Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed is a gut-check to all serious libertarian and Austrian thinkers. The task of defending a position other than Hoppe’s regarding the role of the State in society is simply insurmountable in light of the essays contained in this book, for it contains quite simply the single most systematically rational and relentless argument against the system of democracy ever put on paper. Democracy, and even constitutionally limited government, while hailed as great cornerstones of society as we know it, is reduced to utter rubbish at the hands of the mighty Hoppe.
The book is a collection of essays regarding, and I’ll quote the subtitle, “The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order.” Its central theme involves the superiority of monarchy to democracy for both economic and cultural reasons. Once he has the readers attention, he goes on to advocate another system altogether. Hoppe compares the private State power of monarchy to the public State power of democracy and concludes that the former is much less dangerous to the individual.
The first, and more economic, reason for this Hoppe highlights is the time preference motives of the respective rulers. Monarchs are incentivized to take care of their property in preparation for passing it down to a family member. This mirrors the economic concept of capital maintenance, which preserves capital for future use. Monarchs are not only more limited in wars (and the size and scope of the wars they fight), but in taxation and legislation against the subjects. They seek to preserve the economic power of the citizens within their jurisdiction by refusing to tax them into submission. Hoppe shows empirical evidence that no monarchy ever taxed its citizens more than 10%, and also that the demon of fiat money is a democratic invention in order to debt finance projects that would not have succeeded had the public been taxed to pay for them.
On the other hand, democratic rulers govern only for a short time, and are incentivized to do quite the opposite. Their “property” as the government is not owned but stolen through coercion from individual taxpayers. Hoppe argues that this causes not only the economic misfortunes of fiat money, over taxation, and total war with little regard for collateral damage, but cultural degradation as well. The welfare state incentivizes poverty, undermines family and marriage, and legislation undermines the rule of natural law. Thus, the population under democracy becomes duller, less moral, more prone to feel entitled, less family oriented, and more crime ridden. It is tough to argue that these changes have not taken place in America since the advent of our so called constitutional republic.
As the reader has presumed by now, Hoppe advocates for a system of “Natural Order”, which has aristocratic leanings and anarcho-capitalist principles. Hoppe’s argument, I dare say, is every bit as forceful and biting, and quite more convincing than even Rothbard’s in For a New Liberty. This is because he assumes knowledge of the non-aggression principle on the part of the reader, making the book less of an introduction to libertarianism and more of a systematic destruction of the philosophical principles of the state. The essay entitled, “On Government and the Private Production of Defense” is by itself worth the price of the book. The subject of national defense is a major hang-up for many self-described libertarians, especially “Tea Party” types. In the face of an intelligent adversary, debating the position of the “night watchman” State becomes impossible on philosophically consistent grounds. Not to worry, for Hoppe grants an entire chapter each to the “Impossibility of Limited government and the Prospects for Revolution,” and “the Errors of Classical Liberalism and the Future of Liberty.” Hoppe shows the fatal flaws of the philosophical reasoning behind limited government through the careful dismantling of Locke, Buchannan, and others on the subject.
The most thought-provoking section of the book was its twin chapters on immigration. Hoppe’s argument against free immigration was completely new to me. Until reading Hoppe’s argument, I had assumed the principled libertarian stance on immigration was free travel across arbitrary borders. I had heard this position forcefully debated by Benjamin Powell recently. One interesting aspect of this debate is that Powell argues in favor of free immigration policy, even today, on economic grounds, while Hoppe argues against it largely on philosophical grounds involving both property rights of individuals and the cultural slide he insists results from “forced integration.” I very much look forward to engaging the debate within these two schools of thought on the issue of immigration.
Hoppe is without doubt as principled as Rothbard in his writing, and his book has given me a revelation. Libertarians of all stripes must adopt the anarcho-capitalist position, since any other position can be torn apart as unprincipled. As soon as we allow the slightest power of coercion or territorial monopoly of the rule of law to the State, it is Hoppe’s view and mine that we have already lost the argument for freedom. Even (perhaps especially) the most ardent socialist will respect the consistency of the anarcho-capitalist position, and the debater will avoid the traps that a Hayekian or Freidmanite might find himself in. If any Austrian thinker fells he or she lacks the ammunition to counter the prevalent Statist arguments, they need only to grace the pages of Democracy by Hoppe, in order to unlock to true absurdity of the countering position.