Nazis and Other Delusions: A Response to Hoppe

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Recently, published Hans Hermann Hoppe’s 2010 address to his Property and Freedom Society in Turkey. Hoppe’s speech included his account of the 1996 meeting of the John Randolph Club, the last at which there was an organized libertarian presence, and a broader attack on the ideas of Pat Buchanan and Sam Francis. Hoppe’s account is factually dishonest, and the arguments Hoppe first presented against Buchanan and Francis at the 1996 John Randolph Club meeting, and that he now rehashes, are fundamentally flawed.

Hoppe wants his readers to believe that the libertarian grouping abandoned the John Randolph Club because we conservative members of the Club were too stupid—”economic ignoramuses”—to appreciate the truth of his criticism of Sam Francis and Pat Buchanan, a criticism that in any event was offered in sympathy to Francis and Buchanan, an “‘immanent’ critique,” in Hoppe’s words. Showing the modesty for which he is known, Hoppe also writes that he “had hoped that, notwithstanding feelings of friendship and personal loyalty, after some time of reflection reason would prevail,” “reason” being synonymous with agreement with Hoppe and a willingness to “express some intellectual distance to Buchanan and his program,” but that the paleoconservative members of the John Randolph Club remained unaccountably unreceptive to his views.

Hoppe’s account, as Thomas Fleming noted in his incisive and judicious response here, is founded on “an historical lie.” What Hoppe did in 1996 was to label Sam Francis an advocate of “national socialism,” and  then to apply this label to Pat Buchanan and his supporters. It is not common practice in America, or in Hoppe’s native Germany, to accuse coalition partners of Nazism, much less to act astonished when those coalition partners take offense. Chris Kopff summarizes the situation well: “In today’s world calling someone a Nazi is a deal breaker and no one doubted (on our side) or denied (on theirs) that the point of Hoppe’s talk was to provoke the breakup of the John Randolph Club.”

Hoppe’s apologists are now suggesting that “national socialism” was merely a bland economic term, at which no one should have taken offense. The first fact showing that this argument is nonsense is Hoppe’s failure even to  mention it in his 2010 speech purporting to explain what had happened in 1996. If Hoppe’s criticism were as bland as his apologists want us to believe, he would not have felt the need to suppress it from his account of what happened. The second fact showing that Hoppe’s “national socialism” comment was intended as Fleming and Kopff understand it is Hoppe’s version of the speech, published in 2005, after Hoppe presumably had the chance to clean it up, on the website of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, under the irenic title “The Intellectual Incoherence of Conservatism.” In this article, Hoppe quotes from Sam Francis’ Chronicles essay “From Household to Nation: The Middle American Populism of Pat Buchanan,” and then comments: “For obvious reasons this doctrine is not so named, but there is a term for this type of conservatism: It is called national socialism or social nationalism.” The “obvious reasons” are indeed “obvious,” no matter how much Hoppe’s apologists want to deny them. Finally, there is the manner in which Hoppe delivered his talk—the feline way in which he delivered this line. All the paleoconservatives present at the 1996 meeting with whom I spoke confirmed my recollection of this, and I can attest that Sam Francis understood Hoppe to be calling him a Nazi as well. This cobbled-together apology may fool the gullible, but it won’t fool those of us who were there in 1996 or anyone who gives even a moment’s reflection to Hoppe’s own accounts.

In his 2010 speech, Hoppe states that after his 1996 talk, “There was no attempt to refute my arguments.” What Hoppe omits is that Sam Francis, who was in charge of assembling the program for the John Randolph Club that year, had very much wanted to have a debate. According to Scott Richert, Francis first proposed a debate on the issues raised by the Buchanan campaign. The libertarian side declined. Then Francis suggested a debate focusing on the more general issue of protectionism. The libertarians again declined and, as a result, the John Randolph Club ended without a debate for the first (and only) time in its history. Instead, the libertarians suggested an additional panel with Hoppe speaking on what libertarians could learn from conservatives and vice versa. It turns out what Hoppe thought paleoconservatives could learn is that they were supporting “national socialism.”

The fact that Hoppe slandered supposed allies, and now feels the need to lie about it, is a sufficient basis for reasonable men to avoid his company. Of course, that does not necessarily mean that Hoppe had nothing of value to say, either in 1996 or in his 2010 retelling. But an examination of Hoppe’s speeches reveals that Hoppe’s criticisms of Buchanan and Francis miss the mark. Hoppe, from his perspective as an advocate of a “stateless natural order,” dismisses Buchanan and Francis as “statists.” It is true, of course, that Francis and Buchanan recognized government as an indispensable part of civilization, a stance that puts them squarely in the camp of reality. The blunt truth is that Hoppe’s “anarcho-capitalism” is a fantasy, and measuring political figures by how closely they adhere to a fantasy is not useful. Indeed, in his 1996 campaign, Buchanan advocated abolishing several federal departments and agencies, restricting the power of the federal judiciary, cutting federal income taxes, and following a non-interventionist foreign policy, all steps that would reduce the power of the federal government.

What aggrieved Hoppe in 1996 was Buchanan’s refusal to call for the wholesale abolition of public education, Medicare, Social Security, and unemployment compensation, stances that in no way distinguished Buchanan from anyone else wishing to get elected in 1996. A criticism of candidate X that also applies to all of candidate X’s rivals does not offer a compelling reason to support someone other than candidate X, much less call candidate X a Nazi. Even so staunch a libertarian as Rand Paul opposes cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. Is Rand Paul advocating “national socialism,” too? Hoppe’s criticism of Buchanan that “There is no recognition that the natural order in education means that the state has nothing to do with it” seems odd, both because Buchanan repeatedly called for the abolition of the federal Department of Education in the 1996 campaign and because Hoppe spent his sojourn as an immigrant in America being subsidized by the taxpayers of Nevada, as a professor at UNLV. Does Hoppe’s failure to apply “the recognition that the natural order in education means that the state has nothing to do with it” to his own life make Hoppe a “national socialist,” too?

Even more bizarre are Hoppe’s comments on health insurance. In 1996, Hoppe argued that “Subsidies for the ill, unhealthy and disabled breed illness, disease, and disability and weaken the desire to work for a living and to lead healthy lives.” The fact that the advent of health insurance has coincided with increasing longevity is of no moment, since Hoppe quotes Ludwig von Mises as saying that “being ill is not a phenomenon independent of the conscious will. . . . A man’s efficiency is not merely a result of his physical condition; it depends largely on his mind and will. . . . The destructionist aspect of health insurance lies above all in the fact that such institutions promote accident and illness . . . . We cannot weaken or destroy the will to health without producing illness.” Mary Baker Eddy could not have said it any better.

Hoppe also misunderstood what Buchanan was trying to achieve in 1996. Hoppe justified his rehashing of both cogent and bizarre criticisms of governmental social insurance programs by arguing that the focus of Buchanan’s campaign was to “fix the problem of moral degeneration and cultural decline” and then arguing, in essence, that there was no way to do that as long as one person is still drawing a Social Security check. It is true that Buchanan and Francis wanted to reverse moral degeneration and cultural decline, but the focus of the 1996 campaign was different. In the Sam Francis essay Hoppe quotes to establish his charge of “national socialism,” Francis wrote that Buchanan’s main goal in the 1996 campaign was “conserving the nation from the dominations and powers that are destroying it,” among which Francis identified the “globalization” that means “the disappearance of nationality, of cultures closely linked to national identity, probably of national sovereignty itself, and even of the distinctive populations of which nations are composed.” These goals of the Buchanan campaign are nowhere addressed by Hoppe, either today or in 1996, a fatal flaw in what Hoppe presents as the definitive critique of that campaign.

Then there is the matter of Buchanan’s protectionism, an object of Hoppe’s scorn both in 1996 and today. Nowhere does Hoppe evince the slightest recognition that far from being a manifestation of “national socialism,” American protectionism has a long and successful history predating the advent of socialism, going back to George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. This is the tradition to which Buchanan was appealing, with good reason. As the pseudonymous commenter Heligoland ably put it at the Alternative Right website: “As to Hoppe, I would reply: it is impossible to have a lasting intellectual association with economists who are either unwilling or incapable of testing their economic models against the natural experiments which history affords. 19th century Britain and America were two countries similar in race, language, religion, and political tradition. In 1860, America decisively embarked on a path of hyper-protectionism, while Britain simultaneously embarked on a path of completely free trade. Both countries continued their respective policies for at least half a century. In 1860, the British GNP/capita exceeded the American GNP/capita. In 1910, the situation was reversed—US GNP/capita was much greater than British. Wouldn’t this vast and momentous experiment seem to suggest that unreciprocated free trade is not necessarily always and everywhere the right policy? That perhaps the positive externalities of industrialization can sometimes outweigh the benefits of unreciprocated free trade?”

Hoppe adds a new criticism of Buchanan’s protectionism in his 2010 talk—the claim that a “program of economic nationalism must alienate the intellectually and culturally indispensable bourgeoisie while attracting the (for us and our purposes) ‘useless’ proletariat.” Hoppe has apparently never heard the term “country club Republican” or grasped what it meant. There are reasons right-wing American political figures going back to Joe McCarthy have appealed more to the types of voters Hoppe dismisses as “useless” than to the types of voters who used to spend time at country clubs and who today enjoy all the “Stuff White People Like,” reasons well known to Buchanan and Francis but apparently unknown to Hoppe, who seems to view the world entirely through the prism of the prejudices of the 19th-century Austrian haute bourgeoisie as codified in the writings of Ludwig von Mises.

Hoppe’s dismissal of “useless” working-class voters leads to the final problem with Hoppe’s talks—the difficulty Hoppe’s ideas pose for any serious movement to reform American immigration laws of the type long advocated by As Steve Sailer and others have long noted there, the voters who are “useless” to Hoppe are the ones most harmed by mass immigration, and the voters Hoppe covets instead are members of an upper-middle class that views indifference to the negative consequences of mass immigration as something of a class marker. How can we hope to reform American immigration laws by sneering at those Americans most hurt by mass immigration and attacking the politicians who appeal to those voters?

More fundamentally, a belief that the government has the right to protect the nation by levying tariffs on foreign imports is consistent with a belief that the government has the right to protect the nation by halting mass immigration, whereas a belief in the free movement of goods across national borders tends to be linked to a belief in the free movement of people across national borders, borders many libertarians insist are as meaningless as the nations they demarcate. Calvin Coolidge was both an ardent protectionist and an opponent of mass immigration, who signed the Immigration Act of 1924, which effectively ended the Ellis Island immigration; Lyndon Johnson reversed Coolidge both by signing the Immigration Act of 1965 and by negotiating the Kennedy Round of GATT, which reduced American tariffs and began the long process of our deindustrialization. In the case of the 1996 campaign, as Francis noted in the Chronicles essay cited by Hoppe, Buchanan’s “support for curtailing, through a five-year moratorium, all immigration, legal and illegal” was “a main pillar of his formulation of cultural nationalism.” Indeed, Buchanan highlighted the need to curtail mass immigration in the speech announcing his candidacy and in the standard stump speech he gave regularly throughout the country, a stance that prompted sustained media attention when Buchanan declared “No way, Jose!” to illegal immigration and when he asserted on ABC that Englishmen would be easier for America to assimilate than Zulus. Since Hoppe’s denunciation of Buchanan and Francis in 1996, of course, Buchanan has authored two best-selling books making the case against mass immigration, just as Francis wrote column after column on the issue, and Chronicles has continued to run annual immigration issues.

And what have Hoppe’s fellow libertarians done on immigration since 1996? Of course, the majority of libertarians who never considered themselves paleolibertarians have continued beating the drums for open borders, but so have most of the erstwhile paleolibertarians. Lew Rockwell’s website has run a piece by Ryan McMaken denouncing “Anglo-Saxon” opposition to illegal immigration from Mexico and exulting that “Soon, Anglo-Saxon civilization will be but a footnote in history” and a piece by Robert Higgs denouncing the “hatred” behind opposition to mass immigration, describing as “morally irrelevant” the fact that illegal immigrants cross America’s border, and referring to the Mexican-American War as “the War of North American Invasion.” In 2006, Rockwell himself declared that “The best immigration reform is one that would provide neither impediments toward work for anyone or subsidies of any sort” and denouncing as “pointless and dangerous” any attempt to deport illegal immigrants.

Such articles are deeply rooted in the mainstream of libertarian thought. Indeed, in his 2010 speech, Hoppe asserted that the issue of immigration divided libertarians from conservatives within the John Randolph Club from its inception, a division that was overcome only by the supposed agreement that the resolution of immigration (and other issues) must be had “on the smallest level of social organization: on the level of families and of local communities.” If I thought that way about mass immigration, I wouldn’t be concerned at all, since my family hasn’t imported any immigrants, and my local community has been largely untouched by the mass immigration that followed in the wake of the Immigration Act of 1965. Instead, I am opposed to mass immigration for the same reason that I am opposed to free trade, because I am convinced that both are harming my country and my countrymen.

Such reasoning makes no sense to someone like Hoppe, who desires a “stateless natural order,” one in which there is “no clear-cut distinction between inlanders (domestic citizens) and foreigners” and who also feels that the economic argument in favor of free immigration is “irrefutable and correct” and that “State borders . . . are an unnatural institution.” It is true that, in his idealized world, Hoppe allows that some anarcho-capitalists might not want those who are what Hoppe terms “human trash” and “inferior people” on their property and should therefore be allowed to exclude them, but one anarcho-capitalist’s “human trash” is another anarcho-capitalist’s road to riches in the form of cheap labor. Hoppe, who bridled in 1996 at Buchanan’s criticism of “wealth” and “elites,” is ill-equipped to deal with immigration in the real world, where businesses seeking cheap labor have been a driving force behind mass immigration in the West for many decades. The way forward for immigration reform lies with the rooted patriotism of men like Buchanan and Francis, not with ideologues like Hoppe who are interested in the United States only insofar as it is willing to serve as a laboratory in which to test their ideas.

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