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Hoppe: Habermas’s Anarcho-Conservative Student

Just came across an interesting blogpost by one Bary Stocker, a “British philosopher based in Istanbul”. Pasted below (and see also Revisiting Argumentation Ethics; Discourse Ethics entry in Wikipedia (which yours truly started); Hoppe’s Argumentation Ethics; my New Rationalist Directions in Libertarian Rights Theory):

Monday, 22 June 2009

Hoppe: Habermas’ Anarcho-Conservative Student

(Primary version of this post, with picture of Hoppe! at Barry Stocker’s Weblog)

Hoppe and Habermas

Hans Hermann-Hoppe is Jürgen Habermas’ most surprising doctoral student, a major figure in the area where anarcho-capitalism and ultra-conservatism cross over. (Click for a very short article by Hoppe which summarises his positon in a discussion of immigration) Hoppe wrote a doctorate with the Frankfurt School Marxist, Habermas in the 1970s. Hoppe is not very forthcoming about this, as can be seen by checking his CV at his own website, but does situate himself in relation to Habermas in his book The Ethics and Economics of Private Property. The startling conjunction of Marxism and Anarcho-Conservatism is a bit lessened if we appreciate Habermas’ position as a bridge between left-liberalism and Marxism, so that he can be better regarded as someone who has domesticated Marx within welfarist or egalitarian liberalism, rather than as an advocate of revolutionary Marxism.

Hoppe’s Version of Discourse Ethics

Hoppe takes up the discourse ethics of Habermas (and Karl-Otto Apel) which is itself an attempt to fuse a neo-Kantian ethics of pure universal law with an account of language use and communication as what attempts universal meaning. Habermas takes discourse ethics up in a ‘deliberative democracy’ in which all social and economic questions are debated in a public sphere so that agreement can be reached upon a political solution, within the limits of the existing legal and constitutional structure. Hoppe’s take on this is that discourse ethics must rest on the individual’s self-property in the individual’s body. The right to dispose of that naturally given property is taken as something that we cannot try to deny in discourse, without getting into self-contradiction since the source of discourse is the self which necessarily has property in its body as an aspect of being an individual self. This is itself a development of John Locke’s view of property, though how far Hoppe’s interpretation accords with Locke’s own philosophy as a whole is a matter of debate (and I think it is not).

Hoppe , Rothbard and Austrian Liberalism

Hoppe’s main influence came later, when he worked with the best known anarcho-capitalist thinker, the American historian, economist, political theorist and activist, Murray Rothbard. Rothbard himself tooted his views in Austrian Liberalism (also known as Austo-Libertarianism and and Austrian Economics). The best known representative of ‘Austrian Liberalism’ is F.A. Hayek, though is also the most moderate representative. Rothbard was a follower of Hayek’s teacher, Ludwig von Mises, who was much more minimum state and conservative in his thinking than Hayek, though Hayek moved some of the way in that direction later in his life. It’s significant that Hayek dropped the aristocratic ‘von’ from his name, unlike Mises who decided to ignore Austria’s abolition of aristocratic titles after the Republic was refounded after World War Two. Like Hoppe, Rothbard was strongly associated with the Mises Insitute. The institute would perhaps be more accurately known as the Rothbard Institute, since it leans towards anarcho-capitalism rather than Mises’ own minimum state position. Though it gives great attention to Mises, it leans towards Rothbard where Rothbard had a different position (naturalistic ethics rather than subjective ethics, anarchism rather than a minimum state). Hayek and Milton Friedman were fellows of the Institute, but it’s important to appreciate that they are not really libertarians by Mises/Rothbard standards. Hayek and Friedman never denied the need for some public services and some aid for the poorest, a position rejected by core Mises Institute thinkers. The Institute, and Hoppe, can be better understood by noting the connection with the Paleo-Conservative/Neo-Confederate, Paul Gottfried who is more radical minimum statist than Hayek or Friedman, and who strongly prefers the Confederate military commander Robert E. Lee as an American icon to Abraham Lincoln (who defeated the secession of the slave owning Confederate States of America from the Union in the Civil War).

Hoppe against Democracy

Hoppe generally describes himself as libertarian or anarcho-capitalist, but I cannot see that he would reject the ultra-conservative label, or I certainly do not see how can do so consistently, since he prefers monarchy to democracy. That is he prefers rule by one hereditary individual to rule by a representative assembly, or by direct democracy, and clearly regards the global move from monarchy to democracy as regrettable. His explanation is that a hereditary ruler has a great interest in maintaining the state since it belongs to that ruler and the descendants of that ruler in perpetuity. The hereditary ruler’s interest in maintaining the state is certainly greater than that of elected politicians, as these politicians are temporary and have a greater interest in extracting resources from the state than in maintaining it’s long term existence. That’s not a position I share, but it is very interesting to note the existence of the argument and think about it before arriving at a view of it. The conservative side of Hoppe can also be

Bodrum: Centre of Anarcho-Conservatism

Hoppe has founded his own association, Property and Freedom which meets every year in Bodrum. Turkey is not the most obvious place for a centre of anarcho-capitalism, but Hoppe had a wealthy Turkish supporter Gülçin ?mre, and Bodrum’s a great place for a holiday. I’m sure the beaches and bars provide much needed relaxation from struggling against democratic decadence.

Hoppe Misusing Hayek?

The website evades these more radical aspects of Hoppe’s thought though, relying heavily on quotations from Hayek who never even used the word ‘libertarian’ as he found its too radical. As time went by Hayek, did become more anxious to distinguish himself from left-liberals, so he replaced the self-description of liberal with the quaint term ‘Old Whig’, also wishing to avoid the term conservative. This refers to the earliest supporters of the British Parliament against royal power in the Seventeenth Century. The association uses the phrase ‘culturally conservative libertarians’, next to a quote from Mises commenting on Hayek. This contradicts by association, that is it associates Hayek with two terms he rejected: libertarianism and conservatism, but avoids outright contradiction by directly quoting Mises.

Back to Habermas: Locke behind Marxism and Libertarianism

How could Hoppe move from Habermas’ moderate Marxism to a radical anarcho-conservatism? There is not much literature on this, or discussion by Habermas or Hoppe, but G. A. Cohen has some interesting things to say about Marxism and capitalist libertarianism (mostly with reference to Robert Nozick in Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality. Cohen himself has moved from Marxism to a very radical form of liberal egalitarianism. One reason Cohen has for this transition is that Marxism is not innately egalitarian, or certainly not in a consistent way. It emphasises the idea that property comes from labour, using the Lockean idea also used by many anarcho-capitalists and free market libertarians. Cohen suggests that Marxism is about the labourer having absolute property rights over the products of that labour, excluding income transfers with an egalitarian purpose.

Habermas and Capitalist Libertarianism: Pure Transparent Community

I would add that Habermas’ gaol of an ‘ideal speech situation’ in his theories of discourse ethics and deliberative democracy is itself utopian, the dream of speech detached from any distortions of self-interest and subjectivity. That utopia might be better realised in the self-governing micro-communities of property owner imagined by Hoppe, rather than in a nation state as Habermas imagines. Habermas takes this even beyond the nation state to the European Union and a then a global cosmopolitan public sphere.

Posted by Barry Stocker at 18:24

[Mises blog cross-post]

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Paul Vahur September 21, 2009, 11:09 am

    Interesting note of PFS but lot of innaccuracies there and misunderstanings of terms “conservative” and “libertarian/liberal” in political vs culture contexts.

  • Michael July 4, 2010, 11:52 pm

    Interesting post. Thanks. While I’m no big fan of Hoppe — I agree with you that he often misrepresents Hayek and I consider his argumentation ethic to be full of holes (Murphy and Callahan pretty much demolished it, for my money) — however you do seriously misrepresent his argument about democracy and monarchy. In fact, he’s quite clear, time and again, that he IS NOT arguing FOR monarchy, he’s simply demonstrating that monarchy has a number of virtues superior to democracy — as you accurately described. The objective, though, is not to promote monarchy, but to dispel the ill-informed and misguided mystique of democracy. And, I agree with him on that, it is a mystique much in need of dispelling. If the public saw democracy through more sober eyes, it might be less keen to just on every statist bandwagon that came along.

    I assume, then, it is because of this misunderstanding about his intent regarding the monarchy vs. democracy argument that you call him conservative, because, once that misunderstanding has been cleared up, there’s really no grounds for calling him that, either by any theoretical or historical definition of the term. Hayek, I could see someone calling conservative. They’d be wrong, but at least I could understand that. But calling Hoppe, or goodness Mises, conservative only reveals a misunderstanding of their philosophy.

    As I said, though, a stimulating post. Thanks.

  • Michael July 4, 2010, 11:57 pm

    Whoops…Just realized that this wasn’t the original source of the post and you hardly needed my input on the topic. Sorry about that. Sometime my exuberance gets a head of me.

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