On the Ultimate Justification of the Ethics of Private Property by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, adnotated. Part 1.

On Saif’s recommendation, let’s see if there’s a branch of Libertarianism that can stand on its own two feet. I’m skeptical from the outset, but that doesn’t mean I’m right, only that I’m going to rip open the tiniest logical holes with all the ferocity of a WoWhead on a fleshlight.

Without further ado, here’s the eponymously titled Chapter 13 from Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s “On the Ultimate Justification of the Ethics of Private Property”i :

Ludwig von Mises, in his masterpiece Human Action, presents and explains the entire body of economic theory as implied in, and deducible from, one’s conceptual understanding of the meaning of action (plus that of a few general, explicitly introduced assumptions about the empirical reality in which action is taking place). He calls this conceptual knowledge the “axiom of action,” and he demonstrates in which sense the meaning of action from which economic theory sets out, i.e., of values, ends, and means, of choice, preference, profit, loss, and cost, must be considered a priori knowl- edge. It is not derived from sense impressions but from reflection (one does not see actions but rather interprets certain physical phe- nomena as actions!). Most importantly, it cannot possibly be invali- dated by any experience whatsoever, because any attempt to do so would already presuppose the existence of action and an actor’s understanding of the categories of action (experiencing something is, after all, itself an intentional action!). Thus having reconstructed economics as, in the last resort, derived from an a priori true proposition, Mises can claim to have pro- vided an ultimate foundation of economics.

Well waddya know! We’re off on a pretty philosophical foot here, which is a hell of a good thing because economics is an art – not a scienceii – quite contrary to the various and sundry pretensions of would-be teet-suckers, grant-getters, IMFists, “Alberta’s Economists“, potato researchers, and the similar such philosophasters. But let’s continue lest we’re here all night : 

He terms a so-founded economics “praxeology,” the logic of action, in order to emphasize the fact that its propositions can be definitively proven by virtue of the indisputable action-axiom and the equally indisputable laws of logical reasoning (such as the laws of identity and contradiction)— completely independent, that is, of any kind of empirical testing (as employed, for instance, in physics). However, though his idea of praxeology and his construction of an entire body of praxeological thought places him among the greats of the modern Western tradition of rationalism in its search for certain foundations, Mises does not think that another claim of this tradition can be made good: the claim that there are also foundations in ethical matters. According to Mises there exists no ultimate justification for ethical propositions in the same sense as there exists one for economic propositions.

I happen to side with Mises here. What the fuck is “ethics” anywas ? When some random idiot you meet spouts off about how “ethical” he is, he’s at the very least aligning himself with a perverse form of puritanism (but aren’t they all) and at the very most using a catch-all excuse for his laziness that he’s entirely confident will never be challenged anywhere, anytime in the soi-disant “civilised world” lest his civil rights be “intimidated.” Seriously, this is how the monkeys think. And you let them live uncontested with such delusions of grandeur ? To quote Herr Taleb : if you see a fraud and don’t call him a fraud, you’re the fraud. Anyways, the ultimate justification for ethical propositions is the very same as that of history writers : he who wins. It’s all ex post baby.

Economics can inform us whether or not certain means are appropriate for bringing about certain ends, yet whether or not the ends can be regarded as just can neither be decided by economics nor by any other science. There is no justification for choosing one rather than another end. In the last resort, which end is chosen is arbitrary from a scientific point of view and is a matter of subjective whim, incapable of any justification beyond the mere fact of simply being liked.

Alas, due to the maddening complexity of the manmade world, to say nothing of the heavens above, combined with the limited computational capacities of both human heads and adding machinesiii extant, neither economics nor crystal ball readings can inform us whether or not certain means are appropriate for bringing about certain ends. We cannot act towards purposes, only from causes. We can only fight for the Right Thing ™ in the moment, pray to Hashem that we win the war and let future generations be our judges.iv This can’t be emphasised enough : ENDS CANNOT BE CHOSEN. Environments more complex than a kitchen don’t work that way. And the best chefs might dispute even that. It’s therefore neither arbitrary nor divinely guided which particular end results, whether from a scientific point of view or any other you may choose. The end that results is simply what it is. Like Tuesday. Or burnt fish cakes.

Many libertarians have followed Mises on this point. Like Mises, they have abandoned the idea of a rational foundation of ethics. As he does, they make as much as possible out of the economic proposition that the libertarian private property ethic produces a higher general standard of living than any other one; that most people actually prefer higher over lower standards of living; and hence, that libertarianism should prove highly popular. But ultimately, as Mises certainly knew, such considerations can only convince somebody of libertarianism who has already accepted the “utilitarian” goal of general wealth maximization.

Indeed. Only someone convinced by utilitarianism – and furthermore by a noxious and hereto unbelievable form of the rebranded Sovietism that takes into account the livelihood of complete strangers – could be drawn to a depiction of libertarianism that so much as utters the qualifiers “most,” “general,” and “popular,” as if any good (which is to say art and culture ad minimum) ever came or ever could come from the despicable depths of the lowest common denominator. You know what most prefer ? Cheetos. Fucking ersatz cheese-flavoured corn puffs, ideally with a side of grape or barley soda to wash down the cheese dust. This tolerance, nay, preference for the Homer Simpson lifestyle is at the very least exclusionary from meaningful societal participation and at the very most grounds for a one-way trip in der Gasenwagen.

For those who do not share this goal, they have no compelling force at all. Thus, in the final analysis, libertarianism is based on nothing but an arbitrary act of faith.

All political beliefs are thus : faith. The aforementioned complexity curve makes this the de facto state of existence for all but the omniscient. But arbitrary ? Touristing is arbitrary. The colour of your skin is arbitrary. Our own personal predilections however are based on environmental and genetic considerations, like whether your father beat some sense into you at any point, and whether he was an ordained priest as his father was and his father before him and so on and so forth.

To be continued…

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  1. Saif also recommended Rothbard, but he’s oft-quoted and frequently referenced elsewhere. Hoppe is a little more fringe, a little less well known, STILL ALIVE and therefore that much more likely to appeal to the “hardcore” among the Libertarian set, whom I intend to provoke herein.
  2. The difference between an art and a science is that the former knows the answer to its question before asking them, the latter doesn’t.
  3. What, you think computers are even slightly more than very fast adding machines ? That they’re about to become sentient any day now ? Get a grip homie.
  4. Who says I can’t be romantic when I want to be ?

4 thoughts on “On the Ultimate Justification of the Ethics of Private Property by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, adnotated. Part 1.

  1. Saifedean Ammous says:

    I like how this is going, and think you’re going to find more and more with which to agree!

    But don’t skimp on the Rothbard! As an economist, philosopher, or historian, he’s a cut above everything else within a century of him! His witticisms that are often quoted by libertarians all over the internets do not do justice to the depth and profundity of his work, and can make people dismiss him as a smartass rather than a serious scholar.

    Also, this collection of essay is very good. I teach it at the end of my political economy semesters full of statist dirge for a nice jolt of reality:


  2. […] no libertarian myself. Their worldview is a bit too simplistic – rather like the Bohr atomic model – and equally surpassable by […]

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