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October 21, 2003

Comments

Wim

Whoa, this IS provocative. But then, crackpot theories often are. Hans-Hermann Hoppe seems a straight descendent of that cabal of late 19th-century, weltfremd German philosophers, the ones that have so much to answer for. I especially like the line about the beneficial take-over of the loose confederation of city-states by a “spontaneously emerging aristocracy with built-in noblesse oblige". Sounds like Prussia under Bismarck. Or the Herrenklub in the Weimar republic. WARNING: Do NOT touch any ideology that requires perfect people.

I’ve often thought that a mandatory qualification for any utopian philosopher ought to be having been harassed by bullies in the schoolyard.

I did go on to read the introduction to the book, http://www.mises.org/hoppeintro.asp but I couldn’t finish because what I did read slanted and muddled too many historical facts. This should not be surprising. Any breathtaking prescription for societal re-organization needs to over-simplify the evidence, or engage in falsification.

For instance, Hoppe says that WWI was NOT a "traditional war fought over limited territorial objectives, but an ideological one”. Nevertheless, he grants that it began “… as an old-fashioned territorial dispute.” So which is it? Stating this was not territorial makes me queasy when thinking about the millions who went “over the top” to seize a few feet of muddy territory, only to be slaughtered by the hundreds of thousands. Even well into the war, the Germans felt that no matter what, they ought to keep that part of Belgium that improved their access to the sea, mainly Antwerp; and, of course, the Versailles treaty that gave multiple German territories to bordering states gives the lie to the “non-territorial” claim. But of course the dirty secret is that the origins of WWI are so complex, one can pick one’s facts to suit one’s thesis. It’s even possible that an excess of allied war propaganda, with its save-civilization-from-raping&pillaging-Huns theme, leads one to believe the entire war was ideologically driven.

I have read “Leftism” by Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, cited by Hoppe, and he makes good points about monarchy not having been such a bad thing, and about Austria-Hungary’s golden age under Franz-Josef. But the glitter of a Golden Age can mask political decay and impending doom, as it certainly did for Austria. (To gain a good feel for this era, read Joseph Roth’s “Radetzky March”) Franz-Josef was too old, the Austrian military was not up to snuff and suffered defeat after defeat… how this proves the superiority of rule by the aristocracy is beyond me. If nothing else, it seems to prove the merits of regularly obtaining fresh rulers.

At the end of WWI, Hoppe says, there was no alternative but “… total surrender, humiliation, and punishment … Germany had to give up her monarchy…” Well, Germany was punished alright, not so much at Wilson’s behest, but mainly because of the vindictive French. Yet the fact that Germany was not occupied by the western powers hardly proves its “total surrender”. Moreover, it was not outside pressure that forced Germany to “give up her monarchy”. The Kaiser was forced to abdicate by internal German pressures. Anybody who has studied the turbulent history of that era should know that Wilson or his cronies had nothing to do with THAT; Germany came very close to becoming another Soviet state.

Next, in order to “prove” the hopelessness of “democracy”, Hoppe sings a litany (low wages, rising unemployment, public debt, everything but the cat having filled the litter box) to support his conclusion that the American system, or republican government, is itself in a deep crisis. I think we’re OK, thanks. Perfection? No. But we’re doing well enough to decline the application of Hoppe’s grand design.

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