Untimely Observations

Freedom, Property, and Hans-Hermann Hoppe

This past week, I had the honor and pleasure of addressing Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Property and Freedom Society. Every summer, the society meets in Bodrum, Turkey, and before writing a few words on this year’s conference, I’d like to dilate on this improbable home base for such a group.

Bodrum is a quaint resort town, and much like Istanbul, which I also visited, filled with European tourists and Mosques. Five times a day, a loud trilling and whining devotional music is broadcast from speakers atop minarets, which the white tourists listen to curiously and the natives almost completely ignore. Bodrum was once Byzantine, of course, and to this day it has a strange quality of being occupied -- large, flowing red flags are staked on hill tops and monuments, as if to remind all who can see, “This is ours now!”

In other ways, visiting Bodrum is a lot like peeling the onion of European history. The city still features the mighty seaside Castle of Saint Peter built by the Hospitaller Knights in the 15th century. The Italian, English, and German Crusaders acquired much of the limestone for their fortress by filching from the ancient Mausoleum of Maussollos, the jewel of the city when it was Greek and known as Halicarnassus. (The Mausoleum was once admired by Alexander, but can now only be glimpsed in the imagination.) Halicarnassus was, for a time, under Persian rule, and still bares some traces of the original settlers, the Dorians, who arrived some seven centuries before Christ. All of this is quite dizzying for us Americans, whose cities are mostly defined by the International Style of the mid-1980s.

The Property and Freedom Society is notable, first and foremost, for the fact that its president and co-founder is Hans-Hermann Hoppe, considered by many to be the dean of the Austrian School of Economics. As one attendee noted, Hoppe might also be considered one of the most dangerous intellectuals in the world, mostly by dent of his willingness to forcefully articulate a critique of democracy, classical liberalism, equality, and Constitutionalism, as well as defend monarchy and aristocracy. As Paul Gottfried describes him in a recent Festschrift, Hoppes isn’t simply a “libertarian” but a thinker in the tradition of “aristocratic radicalism,” and, though not explicitly, Nietzscheanism.

Each year, the conference takes place at the luxurious Karia Princess Hotel, owned by Hoppe’s beautiful and cultured second wife. At this year’s closing ceremony, Hoppe mentioned the interesting parallel his group has with the shadowy, conspiracy theory-generating “Bidlerbergers,” the group of elite bankers, politicians, media tycoons, and diplomats who originally congregated at the Hotel de Biderberg in Holland in 1954 and continue to meet annually in hopes of building a better world -- i.e. a collectivist, bureaucratic one run by people like them. Hoppe suggested that “Karia Princes and Princesses” might one day become equally notorious for tireless working for the opposite ends. Let’s hope he’s right!

VDARE has published Hans’s opening address, and it’s well worth the read, as he delves into the achievements and failures, mostly failures, of two groups he was involved with that also set out to strike back against collectivism and globalism. The first of these was the Mount Pelerin Society, founded by Friedrich von Hayek in 1947. By the time Hoppe began speaking at MPS meetings in the ‘90s, the society had devolved into a series of “junkets for ‘free-market’ and ‘limited-government’ think-tank and foundation staffers, their various professorial affiliates and protégées, and the principal donor-financiers of it all, mostly from the U.S., and more specifically from Washington D.C.”

Characteristically, Ed Feulner, long-time President of the Heritage Foundation, the major GOP think-tank and intellectual shill to the welfare-warfare state politics of every Republican government administration, from Reagan to Bush, Junior, is a former Mont Pelerin Society president and, more significantly, has been its long-time treasurer.

There had been skepticism concerning the Mont Pelerin Society from the beginning. Ludwig von Mises, Hayek’s teacher and friend, had expressed severe doubt concerning his plan simply in view of Hayek’s initial invitees: how could a society filled with certified state-interventionists promote the goal of a free and prosperous commonwealth?

Despite his initial reservations, however, Mises became a founding member of the Mont Pelerin Society. Yet his prediction turned out correct. Famously, at an early Mont Pelerin Society meeting, Mises would walk out denouncing speakers and panelists as a bunch of socialists.

Essentially, this was also my first impression when I came in contact with the Mont Pelerin Society and this impression has been confirmed since. The Mont Pelerin Society is a society in which every right-wing social democrat can feel at home. True, occasionally a few strange birds are invited to speak, but the meetings are dominated and the range of acceptable discourse is delineated by certified state-interventionists: by the heads of government-funded or connected foundations and think-tanks, by central bank payrollees, paper-money enthusiasts, and assorted international educrats and researchocrats in and out of government. No discussion in the hallowed halls of the Mont Pelerin Society of U.S. imperialism or the Bush war crimes, for instance, or of the financial crimes committed by the Federal Reserve Bank—and no discussion of any sensitive race issue, of course.

Hans’s second try came at the John Randolph Club, the headquarters of the so-called “paleo-libertarian” alliance, which Murray Rothbard was trumpeting at the time of his death in 1995.

The breakup of the John Randolph Club shortly after Rothbard’s death had partly personal reasons. Tom Fleming, the surviving principal of the Club, is, to put it diplomatically, a difficult man, as everyone who has dealt with him can testify. In addition, there were organizational quarrels. The meetings of the John Randolph Club were organized annually alternating by the Center for Libertarian Studies, which represented Murray Rothbard and his men, and by the Rockford Institute, which represented Thomas Fleming and his. This arrangement had perhaps unavoidably led to various charges of free-loading. Ultimately, however, the breakup had more fundamental reasons.

The John Randolph Club was a coalition of two distinct groups of intellectuals. On the one hand was a group of anarcho-capitalist Austro-libertarians, led by Rothbard, mostly of economists but also philosophers, lawyers, historians and sociologists (mostly of a more analytical-theoretical bend of mind). I was a member of this group. On the other hand was a group of writers associated with the conservative monthly Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture and its editor, Tom Fleming. Paul Gottfried was a member of that group. The conservative group did not have any economist of note and generally displayed a more empirical bend of mind. Apart from historians and sociologists, it included in particular also men of letters: of philologists, literary writers, and cultural critics.

On the libertarian side, the cooperation with conservatives was motivated by the insight that while libertarianism may be logically compatible with many cultures, sociologically it requires a conservative, bourgeois core culture. The decision to form an intellectual alliance with conservatives then involved for the libertarians a double break with "Establishment Libertarianism" as represented, for instance, by the Washington DC "free market" CATO Institute.

This Establishment Libertarianism was not only theoretically in error, with its commitment to the impossible goal of limited government (and centralized government at that): it was also sociologically flawed, with its anti-bourgeois—indeed, adolescent—so-called "cosmopolitan" cultural message: of multiculturalism and egalitarianism, of "respect no authority", of "live-and-let-live", of hedonism and libertinism.

The anti-establishment Austro-libertarians sought to learn more from the conservative side about the cultural requirements of a free and prosperous commonwealth. And by and large they did and learned their lesson. At least, I think that I did.

For the conservative side of the alliance, the cooperation with the Austrian anarcho-capitalists signified a complete break with the so-called neoconservative movement that had come to dominate organized conservatism in the US and which was represented, for instance, by such Washington DC think tanks as the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. The paleo-conservatives, as they came to be known, opposed the neo-conservative goal of a highly and increasingly centralized, "economically efficient" welfare-warfare State as incompatible with the traditional conservative core values of private property, of family and family households, and of local communities and their protection. There were some points of contention between the paleo-cons and the libertarians: on the issues of abortion and immigration and on the definition and necessity of government. But these differences could be accommodated in agreeing that their resolution must not be attempted on the level of the central state or even some supra-national institution such as the UN, but always on the smallest level of social organization: on the level of families and of local communities.

For the paleo-cons, secession from a central State was not a taboo, and for the Austro-libertarians secession had the status of a natural human right (while establishment libertarians typically treat it as a taboo subject); hence, cooperation was possible. Moreover, the cooperation with the Austro-libertarians was to afford the conservatives the opportunity of learning sound (Austrian school) economics, which was an acknowledged gap and weakness in their intellectual armor, especially vis-à-vis their neo-conservative opponents. However, with some notable exceptions the conservative group failed to live up to these expectations.

This, then, was the ultimate reason for the breakup of the libertarian-conservative alliance accomplished with the John Randolph Club: that while the libertarians were willing to learn their cultural lesson the conservatives did not want to learn their economics.

This verdict, and the consequent lesson, was not immediately clear, of course. It was driven home only in the course of the events. In the case of the John Randolph Club, the event had a name. It was Patrick Buchanan, TV personality, commentator, syndicated columnist, best-selling book author, including serious works on revisionist history, a very charismatic man, witty and with great personal charm, but also a man with a deep and lasting involvement in Republican Party politics, first as a Nixon speech-writer and then as White House Director of Communications under Ronald Reagan.

Pat Buchanan did not participate directly in the John Randolph Club, but he had personal ties to several of its leading members (on both sides of the Club but especially to the Chronicles group, which included some of his closest advisors) and he was considered a prominent part of the counter-cultural movement represented by the John Randolph Club. In 1992, Buchanan challenged then sitting president George Bush for the GOP presidential nomination. (He would do so again in 1996, challenging Senator Bob Dole for the Republican nomination, and in 2000 he would run as the presidential candidate for the Reform Party.) Buchanan’s challenge was impressive at first, nearly upsetting Bush in the New Hampshire primary, and it initially caused considerable enthusiasm in John Randolph Club circles. However, in the course of Buchanan’s campaign and in reaction to it open dissent between the two John Randolph Club camps broke out as regards the "correct" strategy.

Buchanan pursued a populist "America First" campaign. He wanted to talk and appeal to the so-called "Middle Americans," who felt betrayed and dispossessed by the political elites of both parties. After the collapse of communism and the end of the cold war, Buchanan wanted to bring all American troops back home, dissolve NATO, leave the UN, and conduct a non-interventionist foreign policy (which his neo-conservative enemies smeared as "isolationist"). He wanted to cut all but economic ties to Israel in particular, and he openly criticized the "un-American" influence of the organized Jewish-American lobby, something that takes considerable courage in contemporary America.

He wanted to eliminate all "affirmative action," non-discrimination and quota laws that had pervaded all aspects of American life, and which were essentially anti-white and especially anti-white-male laws. In particular, he promised to end the non-discriminatory immigration policy that had resulted in the mass immigration of low-class third-world people and the attendant forced integration or, euphemistically, "multiculturalism." Further, he wanted to end the entire "cultural rot" coming out of Washington DC by closing down the federal Department of Education and a multitude of other federal indoctrination agencies.

But instead of emphasizing these widely popular "rightist" cultural concerns, Buchanan, in the course of his campaign, increasingly intoned other, economic matters and concerns, all the while his knowledge of economics was rather skimpy.

Concentrating on what he was worst at, then, he increasingly advocated a "leftist" economic program of economic and social nationalism. He advocated tariffs to protect "essential" American industries and save American jobs from "unfair" foreign competition, and he proposed to "protect" Middle Americans by safeguarding and even expanding the already existing welfare-State programs of minimum wage laws, unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.

When I explained, in a speech before the club, that Buchanan’s rightist-cultural and leftist-economic program was theoretically inconsistent and that his strategy must consequently fail to reach its own goal, that you cannot return America to cultural sanity and strengthen its families and communities and at the same time maintain the institutional pillars that are the central cause for the cultural malaise, that protectionist tariffs cannot make Americans more prosperous, but less, and that a program of economic nationalism must alienate the intellectually and culturally indispensible bourgeoisie while attracting the (for us and our purposes) "useless" proletariat, it almost came to an éclat. The conservative group was up in arms about this critique of one of its heroes.

I had hoped that, notwithstanding feelings of friendship or personal loyalty, after some time of reflection reason would prevail, especially after it had become clear by the ensuing events that Buchanan’s strategy had also failed numerically, at the polls. I thought that the John Randolph Club conservatives would sooner or later come to realize that my critique of Buchanan was an "immanent" critique; that is, that I had not criticized or distanced myself from the goal of the John Randolph Club, and presumably also Buchanan’s, of a conservative cultural counterrevolution, but that, based on elementary economic reasons, I had simply found the means—the strategy—chosen by Buchanan to accomplish this goal unsuitable and ineffective. But nothing happened. There was no attempt to refute my arguments. Nor was there any sign that one was willing to express some intellectual distance to Buchanan and his program.

From this experience I learned a twofold lesson. First, a lesson that I had already come away with from my encounter with the Mont Pelerin Society was reinforced: Do not put your trust in politicians and do not get distracted by politics. Buchanan, notwithstanding his many appealing personal qualities, was still at heart a politician who believed in government, above all, as a means of effecting social change. Second and more generally, however, I learned that it is impossible to have a lasting intellectual association with people who are either unwilling or incapable of grasping the principles of economics. Economics—the logic of action—is the queen of the social sciences. It is by no means sufficient for an understanding of social reality, but it is necessary and indispensible. Without a solid grasp of economic principles, say on the level of Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, one is bound to commit serious blunders of historical explanation and interpretation.

It’s worth pointing out that while Lew Rockwell has decided to focus almost exclusively on libertarian and economic matters in his post-JRC years, Hoppe is building a society with a notably rightist orientation -- evinced by the presence of Peter Brimelow, Paul Gottfried, Steve Sailer, Richard Lynn, and myself at recent meetings. This will invariably lead to some nervousness on the part of attendees whom AltRight readers might label, rightly or wrongly, “Left-libertarians.” Lynn and I caused noticeable consternation by bringing up racial issues in our respective talks … though the critical responses directed at us in the Q&A were productive and respectful.

In close, the Property and Freedom Society, along with the HL Mencken Club, which Gottfried and I help organize, offers the best hope for a diverse coalition of the Alternative Right (broadly defined), and I encourage readers to attend future meetings.

Sean Gabb, leader of the British Libertarian Alliance filmed and recorded every talk and has told me that he’ll be getting these up online in the near future. I’ll link to them here as soon as they are. AltRight readers will be interested in what I had to say, of course, but the conference featured a series of provocative talks, all of which are worth one’s time. I’m particularly eager to revisit Olivier Richard’s elegant and droll presentation on “How to Enrich Yourself at Others’Expense Without Anyone Noticing It” and his explanation of why we -- and not the progressive Left -- have the right to hold investment bankers in contempt.

UPDATE:  Tom Fleming has taken exception to Hoppe's article.