Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The Exploitation of the Strong by the Weak

"There is, of course, some truth in the statement that there's a difference between criminals and states. But the difference is actually one that makes states look even worse than plain criminals."

So declared Professor Hans Hermann Hoppe, retired economist at the University of Nevada, LV, and Distinguished Fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in his address to the society on Thursday, 23rd October.

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Speaking on the subject, 'What is Exploitaiton? Who Exploits Whom?,' Professor Hoppe argued that Marxist class-analysis was essentially true in its nominal conclusions, but that fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of exploitative activities had produced the correct conclusions by faulty reasoning, causing them to be misapplied to voluntary free-market exchange. Marxism is correct, however, in recognising the exploitative character of the state, which prospers only by expropriating legitimate property owners and interfering in private exchange. The state is exploitative, then, in that every act of the state cannot occur without making some people - the taxpayer, the conscript &c - worse off, contrary to the mutual benefit of both parties in voluntary exchange.

Refuting the claims of Hobbes and Rousseau, Hoppe rejects the state as a necessary evil, explaining its origins as equivalent to those of criminal gangs and the mafia, who monopolise 'protection' not for the benefit of those being protected, but for the enrichment of the protectors. Discussing how the state has evolved from its primitive origins into a largely acquiesced institution, he draws on the thought of French essayist Étienne de La Boétie, pointing out the central place of education and custom that permitted the perpetuation of the state;
"It is true that in the beginning men submit under constraint and by force; but those who come after them obey without regret and perform willingly what their predecessors had done because they had to. This is why men born under the yoke and then nourished and reared in slavery are content, without further effort, to live in their native circumstance, unaware of any other state or right, and considering as quite natural the condition into which they are born ... the powerful influence of custom is in no respect more compelling than in this, namely, habituation to subjection"

Discours de la servitude volontaire, Étienne de La Boétie, p. 60

In further consolidating its control by monopolising the supply of currency and prosecuting as counterfeiters those who engage in equivalent activities, the state makes itself a party to all transactions, facilitating further exploitative rent seeking. The role, too, of the intellectuals is considered, with Hoppe sharing Robert Nozick's analysis of the sybmiotic relationship between anti-capitalist intellectuals and the state.

Returning to Marxist rhetoric, Hoppe concludes by arguing for the development of a "clear class consciousness," not based on narrow, misleading criteria of income, but a coalition of the exploited - that is, the productive agents who are net losers from the state. Perhaps an appropriate statement of the unity of the exploited could go something like this;
"I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

John Galt, Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand


gabe said...

I'd love to hear what it is like to be in the libertarian society at Oxford. Do people constantly refer to policies of free trade and non-interventionism as "isolationism"?

or are the high IQ people at Oxford not so slovenly in their criticism?

When yo criticize the excessive power given to the Federal Reserve Bank (the monopoly on money creation) you immediately get smeared as a "anti-semitic conspiracy theorist" seems that people at Oxford would be aware that a more rigourous intellectual defense is called for than teh mere namecalling we see in most of society?

robtkatz said...

"There is, of course, some truth in the statement that there's a difference between criminals and states. But the difference is actually one that makes states look even worse than plain criminals." ~Hans-Hermann Hoppe

"The singular distinction betwixt a petty thief and a head of state is the enormity of the crime." ~Robert Katz

_ said...

I think both the title of the blog post and the final quotation from Rand are rather misleading, given Hoppe's actual remarks. He did not talk primarily in terms of "strong" and "weak", but of the State apparatus (including its clients) and those the apparatus exploits. As for the words from Rand's "Galt": there are plenty of libertarians (including Christian anarcho-capitalists) who I suspect have no problem with someone "liv[ing] for the sake of another man"; they regard it as morally commendable. What is important is that such selfless behaviour reflects the individual's moral choice rather than a consequence of State coercion. You'll note that Hoppe himself answers one of the audience questions by saying that he would expect volunteer organisations, churches etc. to do the job of looking after the weak and vulnerable - the same job which the State claims would go undone if it didn't exist in its present form.

oxlibertarian said...

Very fair points, Francis.

I was minded to think of Atlas Shrugged when Hoppe talks, towards the end of his prepared remarks, about distinguishing clearly between the exploited and the exploiters, and the merits of instilling class consciousness amongst the productive as a tool for rolling back the state. The Galt quote, accordingly, was intended to emphasise Hoppe's 'call to arms' - I certainly do not share Rand's ethical rejection of voluntary altruism.

As for the title, it comes from Proudhon's observation that 'Communism is the exploitation of the strong by the weak.' Plainly, the exploited cannot be said to be strong in the sense of wielding power over others - their strength lies rather in their productive capacity to satisfy others' needs, and their refusal to exploit others for their own ends. I was, however, tempted to change the title, after coming across this much better one on the Mises Institute forums ('Anarchy in the UK'), but the permalinks wouldn't look nice.