Untimely Observations

Hoppe and Paleo-Libertarianism

It’s perfectly reasonable for my friends Tom Piatak and Christian Kopff to disagree with Hans-Hermann Hoppe on free trade, as they do in the comments. But it’s wrong for Tom to pretend that Hoppe isn’t an economic and political thinker of the highest order. He’s also far from a “loudmouth,” and he’s refrained from associating himself with the maudlin “Americanism” beloved by “ferrners” like Frum, Hitchens, and Sullivan. (Tom's and my friendship survived our heated debates about the 2008 auto bailouts, and I sincerely hope it will survive this dustup, too.)

I wasn’t there, of course, but my understanding is that at a ‘96 John Randolph Club meeting, Hoppe called Francis a “national socialist” and “social nationalist” -- as opposed to a “National Socialist” or “Nazi.” There’s a difference. And truly, “national socialism” isn’t a wholly inaccurate term for what Francis was proposing… (Hoppe’s speech can be read here and is developed further in Democracy -- The God That Failed.)

I wish that Hoppe and Francis could have pursued a debate, for though they disagreed on economic matters, on a deeper level they had much in common. Remembered mostly as an undeceived political commentator, Francis was himself connected with a “radical Right” 19th-century European tradition, particularly in his conceptions of hierarchy and the scope of Western decline. This aspect of Francis, which his Chronicles editor didn't apparently approve of, is evident in articles such “The Roots of the White Man,” which Jared Taylor collected in the volume Essential Writings on Race. Francis’s notion of “anarcho-tyranny” is also the kind of concept that Hoppe’s libertarian Right could develop further.

I’m sure that the libertarian camp bears some of the blame for the breakup of the “paleo-libertarian” JRC. And perhaps the whole project was doomed to failure from the beginning: “paleo-libertarianism” represented a hastily assembled rearguard action against neocon ascendancy in the conservative movement, and there are simply limits to which groups can form a movement based on a shared animus.

That said, I find it difficult to imagine that the peculiar personality of Thomas Fleming wasn’t decisive in the paleo-libertarians’ undoing. Fleming’s ability to alienate colleagues -- as well as subscribers and donors -- is well known. (I’ve experienced it personally.) And though Hoppe never suggested Francis was a “Nazi,” Fleming is himself capable of great heights of vitriolic hyperbole. In the ‘90s, the paleo half of the coalition had the upper hand in terms of readership and organization; the situation is now much reversed.

I won’t say anymore on this subject. Ad hominem attacks against people with whom one shares quite a bit in common are rarely a good idea, and I’ve profited greatly from reading Fleming’s articles and books over the years. The best course of action, I’ve discovered, is to keep a good distance.