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Hoppe’s Argumentation Ethics and Its Critics

I’ve written umpteen times on Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s groundbreaking “argumentation ethics” theory for libertarian rights, since 1994 or so. I still hear the same, tired old arguments and criticisms over and over. It’s amazing to me how cocksure some libertarians are, who have no theory of rights of their own, and many of them have no philosophical or scholarly backgrounds, yet they feel compelled to punkishly criticize Hoppe and his theory of rights, even though it’s clear they have read almost nothing and have no theory of their own for why they are even libertarian. They are unaware of or are intellectually incapable of recognizing Hoppe’s many contributions to economic and political theory.1

I’ve written in detail about this—see discussion and links in “Argumentation Ethics and Liberty: A Concise Guide.”2 But the questions keep coming; the same old tired repsonses keep coming.  I keep responding, for some reason, like Sisyphus. Anyway, here is a modified version of a recent response I wrote to some email correspondents who kept ignorantly insisting Hoppe’s AE is some bizarre crankish view.


Forget for a second other notable libertarian and Austrian scholars who have written positively about AE—Larry Sechrest, Guido Hülsmann, Frank Van Dun, Murray Rothbard.  And then there are notable libertarians who have proffered a similar approach—Douglas Rasmussen, Tibor Machan, Jeremy Shearmur, Roger Pilon. But forget all them: are you not even aware of many similar arguments to AE that have been published before in a wide number of scholarly outlets—philosophy journals, books, law reviews? I discussed them extensively in New Rationalist Directions in Libertarian Rights Theory. Jürgen Habermas himself is a huge name in philosophy, as was Karl-Otto Apel. As was Alan Gewirth. And G.B. Madison. All of whom had a similar theory. Hoppe’s approach is similar to theirs except he showed how uniquely libertarian conclusion, not just anodyne social-democratic ones, come from this method. Hoppe incorporates Austrian economic insights and libertarian insights, and has a more streamlined, rigorous approach, but it is very similar to these others in broad form.

The things you guys mock Hoppe’s AE for however is not its libertarian aspect but its general discourse ethics approach. The problem for you is that your criticism would apply equally well to these other approaches, which you are evidently completely unfamiliar with. So you are simply wrong that this approach has gotten no respect and hearing in the general scholarly community. Are they all “cranks”? Do you really claim that you can refute all this with a handwave? I’m wondering if you guys have really read anything on this other than some short summary by Hoppe and the very weak criticisms by Bob Murphy and former Austrian/former libertarian Gene Callahan (if he ever was an Austrian or libertarian; cases like his deepen my suspicion of “waystation libertarians”).3 This is not an appeal to authority—it is observing that you are dismissing Hoppe’s views as being some crankish, unscholarly lone approach—it is clearly not. It is embedded in a larger philosophical approach that has an impressive pedigree. See some links/references below.

So for you libertarian punks4 who seem to even admit you have no theory of your own, you apparently don’t even think a Randian/Aristotelean type natural rights argument works, yet you selectively attack Hoppe and argumentation ethics; he comes in for selective ire for some reason, even though the other approaches don’t work either in your lights. So let me ask you: are you (a) simply unaware of the material below? Or have you (b) simply not read it? I can’t believe that, (c) if you have, you are unable to understand it, so I’ll graciously leave that possibility out. Or is it that (d) you would dismiss all these other thinkers and works just as you do Hoppe, and on similar grounds (even though it is unlikely you really have read very much of their work)? Or do you (e) actually think maybe some of these other AE theories work (e.g. those of Habermas, Gewirth et al.to justify social-democratic norms, natch—and that only Hoppe’s does not—one of the only ones to reach your own, libertarian conclusions—?

You simply cannot deny that Hoppe’s general approach can be found in a lot of respected literature, or at least is taken very seriously by scholars and thinkers—as is Hoppe’s own particular approach.

So, here are some links to related material, to give you guys some context (and by the way, I’ve read virtually all of this stuff, unlike most of Hoppe’s ignorant, punkish critics):

See e.g. re the “big names”—

For other notable libertarians/Austrians with similar approaches to Hoppe’s AE or who endorse Hoppe:

And by the way, Roderick Long takes Hoppe’s AE seriously and does not dismiss it as some of you claim: see The Hoppriori Argument (stating that, though he has some misgivings and is not yet convinced, “I think a Hoppe-style argument might well work”)

For “mainstream” scholars (philosophers, law professors) publishing “similar” (non-libertarian for the most part) views in mainstream, scholarly media/outlets, and/or endorsing or considering seriously some of these others (e.g. Gewirth and Apel/Habermas):

  • Chevigny, Paul G., Philosophy of Language and Free Expression, May 1980 (including: Michael Martin, “On A New Argument for Freedom of Speech,” Nov. 1982, and Chevigny, “The Dialogic Right of Free Expression: A Reply to Michael Martin,” Nov. 1982)
  • [See also the various law review articles etc. noted above discussing Habermas]
  • Davies, Kim, Notice regarding Kim Davies, The Transcendental Foundation of Ethics, First Eidos Lecture Series, Durham Postgraduate Philosophy Group; Outline/summary of The Transcendental Foundations of Ethics [I corresponded with Davies some time ago—I think he’s libertarian—about his project but not sure if he ever finished it—I’ve been unable to find it or reconnect]
NOT TO MENTION echoes of the general type of logic and insight that undergirds the general Hoppean AE approach in various thinkers over the centuries: See Quotes on the Logic of Liberty—a few selections only:
  • “The only proof that can be offered for the validity of the liberal position is that we are discussing it and its acceptance is a presupposition of discussion, since discussion is the essence of the position itself.” —Frank H. Knight, Freedom and Reform (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1982): 473–74.
  • “[T]he various values defended by liberalism are not arbitrary, a matter of mere personal preference, nor do they derive from some natural law . . . . Rather, they are nothing less and nothing more than what could be called the operative presuppositions or intrinsic features and demands of communicative rationality itself. In other words, they are values that are implicitly recognized and affirmed by everyone by the very fact of their engaging in communicative reason. This amounts to saying that no one can rationally deny them without at the same time denying reason, without self-contradiction, without in fact abandoning all attempts to persuade the other and to reach agreement. . . . [T]he notion of universal human rights and liberties is not an . . . arbitrary value, a matter of mere personal preference . . . . On the contrary, it is nothing less and nothing more than the operative presupposition or intrinsic feature and demand of communicative rationality itself.” —G.B. Madison, The Logic of Liberty (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986): 266, 269.
  • “[O]ur existence is due to the fact that we do not, indeed cannot accept a norm outlawing property in other scarce resources next to and in addition to that of one’s physical body. Hence, the right to acquire such goods must be assumed to exist.” —Hans-Hermann Hoppe, The Economics and Ethics of Private Property: Studies in Political Economy and Philosophy (Kluwer: 1993): 185.
  • “[J]ust as one cannot win a game of chess against an opponent who will not make any moves–and just as one cannot argue mathematically with a person who will not commit himself to any mathematical statements–so moral argument is impossible with a man who will make no moral judgements at all . . . . Such a person is not entering the arena of moral dispute, and therefore it is impossible to contest with him. He is compelled also–and this is important–to abjure the protection of morality for his own interests.” —R.M. Hare, Freedom and Reason (1963): A7 6.6
  • “TO argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.” —Thomas PaineThe Crisis No. V
  • “A man who would consider himself a bandit if, pistol in hand, he prevented me from carrying out a transaction that was in conformity with my interests has no scruples in working and voting for a law that replaces his private force with the public force and subjects me, at my own expense, to the same unjust restrictions.” —BASTIAT, FREDERIC, Harmonies
  • “When men hire themselves out to shoot other men to order, asking nothing about the justice of their cause, I don’t care if they are shot themselves.” —Herbert Spencer, from Facts and Comments (1902)
  • “[T]he victim is entitled to respond according to the rule (‘The use of force is permissible’) that the aggressor himself has implicitly laid down.” —John Hospers, “Retribution: The Ethics of Punishment,” in Assessing the Criminal: Restitution, Retribution, and the Legal Process, Randy E. Barnett and John Hagel III, eds., (Cambridge: Ballinger, 1977): p. 191.
  • “The injury [the penalty] which falls on the criminal is not merely implicitly just–as just, it is eo ipso his implicit will, an embodiment of his freedom, his right; on the contrary, it is also a right established within the criminal himself, i.e., in his objectively embodied will, in his action. The reason for this is that his action is the action of a rational being and this implies that it is something universal and that by doing it the criminal has laid down a law which he has explicitly recognized in his action and under which in consequence he should be brought as under his right.” —G.W.F.Hegel, The Philosophy of Right A7 100 (T.M. Knox trans., 1969) (reprinted in Philosophical Perspectives on Punishment (Gertrude Ezorsky ed., 1972): 107 (Emphasis in last sentence added; brackets in Ezorsky)
  • “It is easier to commit murder than to justify it.” —Papinian (Aemilius Papinianus), quoted in Barry Nicholas, An Introduction to Roman Law, p. 30 n.2 (1962).
  • Alternative quote to the above: “Papinian [a third-century Roman jurist, considered by many to be the greatest of Roman jurists] is said to have been put to death for refusing to compose a justification of Caracalla’s murder of his brother and co-Emperor, Geta, declaring, so the story goes, that it is easier to commit murder than to justify it.” —Barry Nicholas, An Introduction to Roman Law, p. 30 n.2 (1962).
  • Old saying: “What you do speaks so loud I can’t hear what you are saying.” —Quoted in Clarence Carson, “Free Enterprise: The Key to Prosperity”, in The Freedom Philosophy Vol. 27, 27 (1988).
  • “With him [an aggressor] we are returned to the first-stage state of nature and may use force against him. In so doing we do not violate his rights or in any other way violate the principle of right, because he has broken the reciprocity required for us to view such a principle [of rights] as binding. In this we find the philosophic grounding for the moral legitimacy of the practice of punishment. Punishment is just that practice which raises the price of violation of the principle of right so as to give us all good reason to accept that principle.” —J. Charles King, A Rationale for Punishment, 4 J. Libertarian Stud. (1980): 154.
  • “In transgressing the law of Nature, the offender declares himself to live by another rule than that of reason and common equity . . . and so he becomes dangerous to mankind; . . . every man . . . by the right he hath to preserve mankind in general, may restrain, or where it is necessary, destroy things noxious to them, and so may bring such evil on any one who hath transgressed that law, as may make him repent of the doing of it . . . .” B6 11: A murderer “hath, by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed upon one, declared war against all mankind, and therefore may be destroyed as a lion or a tiger, one of those wild savage beasts with whom men can have no society nor security.” —John Locke, The Second Treatise on Civil Government B6 8
  • “It has been noted that one who wishes to extinguish or convey an inalienable right may do so by committing the appropriate wrongful act and thereby forfeiting it.” —Randy E. Barnett, “Contract Remedies and Inalienable Rights,” Social Philosophy and Policy 4 (Autumn 1986): 186, citing Diana T. Meyers,Inalienable Rights: A Defense (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), p. 14.
  • “[W]hen someone is punished for having violated others’ rights, it is not the case that the criminal has alienated or otherwise lost his rights; rather, it is the case that the criminal’s choice to live in a rights-violating way is being respected.” —Douglas B. Rasmussen & Douglas J. Den Uyl, Liberty and Nature: An Aristotelian Defense of Liberal Order (1991): 85
  • “[I]f someone attacks another, that act carries with it, as a matter of the logic of aggression, the implication that from a rational moral standpoint the victim may, and often should retaliate.” —Tibor R. Machan, Individuals and Their Rights (1989): 176
  • “[T]hose who do not want peace, or want it only for others in relation to themselves rather than vice versa, are on their own and may in principle be dealt with by any degree of violence we like.” —Jan Narveson, The Libertarian Idea (1988): 210


  1. See my edited book Property, Freedom, and Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe; “Foreword,” in Hans-Hermann Hoppe, A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism (Laissez Faire Books ebook edition, 2013); “Afterword,” in Hans-Hermann Hoppe, The Great Fiction: Property, Economy, Society, and the Politics of Decline (Laissez Faire Books, 2012); Presentation of the 2015 Murray N. Rothbard Medal of Freedom). []
  2.  Mises Daily (May 27, 2011) (includes “Discourse Ethics and Liberty: A Skeletal Ebook”) (supplemental resources) (archived version of the comments on the Mises blog.) []
  3. See my Defending Argumentation Ethics: Reply to Murphy & Callahan, Anti-state.com (Sept. 19, 2002) (wayback version) (reply to Bob Murphy and Gene Callahan, Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Argumentation Ethic: A Critique,Anti-state.com (Sept. 19, 2002; wayback version; more recent version at JLS; Block’s rejoinder); debate discussed in this forum) . []
  4. For more on the phenomenon of punkism, see Joseph T. Salerno, “The Sociology of the Development of Austrian Economics.” []
{ 16 comments… add one }
  • Andy Cleary August 11, 2015, 1:42 pm

    An, good old NSK, winning people over to his side through insults and condescension, zero people at a time…

    [AE remains just as unconvincing to me as ever despite your dripping contempt for my inferiority.]

    • Stephan Kinsella August 12, 2015, 1:52 pm

      I’ve never been a big fan of arguments that resort to such irrelevant matters as the others side’s atttitude, manners–always seemed to me like the focus should be on substance and truth. But then, I guess that’s because that’s what I’m interested in. If I were tendentiously arguing for something else, I guess I would focus on side-issues too.

      I’ll note that in your little reply you don’t even attempt to mount any substantive comment or critique at all. Typical of opponents of AE.

  • Sam Turco August 11, 2015, 4:34 pm

    This is terribly written.

  • Joel Ögren August 13, 2015, 2:48 pm

    I’m on my way to understanding AE, heard you on Tom Woods show talking about it. I have a hard time concetrating while reading books so that is a problem. Do you have any other suggestion how to get more information? Or if you know shorter articles about it.

    Greetings from Sweden

  • Gilad August 15, 2015, 11:33 am

    Wikipedia describes it as a fringe theory that has only received attention from Hoppe’s colleagues and cronies. And apparently most of these people–in spite of their extreme ideological bias and friendship with Hoppe–don’t take the theory seriously.

    From Wikipedia:

    “Hoppe says his theory proves that arguing for any political position other than libertarian anarchism is logically inconsistent. He describes his argument as a strictly logical, value-free consequence of sound deductive reasoning. Responses have come mainly from Hoppe’s friends and colleagues at the Mises Institute, among whom the argument’s reception has been mixed.”

  • David August 15, 2015, 3:38 pm

    I have been reviewing and listening to most of your podcasts for some time now in order to better understand anarchocapitalism in general and Hoppe in specific. I’ve been hoping for a consolidated resource guide on AE for a long time–finally you did it.
    Thanks for the hard work, Mr Kinsella!

  • anonymous August 20, 2015, 2:52 pm

    Hoppe’s argument breaks the philosophical game. Very few people will dare considering it. Intuitively, they know they have to avoid it like the plague. Methinks.

  • Jan Masek August 21, 2015, 12:54 pm

    Dr. Kinsella, how about a Mises Academy course on AE? I pledge to pay $100 but it’s negotiable 🙂

    Btw, you come across sometimes as an angry man. Which may not be a bad thing necessarily. We need more of the pull-no-punches kind of people, like Schiff.

    • Stephan Kinsella August 21, 2015, 1:12 pm

      pretty much did it already –http://www.stephankinsella.com/paf-podcast/kol153-the-social-theory-of-hoppe-lecture-1-mises-academy-2011/

      • Jan Masek August 22, 2015, 4:23 am

        True, thanks!

  • Zackary Yewell September 2, 2015, 9:04 pm

    Moreover, the argument from performative contradiction rules out occasional and systematic violence as unjust actions, precisely because the agents that are aggressed are self-owners like Epictetus and not merely random parts of nature. But of course, the taxpayers of a democratic State are a privileged type of slaves especially when they are compared with the subjects of a totalitarian State.

  • a Texas libertarian April 15, 2016, 5:03 pm

    I see argumentation ethics as a highly specialized compartment within the framework of the natural rights ethic and one which may have achieved a more robust defense of the core tenants of the frame upon which it rests. Afterall, Hoppe’s argument is based on his power of reasoning (and that of any other similarly capable being), and the natural rights ethic is nothing if not the pursuit of universal norms of interpersonal conduct discovered by the use of reason.

    To me the easiest way to think of it is like this. Either you are for rational ethics and the pursuit of object truth or you are not. If you are against either or both of these concepts and you are libertarian, then I have no idea why you chose to be libertarian, and at best, your residency among us is highly precarious. If you are for rational ethics and objective truth, then it is hard to make a stronger justification for a universal normative proposal than what Hoppe has acheived and what Kinsella has been tirelessly defending.

    My understanding of it is as follows:

    1. The act of proposing an argument is the affirmation of life. As Rothbard stated, if one was arguing against life, they’d have no business being alive in the discussion.
    2. The act of proposing an argumentation is the affirmation of truth. Why argue if you are not acting to propogate the truth or expose the untruth of something? Even if you are simply arguing to manipulate the discussion, you still have an end in mind based on some truth you accept. Even if you are a nihilist and believe there is no truth, this is still a peculiar ‘truth’ you hold and presumably one you would be willing to propose in argumentation.
    3. The act of proposing an argument demonstrates your direct control of your own body. Since your whole body should be easily recognized as a relevant technological unit of property, ownership over the whole follows from ownership over a portion. Since this direct control over your body cannot be alienated and transferred to another, there can be no other owner of your body besides yourself. You can agree to or be coerced into putting forth an argument that is not your own, but this is still a choice made by you at some point. You may not like the alternatives, but there is always a choice to disobey. Thus every slave in history was, even if unbeknownst to him or her, a self owner, even if their rights were taken from them by force, since ultimately any act they performed was chosen.
    4. If you own your body then you have a right to maintain this property through the direct control of external property i.e. food, shelter, land, tools. If no one was allowed to make individual decisions concerning external objects (and everybody followed the rules) the human race would perish in indecision. Therefore, the negation of external property rights is the negation of life.
    5. Based on the validity of 1-4 above, it follows that only a universal normative proposal is valid, since only a universal norm can satisfy 1-4 above. For instance I cannot argue that I own myself as well as someone else, because in denying someone else’s right to self ownership, I would be controverting the very justification of my own right to self ownership. This means that not only does the proposer of the argument have a right to ownership of his or her self and of external property, but every being capable of argumenation does as well.
    6. Based on the validity of 5 above, any norm proposal must be intertemporally consistent, meaning the norm cannot vary over time. For instance, let’s say I am affirming life now, but at some point in the future, I advocate genocide of the human race. If I advocate death later, I am negating the justification of my right to life at the present.
    7. The act of argumentation is the affirmation of peace or the negation of aggression. Why argue with someone if I can bash them over the head and get what I want? Because the ownership rights we’ve discussed are universal, it follows that nonaggression against them should be as well. Therefore, any norm proposal must be universally and consistently nonaggressive. If I were to argue that I had the right to aggress against my neighbor, then I would be negating the justification of his right to property, and my own simultaneously, whether I was arguing in favor of this aggression during the argument or sometime in the future.

    Argumentation and more fundamentally language is the ultimate expression of humankind’s search for objective truth. Hans Hoppe’s derivation of the libertarian code of ethics through this profound act inseparable to human civilization is an acheivement of no small significance and worthy of much deserved respect, even if it is eventually superceded by a better argument.

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