Democracy vs. Freedom (And The Nation-State)?

Libertarians And Immigration Archive

Almost all libertarians (with the exception of the heroic Von Mises Institute) want open borders because they think border control is just one more tyrannical act of government. Hans-Hermann Hoppe, a libertarian who teaches economics at University of Nevada at Las Vegas, has finally set the movement right on this question. Free immigration, he explains, is a misnomer. What the open borders crowd are really pushing is forcible integration, a denial of the rights of natives. This argument is just one of many that make Democracy—The God That Failed deeply subversive, even revolutionary.

This book is a powerful critique of government, specifically of democratic government, which Prof. Hoppe thinks is worse, theoretically, than monarchy. It marshals the laws of economics and human nature to explode one liberal myth after another.

For example, many people think "free immigration" and "free trade" are necessary complements, but Prof. Hoppe points out they have little in common. Free trade requires willing buyers and sellers of goods, but immigrants walk across the border whether they are wanted or not. Even if there are employers who want immigrants, it does not mean other citizens want to share parks, shopping malls, streets, and movie theaters with them. Therefore, if capitalists really want foreign workers, they should keep them in self-sufficient company towns rather than force them on the rest of us.

Prof. Hoppe points out that antipathy towards those unlike one's own group is perfectly natural and no obstacle to trade: 

"From the fact that one does not want to associate with or live in the neighborhood of Blacks, Turks, Catholics or Hindus, etc., it does not follow that one does not want to trade with them from a distance. To the contrary, it is precisely the absolute voluntariness of human association and separation—the absence of any form of forced integration—that makes peaceful relationships—free trade—between culturally, racially, ethnically, or religiously distinct people possible."

Immigration policy, in Hoppe's controversial view, is just one example of how democracies are inferior to monarchies. A king takes a proprietary view of his kingdom—because he owns it—and wants to increase the value of the estate he will pass on to his heirs. By contrast, Hoppe argues, democratically-elected rulers act like tenants who want to get as much out of their temporary occupancy as possible. They have to appeal to the mob to be elected, and once in office care more about short-term exploitation than long-term improvements.

An owner/king has a simple immigration policy: He expels criminals and losers and admits only productive people. Prof. Hoppe explains how presidents are different: 

"[B]ums and unproductive people may well be preferred as residents and citizens, because they create more so-called 'social problems,' and democratic rulers thrive on the existence of such problems. Moreover, bums and inferior people will likely support egalitarian policies, whereas geniuses and superior people will not. The result of this policy of non-discrimination [in immigration policy] is forced integration: the forcing of masses of inferior immigrants onto domestic property owners who, if the decision were left to them, would have sharply discriminated and chosen very different neighbors for themselves."

It is egalitarianism—the myth behind one-man-one-vote—that Prof. Hoppe dislikes most about democracy. "There is nothing ethically wrong with inequality," Prof. Hoppe explains, but democracy promotes the idea that inequality is an outrage, which leads to indignation over differences of wealth and income. Politicians win elections by promising to reduce these differences, which means one of the central tasks of government is redistribution of wealth by taxing away the property of one group of citizens and giving it to another.

Transfer payments of this kind foster a spirit of larceny:  

"Everyone may openly covet everyone else's property, as long as he appeals to democracy; and everyone may act on his desire for another man's property, provided that he finds entrance into government."

Since candidates win office by appealing to covetousness, "prime ministers and presidents are selected for their proven efficiency as morally uninhibited demagogues." Kings, on the other hand, were not necessarily bad people. Moreover, they didn't believe in equality and didn't have to win votes, so had neither theoretical nor practical reasons to redistribute wealth.

Prof. Hoppe takes the view that cultural conservatism is not compatible with the big-government nanny-state democracy inevitably brings. Social security and Medicare support people in old age and makes them less dependent on their children, thus weakening family ties and reducing birth rates. Support for single mothers encourages illegitimacy. All such programs subsidize irresponsibility.

Ultimately, it is inherent in the nature of government—which Prof. Hoppe defines as "a territorial monopoly of compulsion"—to increase its powers and exploit citizens. If there must be governments, they should do nothing more than protect property against fraud, crime, and foreign invasion, but as Prof. Hoppe explains, they always want to do more:

"In the name of social, public or national security, our caretakers 'protect' us from global warming and cooling and the extinction of animals and plants, from husbands and wives, parents and employers, poverty, disease, disaster, ignorance, prejudice, racism, sexism, homophobia, and countless other public enemies and dangers."

In the United States, all this protection requires a Code of Federal Regulations that takes up 26 feet of shelf space, thus "revealing the almost totalitarian power of democratic government." It also requires high taxes and armies of parasitic bureaucrats.

The United States is, in fact, a perfect example of the futility of trying to limit government. It has a plainly-written Constitution that enumerates specific federal powers and reserves the rest to the states and the people. But presidents and bureaucrats simply ignore the Constitution.

What to do? Prof. Hoppe thinks it is pointless to tinker with policy, thereby leaving the "territorial monopolist of compulsion" in place. He insists on outright abolition of government, with private, competing organizations assuming its few genuinely useful functions. He thinks insurance companies could protect against crime and invasion, just as they do against natural disasters. He also thinks that in the absence of government, natural aristocrats would arise to arbitrate contract disputes between citizens.

Prof. Hoppe is not optimistic government can be abolished soon—indeed, it is expanding relentlessly towards a global government that would be colossally repressive—yet he reminds us that "every government can be brought down by a mere change in public opinion, i.e., by the withdrawal of the public's consent and cooperation."  He suggests that, after a critical mass of opinion was achieved, a few cities might secede and form "natural order" societies, whose success would prompt imitators.

Appealing as this vision may be, it is hard not to be skeptical of the idea of abolishing government entirely. Insurance companies might be able to track down burglars and rapists, but it is hard to imagine even the best-equipped among them managing to protect libertarian statelets from greedy neighbors with governments, armies – and potential immigrants. Abolition of government is the sort of experiment one might prefer to watch some other country try before attempting it oneself.

But whether a "natural order" society is ever established, it is refreshing to read an author who so clearly and logically justifies the contempt for government that is increasingly widespread. It may never be possible to put every last bureaucrat out to pasture, and so long as even a few remain we are well advised to heed Prof. Hoppe's warning: 

Once the principle of government - judicial monopoly and the power to tax - is incorrectly accepted as just, any notion of restraining government power and safeguarding individual liberty and property is illusory.

Jared Taylor (email him) is editor of American Renaissance and the author of Paved With Good Intentions: The Failure of Race Relations in Contemporary America. (For Peter Brimelow's review, click here.)