On Anarcho-Capitalism, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, and the Failed God of Democracy
The inaugural post of the Plague Chronicle Book Club.
In my student days I described myself as an anarcho-syndicalist.
If asked, I’d say my views aligned more or less with those of Noam Chomsky, but in retrospect I was less interested in the ideology itself (though I dutifully slogged through the basic reading) than I was in finding political vocabulary to express my rejection of the Western political order. It was in this general mood that I first read anarcho-capitalists like Murray Rothbard and Hans-Hermann Hoppe. It’s been interesting to return to this body of political philosophy now after very many years, and think it through all over again.
In some ways my politics have changed fundamentally; in others they’ve remained stable. Even at university, I believed there was something deeply wrong with modern-day democratic liberalism, above all because it could never stop liberalising. You were always achieving doubtful extreme victories and then marching on to the next siege, all while a whole range of social and cultural problems seemed only to get worse. As a leftist, I had learned to characterise these problems with words like “inequality” and “poverty,” but this was a very one-dimensional view, unsatisfying for its failure to account for many other failings that were much more important to me. Heading the list was a pervasive feeling of social immiseration and cultural decline, even in the midst of fantastic unprecedented abundance.
Hoppe’s Democracy: The God that Failed articulates these concerns much more coherently than I was able to back then. The book amounts to a series of loosely connected essays, which are adapted from talks he gave at various conferences. While the chapters are largely self-sufficient, uniting most of them is the thesis that more traditional monarchical state systems amount to privately-owned governments, ones in which hereditary monarchs take a direct personal interest, not only for themselves but also for their progeny. The long-term viability of the state and its wealth accordingly become high priorities for kings and princes. The American victory in World War I represents for Hoppe the final victory of democratic republics, which are in contrast publicly-owned state systems steered by transient caretakers. Unlike hereditary kings, these caretaker governors have no interest in the distant future of their governments, and their short-term outlook is accompanied by ruinous taxation and the transition to a generally high-time preference civilisation, as a redistributionist regime and inflationary policies reward present consumption over longer-term investments in the future.