idea that conservatives convert to antistatist libertarianism. However, I cannot see my way clear to agreeing with the latter contention: that libertarians become conservatives. Indeed, to do so would be anathema to libertarianism. Surely, Hoppe cannot literally mean that libertarians should give up their philosophy and embrace that of present day conservatives. The only way to reconcile the latter part of this statement with the body pf his other work is to say that libertarians should align themselves only with conservatives who have themselves become libertarians, as per the first part of this statement. But this is just a highly convoluded way of saying that libertarians should be true to their own philosophy, a viewpoint I also enthusiastically support".
Overall, Democracy: The God That Failed is a good libertarian book. I just have a few bones to pick with Hoppe's take on cultural conservatism and how it relates to libertarianism. To a certain extent, I believe that in terms of cultural concerns, while he is certainly correct in his criticism of egalitarianism and forced integration, Hoppe is sliding something negative into the libertarian creed. On the other hand, in terms of democracy, Hoppe provides keen insight and further developement of libertarian theory. From the fundamental economic concept of time preferance, as well as other fundamental axioms of human action, he deduces a stirring analysis of democracy and monarchy. This is the main focus of the book, and he deserves five stars for that.