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”—
- Re the approach of Habermas and Apel (which is similar and it’s hard to find translations of concise statements by Habermas online—I’ve relied mostly on some chapters by him that are not online, plus Apel, plus some criticism/summary/discussion of Habermas by others):
- “Is the Ethics of the Ideal Communication Community a Utopia? On the Relationship between Ethics, Utopia, and the Critique of Utopia,” by Karl-Otto Apel;
- Apel, Is the Ethics of the Ideal Communication Community a Utopia? On the Relationship between Ethics, Utopia, and the Critique of Utopia, in The Communicative Ethics Controversy, ed. Seyla Benhabib & Fred Dallmayr, MIT Press, 1990
- Discussion: of Habermas/Apel: Davies, Kim, Review of K-O Apel, Towards a Transformation of Philosophy(1980), Radical Philosophy 30 Spring 1982
- Habermas, Jurgen: discussion: Leeds, Gary Charles, The Discourse Ethics Alternative to Rust v. Sullivan; Lawrence Byard Solum, Freedom of Communicative Action: A Theory of the First Amendment Freedom of Speech, 1989; Michel Rosenfeld, Book Review of Habermas, Between Facts and Norms: Contricutions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy [many of these are mainstream law review/law professor type discussions]
- Also see views of noted libertarian thinker Jeremy Shearmur, below
- Re Gewirth: The Basis and Content of Human Rights, Alan Gewirth
- Gewirth discussions, reviews: Encyclopedia of Ethics, 1992 (summary); Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virtue; Jan Narveson, Gewirth’s Reason and Morality–A Study in the Hazards of Universalizability in Ethics, Dialogue, Dec. 1980 and Negative and Positive Rights in Gewirth’s Reason and Morality; Henry Veatch, in Human Rights and Book Review, Ethics
- Gewirth, Alan, Appendix: Replies to Some Critics, Nomos XXIV, 1982
- Gewirth, Alan, Why Agents Must Claim Rights: A Reply, 79 J. Phil. 403, 1982
- Also discussed by noted libertarian theorist Roger Pilon, below
- re Madison, G.B., The Logic of Liberty, 1986 (excerpts re discourse ethics)
- Rasmussen, Douglas B., Political Legitimacy and Discourse Ethics, 1992
- Jeremy Shearmur, Habermas: A Critical Approach, Critical Review 2 (1988): 47; From Dialogue Rights to Property Rights: Foundations for Hayek’s Legal Theory, Critical Review, 1990
- Machan, Tibor R., Individualism and Political Dialogue, Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of Science and the Humanities 46 (June 1996): 45-55; also included as chapter 13 of Classical Individualism (Routledge, 1998)
- Pilon, Roger, A Theory of Rights: Toward Limited Government (Ph.D. dissertation, U. Chicago, 1979; draws on Gewirth); Ordering Rights Consistently: Or What We Do and Do Not Have Rights To, Roger Pilon
- “Praxeology, Economics, and Law: Issues and Implications,” by Larry Sechrest
- “The A Priori Foundations of Property Economics,” by Guido Hülsmann
- Marian Eabrasu’s thorough and scholarly A Reply to the Current Critiques Formulated AgainstHoppe’s Argumentation Ethics.
- Steven Yates’s De-Kanting Mises and Hoppe: Notes Toward an Austrian-School Metaphysics;
- Jude Chua Soo Meng’s Hopp(e)ing Onto New Ground: A Rothbardian Proposal for Thomistic Natural Law as the Basis for Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Praxeological Defense of Private Property;
- And of course my own e.g. Punishment and Proportionality: The Estoppel Approach, 12:1 Journal of Libertarian Studies 51 (Spring 1996) (also published—in a law review—A Libertarian Theory of Punishment and Rights 30 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 607-45 (1997))
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]
- “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 Paine, The 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
- “Argumentation Ethics and Liberty: A Concise Guide,” Mises Daily (May 27, 2011) (includes “Discourse Ethics and Liberty: A Skeletal Ebook”) (supplemental resources) (archived version of the comments on the Mises blog)
- Łukasz Dominiak, Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Argumentation Theory of Ethics (Mises Institute, July 19, 2019)
- 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). [↩]
- Mises Daily (May 27, 2011) (includes “Discourse Ethics and Liberty: A Skeletal Ebook”) (supplemental resources) (archived version of the comments on the Mises blog.) [↩]
- 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) . [↩]
- For more on the phenomenon of punkism, see Joseph T. Salerno, “The Sociology of the Development of Austrian Economics.” [↩]