Hoppephobia: Redux

By: Kristoffer Mousten Hansen

Hans-Hermann Hoppe, despite retiring about fifteen years ago and only publishing lightly since, has an (un)enviable characteristic: he still manages to provoke his opponents to violent and rather silly outbursts from time to time. The most recent round of pearl clutching emanated from the otherwise sound Phillip Magness (via Twitter), who seems to have fallen into the same conspiracy-minded, guilt-by-association way of reasoning (using the term broadly!) he so ably has exposed in left-wing writers like Nancy MacLean (on James Buchanan) or Quinn Slobodian (on Ludwig von Mises).

Stephan Kinsella has answered the personal insinuations against Hoppe and most of the other claims Magness made, and one can hope that is the end of it. Yet something suggests that the Hoppe haters will not be persuaded even now. Recently, in an interview with ReasonTV, Magness again made similar claims against Hoppe so another little essay on the Hoppe question seems warranted, mainly to help the innocent bystander, who might otherwise be frightened away by the hateful rhetoric of the Hoppephobes, understand what’s going on.

I’ll here briefly address three major accusations against Hoppe.

Hoppe the Nazi

Guilt by association plays a major role in the Nazi insinuations against Hoppe—in fact, there is no argument behind it other than that. Hoppe cited David Irving without adequately condemning him for wrongthink; Hoppe refused to accept that Germans are “congenital villains” of world-historic uniqueness. In this, he contradicts what in Germany has been a basic dogma since the Historikerstreit, but it is hard to see that Hoppe said anything objectionable—or why we should simply submit to leftist dogmas. As for Hoppe’s related claim that there was an attempt to brainwash the Germans after the war—well, this is true and simply official history, as detailed, for instance, in Frederick Taylor’s Exorcizing Hitler.

There is more substance, at least on the face of it, to Magness et al.’s claim that a memo Hoppe wrote in 1996, “From Nation to Household,” betrays his sympathy for Nazism. After all, Hoppe clearly writes that what’s wrong with “national socialism” is the socialism part—get rid of that and we’ll have “national capitalism,” and that’s much better. It appears we have to accept that Hoppe really is cheering on mass extermination etc.; he just wants to privatize it (which, presumably, means that he’s really worse than the classic Nazis, since Hoppe’s national capitalism would be much more efficient).

Right? Not really. It’s a basic case of omitting crucial context. The memo is an extended critique of Samuel Francis’s and Pat Buchanan’s proposed economic policies, which Hoppe characterizes as socialism. The other part of the program, the cultural or social part, with which he agrees, Hoppe calls nationalism; hence the conclusion that Francis advocates national socialism. Hoppe explicitly states, however, that there is nothing anti-Semitic or racist in Francis’s program—it’s simply a rejection of political correctness and a call for return to normalcy and traditional middle-class values. In the same memo, Hoppe goes on to criticize the socialistic aspects of the Francis program and in its stead proposes “national capitalism”: in short, liberal economic policies that are better suited to Francis’s and Buchanan’s cultural and social aims. Reading any kinship to German Nazis into this is simply baffling—unless one thinks the real evil part of Nazism was not their socialism, or their racism, or their anti-Semitism, but their support for more traditional morality and normalcy (not to mention the fact that the Nazis did not even really promote traditional values).

Ironically, there is a much better case for calling Mises a Fascist sympathizer than Hoppe. After all, Mises explicitly wrote: “It cannot be denied that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilization. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history.” Anyone with a brain will recognize that Mises was not a fascist and that this statement occurs in the context of a thorough refutation of fascism (nor can anyone deny that at the time of writing, in 1927, it was obviously true). However, when it comes to Hoppe, the most innocuous statement is used to paint him as a fascist or worse.

It’s thus hard to see any Nazism or fascism in either Hoppe or Mises—unless, of course, one adopts the more descriptive definition of fascism once proposed: fascism is whatever Stalin doesn’t like!

Hoppe the Critical Theorist

Magness has repeatedly accused Hoppe of not being an Austrian economist but rather a critical theorist. The evidence for this claim is Hoppe’s close personal connection to the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, one of the leading lights of the Frankfurt school. Hoppe’s work on argumentation ethics is also replete with references to Habermas and especially to Karl-Otto Apel, whose communicative ethics Hoppe refashioned into his own argumentation ethics along Misesian lines. Yet does this make Hoppe a critical theorist? What, exactly, did he take from Habermas, the bête noire in Magness’s depiction of Hoppe? Why don’t we simply listen to what Hoppe himself says:

My relationship with Habermas, while not close, was cordial, and I learned quite a bit from him, especially from his earlier works such as Erkenntnis und Interesse (Knowledge and Interest). (Since the late 1970s I essentially stopped following his work, as it was increasingly tedious and murky.) In any case, it was Habermas who introduced me to the Anglo-Saxon tradition of analytic philosophy and the philosophy of language. He helped me understand “methodological dualism,” i.e., that the study of objects with which we can communicate (and communicative action) requires different methods than those appropriate for the study of noncommunicative objects (and instrumental action). And contra all empiricist and relativist claims, Habermas always defended the notion of some sort of synthetic a priori truths.

Analytic philosophy, philosophy of language, methodological dualism, and the existence of a priori truths—if this be critical theory, make the most of it! There is nothing here incompatible with Austrian economics, no materialism or polylogism, and in fact there are plenty of building blocks for Mises’s praxeological system.

Still, Hoppe may be tainted by personal exposure to Habermas, and he may thereby unconsciously bring critical theory into his work on Austrian economics. Perhaps. Magness and others should then consider the person of Carl Grünberg. Grünberg was the founder of the Frankfurt school, as in 1924 he was the first director of the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research. So what? Before going to Frankfurt, Grünberg taught in Vienna, and among his doctoral students was … Ludwig von Mises. According to Guido Hülsmann, Mises learned a lot from the Grünberg seminar and published papers along the lines of Grünberg’s more historicist approach. If Magness is concerned about cultural Marxism tainting Austrian economics, and if learning from Marxists is enough to irrevocably taint a person, then he will have to excise a substantial portion of the Austrian tradition.

Hoppe the Anti-immigrationist

Hoppe’s views on immigration are well-known, if often misrepresented. In short, he argues that in a free society, immigration can be by invitation only. Private property owners and covenant communities will simply decide who they want to accept and how many immigrants they want. This does not imply, however, that under current conditions open borders—that is, no control on immigration—are the best policy. The state both coercively limits the number of desired immigrants and coercively imposes undesired immigration on the population. Hoppe’s more practical proposal is to limit the externalization of immigration’s costs, by limiting migrants’ access to state services, adopting some kind of sponsor system, and requiring a host to post a bond for each immigrant he invites into the country.

This proposal, we are told, is both illiberal and at odds with Mises’s views on immigration. Now, it is certainly true that Mises wrote favorably about free migration. Looking simply at incomes and production, free immigration is optimal. Workers will move where wages are highest, and since wage differentials reflect the underlying differences in productivity and in the value of the output, the free movement of labor leads to an overall increase in social production. Restrictions on migration thus make some countries relatively underpopulated, driving up wages, and other countries relatively overpopulated, driving wages down.

However, Mises was not for open borders, even at his most optimistic. In Liberalism, he clearly states that freedom of movement is incompatible with an interventionist or socialist state. Given the all-pervasive influence of the state under such conditions, Mises argues that national minorities are bound to be persecuted in such states Therefore Mises thinks the decision of, say, the Australians to keep out immigrants to avoid being inundated by Asians and non-English Europeans and becoming a minority is fully understandable. Only if we insist on a purely economic conception of man can we enlist Mises under the banner of open borders and against Hoppe. Since this was clearly not Mises’s conception, we cannot do so.

The More Things Change

Hoppe can of course be criticized. But the attempt to paint him as some kind of evil interloper, an agent of Nazism and critical theory flying under the radar and corrupting Austrian economics, is simply laughably wrong. As I’ve tried to show here, none of the points raised against Hoppe can withstand scrutiny, and on all the substantial issues, Hoppe is much closer to Mises than the critics will accept.

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