Kinsella on Liberty Podcast, Episode 263.
This is my short portion of the panel presentation “The Significance of Hans-Hermann Hoppe,” from the 2019 Austrian Economics Research Conference (AERC), at the Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, on the occasion of Professor Hoppe’s 70th birth year. The entire panel presentation, plus my notes, and a link to a longer talk on similar themes, are below.
“Hoppe on Property Rights”
Panel: The Significance of Hans-Hermann Hoppe
Auburn, Alabama • Mises Institute
March 23 2019
- Came across Hoppe’s writing in law school, his 1988 Liberty article “The Ultimate Justification of the Private Property Ethic.”
- Eventually met Hans at a conference in 1994, where I also met David Gordon, Rothbard, Walter Block, Lew, and others
- Hans’s contributions in a large number of fields have influenced me and many others: argumentation ethics; various aspects of praxeological economics; method and epistemology; a critique of logical positivism; democracy; immigration; and various cultural analyses.
- Helped change my mind about a large number of particular matters, such as the US Constitution, natural rights, and so on
- Eventually led to Guido and I editing a Festschrift in 2009
- Presented here 10 years ago
- Including a large number of contributors including all of the panelists here today
- I delivered a 6 week Mises Academy course in 2011 on “The Social Theory of Hoppe”
- I’m going to focus on his views on property rights, which has greatly influenced my own ideas
- A more in depth talk on this last month at New Hampshire Liberty Forum, “How to Think About Property Rights”, on my podcast feed
- Laid out very plainly and concisely in Chapters 1 and 2 of A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism (1989)
- Only 18 pages—bears re-reading and careful study
- “Next to the concept of action, property is the most basic category in the social sciences. As a matter of fact, all other concepts to be introduced in this chapter—aggression, contract, capitalism and socialism—are definable in terms of property: aggression being aggression against property, contract being a nonaggressive relationship between property owners, socialism being an institutionalized policy of aggression against property, and capitalism being an institutionalized policy of the recognition of property and contractualism.”
- He lays out the “natural” position on property rights, and distinguishes it from property rights, the normative position.
- Natural position is that each actor owns his body
- Any scarce resource is owned by the person who first appropriated it, or who acquired it from a previous owner by contract
- Property “rights” mirroring this natural position are then justified with his argumentation ethics, which has been very influential and also controversial in the libertarian world
- Echoed in Mises, Socialism: “the sociological and juristic concepts of ownership are different.”
- Key to this analysis is recognizing the role of scarcity, which is inherent in human action, and which socially gives rise to the possibility of interpersonal conflict and thus the necessity for property norms to make conflict free interaction (cooperation) possible.
- Hans anchors his analysis in a Misesian praxeological framework, in which actors must employ scarce means or resources to achieve ends.
- In Mises’s praxeological view of human action, there are two distinct but essential components of human action: scarce resources, and knowledge.
- Actors employ scarce resources, guided by their knowledge
- The use of resources is essential for all actors, even Crusoe
- Gives rise to the “natural” position on property (what Mises would call “sociological” ownership)
- In society, there is the possibility of conflict over scarce resources
- Gives rise to the necessity of property rights
- But notice the concepts of property and property rights apply only the the first component of action: scarce resources.
- Precisely because they are scarce: that is, interpersonal conflict over their use is possible
- Not to knowledge
- Knowledge is the recipes and other information about the world that guides our choices and actions
- The concept of conflict has no application to knowledge
- Any number of actors can act on the same or similar knowledge at the same time without any conflict whatsoever
- This is precisely why I ultimately was led to my conclusion that all concepts of so-called “intellectual property rights”—primarily patent and copyright—are completely unjust and unlibertarian.
- Took me several years of study, research, and thinking to clarify my thinking on this issue, and most of it centered around understanding the crucial role of scarcity in the nature of property rights
- This is why, amazingly, Hans was instantly able to recognize this early on:
- 1988 panel discussionon ethics with Rothbard, Hoppe, David Gordon, and Leland Yeager, which has this exchange:
- Question:I have a question for Professor Hoppe. Does the idea of personal sovereignty extend to knowledge? Am I sovereign over my thoughts, ideas, and theories? …
- Hoppe: … in order to have a thought you must have property rights over your body. That doesn’t imply that you own your thoughts. The thoughts can be used by anybody who is capable of understanding them.
- If time: Hoppe on wealth vs. property:
- As Hoppe notes in his classic article “Banking, Nation States and International Politics: A Sociological Reconstruction of the Present Economic Order”:
- “One can acquire and increase wealth either through homesteading, production and contractual exchange, or by expropriating and exploiting homesteaders, producers, or contractual exchangers. There are no other ways.”
- Note that Hans here acknowledges that “production” is a means of gaining “wealth”.
- Not a source of ownership (property rights): which is only original appropriation and contract.
- Hoppe on Property Rights in Physical Integrity vs Value
- First, as a mainstream leftwinger, his eyes were opened by the Austrian economist Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk’s critique of Marxism. Later, after encountering and then rejecting the logical positivism of Milton Friedman and the Chicago school, he discovered Mises and his unique approach. As he wrote in an interview in the Austrian Economics Newsletter:
- “Independently, I had concluded that economic laws were a prioriand discoverable through deduction. Then I stumbled on Mises’s Human Action. That was the first time I found someone who had the same view; not only that, he had already worked out the entire system. From that point on, I was a Misesian”
- For me I can’t imagine not having discovered Mises or Rothbard. For Hans I am not so sure
- “There can be no socialism without a state, and as long as there is a state there is socialism. The state, then, is the very institution that puts socialism into action; and as socialism rests on aggressive violence directed against innocent victims, aggressive violence is the nature of any state.” –Hans-Hermann Hoppe, A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, pp. 148-49