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Rockwell on Hoppe on the Constitution as Expansion of Government Power

Hoppe Festschrift coverThe recently-published Hoppe festschrift, Property, Freedom, and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, contains many articles of interest to Austrians and libertarians. Lew Rockwell’s opening chapter, “A Life of Ideas,” has a nice passage about Hoppe’s ideas:

This same Hoppean effect—that sense of having been profoundly enlightened by a completely new way of understanding something—has happened many times over the years. He has made contributions to ethics, to international political economy, to the theory of the origin of the state, to comparative systems, to culture and its economic relation, to anthropology and the theory and practice of war. Even on a subject that everyone thinks about but no one really seems to understand—the system of democracy—he clarified matters in a way that helps you see the functioning of the world in a completely new light.There aren’t that many thinkers who have this kind of effect. Mises was one. Rothbard is another. Hoppe certainly fits in that line. He is the kind of thinker who reminds you that ideas are real things that shape how we understand the world around us. … Often times when you first hear a point he makes, you resist it. I recall when he spoke at a conference we held on American history, and gave a paper on the U.S. Constitution. You might not think that a German economist could add anything to our knowledge on this topic. He argued that it represented a vast increase in government power and that this was its true purpose. It created a powerful central government, with the cover of liberty as an excuse. He used it as a case in point, and went further to argue that all constitutions are of the same type. In the name of limiting government—which they purportedly do—they invariably appear in times of history when the elites are regrouping to emerge from what they consider to be near anarchy. The Constitution, then, represents the assertion of power.

When he finished, you could hear a pin drop. I’m not sure that anyone was instantly persuaded. He had challenged everything we thought we knew about ourselves. The applause was polite, but not enthusiastic. Yet his points stuck. Over time, I think all of us there travelled some intellectual distance. The Constitution was preceded by the Articles of Confederation, which Rothbard had variously described as near anarchist in effect. Who were these guys who cobbled together this Constitution? They were the leftovers from the war: military leaders, financiers, and other mucky mucks—a very different crew from the people who signed the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was out of the country when the Constitution was passed. And what was the effect of the Constitution? To restrain government? No. It was precisely the opposite, just as Hoppe said. It created a new and more powerful government that not only failed to restrain itself (what government has ever done that?), but grew and grew into the monstrosity we have today. It required a wholesale rethinking of the history, but what Hoppe had said that shocked everyone turns out to be precisely right—and this is only one example among many.

[Cross-posted on LRC]

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{ 9 comments… add one }

  • Slim934 January 21, 2010, 5:30 pm

    Out of curiosity, is the paper that Hoppe wrote where he elucidated this point available in english?

  • Skyler Collins September 17, 2010, 4:28 pm

    You keep linking to this post, like it’s a valid source. Please provide a text or video of Hoppe’s speech. I am very interested in it.

    LRC – 9/17/2010

    • Stephan Kinsella September 21, 2010, 9:29 am

      I don’t know what paper it was. Why don’t you email Lew, or Hans, or search hanshoppe.com, which is what I would do anyway to try to find it.

  • Jim O'Connor September 17, 2010, 6:50 pm

    He may be referring to this speech:

    http://mises.org/media/1096

    • Skyler Collins September 18, 2010, 8:05 pm

      I’ll have to read that one again. It’d be nice of Kinsella would clarify his source.

      • Stephan Kinsella September 21, 2010, 9:30 am

        how can I clarify Lew Rockwell’s source?

        • Skyler Collins September 21, 2010, 9:44 am

          I don’t know that you can, but you keep using this post as a source, which it really isn’t. I click through to read something I’m interested in, but get a summary by someone else of what yet someone else said one time. It’s a bit frustrating.

          • Stephan Kinsella September 21, 2010, 9:50 am

            if you find it let me know. I’d be curious too. As I said, I’d start by googling hoppe’s site, or emailing him or Lew.

  • Bilovisso Sanspoul October 31, 2011, 8:20 am

    The US Constitution had to be violated in a hundred of ways to give us that degree of Socialism.
    If it were challenged now, it would play in the hands of the authors of the coup, who find it a hindrance in their abuses of power.
    The question is whether a Constitution, or the state, is the root of all the plundering evil. Is the British example an alternative?

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