How to Fight the Modern State
By Hans-Hermann Hoppe Mises.org August 17, 2013
In this 1997 speech by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, now available as an ebook from the Mises Institute under the title What Must Be Done, Hoppe presents a plan of action for anarcho-capitalists against the modern state.
Hoppe begins by examining the nature of the state as “a monopolist of defense and the provision and enforcement of law and order.” Like all state-mandated monopolies, the monopoly of law enforcement also leads to higher prices and lower quality of services. Why is this state of affairs tolerated? The modern democratic states, much more than the monarchies and princely estates of old, are seen as moral and necessary despite ample evidence to the contrary.
In this initial analysis, we find much of what Hoppe eventually expanded into his 2001 book Democracy: The God that Failed, which systematically dismantled modern arguments in favor of the democratic state.
In the final portion of his speech, Hoppe turns to discussing how a modern partisan of liberty might act to counter the march of centralization and the destruction of property, culture, learning, and natural social hierarchies. A Bottom-Up Revolution At last to the detailed explanation of the meaning of this bottom-up revolutionary strategy. For this, let me turn to my earlier remarks about the defensive use of democracy, that is, the use of democratic means for non-democratic, libertarian pro-private property ends. Two preliminary insights I have already reached here.
First, from the impossibility of a top-down strategy, it follows that one should expend little or no energy, time, and money on nationwide political contests, such as presidential elections. And also not on contests for central government, in particular, less effort on senatorial races than on house races, for instance.
Second, from the insight into the role of intellectuals, in the preservation of the current system, the current protection racket, it follows that one should likewise expend little or no energy, time, or money trying to reform education and academia from the inside. By endowing free enterprise or private property chairs within the established university system, for instance, one only helps to lend legitimacy to the very idea that one wishes to oppose. The official education and research institutions must be systematically defunded and dried up. And to do so all support of intellectual work, as an essential task of this overall task in front of us, should of course be given to institutions and centers determined to do precisely this.
The reasons for both of these pieces of advice are straightforward: Neither the population as a whole nor all educators and intellectuals in particular are ideologically completely homogeneous. And even if it is impossible to win a majority for a decidedly anti-democratic platform on a nationwide scale, there appears to be no insurmountable difficulty in winning such a majority in sufficiently small districts, and for local or regional functions within the overall democratic government structure. In fact, there seems to be nothing unrealistic in assuming that such majorities exist at thousands of locations. That is, locations dispersed all over the country but not evenly dispersed. Likewise, even though the intellectual class must be by and large regarded as natural enemies of justice and protection, there exists at various locations isolated anti-intellectual intellectuals, and as the Mises Institute proves, it is very well possible to assemble these isolated figures around an intellectual center, and give them unity and strength, and a national or even an international audience.
But what then? Everything else falls almost automatically from the ultimate goal, which must be kept permanently in mind, in all of one’s activities: the restoration from the bottom-up of private property and the right to property protection; the right to self-defense, to exclude or include, and to freedom of contract. And the answer can be broken down into two parts.
First, what to do within these very small districts, where a pro-private property candidate and anti-majoritarian personality can win. And second, how to deal with the higher levels of government, and especially with the central federal government. First, as an initial step, and I’m referring now to what should be done on the local level, the first central plank of one’s platform should be: one must attempt to restrict the right to vote on local taxes, in particular on property taxes and regulations, to property and real estate owners. Only property owners must be permitted to vote, and their vote is not equal, but in accordance with the value of the equity owned, and the amount of taxes paid. That is, similar to what Lew Rockwell already explained has happened in some places in California.
Further, all public employees—teachers, judges, policemen—and all welfare recipients, must be excluded from voting on local taxes and local regulation matters. These people are being paid out of taxes and should have no say whatsoever how high these taxes are. With this platform one cannot of course win everywhere; you cannot win in Washington, D.C. with a platform like this. but I dare say that in many locations this can be easily done. The locations have to be small enough and have to have a good number of decent people.
Consequently, local taxes and rates as well as local tax revenue will inevitably decrease. Property values and most local incomes would increase whereas the number and payment of public employees would fall. Now, and this is the most decisive step, the following thing must be done, and always keep in mind that I am talking about very small territorial districts, villages.
In this government funding crisis which breaks out once the right to vote has been taken away from the mob, as a way out of this crisis, all local government assets must be privatized. An inventory of all public buildings, and on the local level that is not that much—schools, fire, police station, courthouses, roads, and so forth—and then property shares or stock should be distributed to the local private property owners in accordance with the total lifetime amount of taxes—property taxes—that these people have paid. After all, it is theirs, they paid for these things.
These shares should be freely tradeable, sold and bought, and with this local government would essentially be abolished. If it were not for the continued existence of higher superior levels of government, this village or city would now be a free or liberated territory. What would consequently happen to education and more importantly, what would happen to property protection and justice?
On the small local level, we can be as certain, or even more so than we could have been one hundred years ago about what would have happened if the king abdicated, that what would happen is roughly this: all material resources that were previously devoted to these functions—schools, police stations, courthouses—still exist, and so does the manpower. The only difference is that they are now privately owned, or temporarily unemployed in the case of public employees. Under the realistic assumption that there continues to be a local demand for education and protection and justice, the schools, police stations, and courthouses will be still used for the very same purposes. And many former teachers, policemen and judges would be rehired or resume their former position on their own account as self-employed individuals, except that they would be operated or employed by local “bigshots” or elites who own these things, all of whom are personally known figures. Either as for-profit enterprises, or as, and what seems to be more likely, some mixture of charitable and economic organization. Local “bigshots” frequently provide public goods out of their own private pocket; and they obviously have the greatest interest in the preservation of local justice and peace.
And this is all easy enough to see to work for schools and policemen, but what about judges and justice? Recall that the root of all evil is compulsory monopolization of justice, that is one person says this is right. Accordingly judges must be freely financed, and free entry into judgeship positions must be assured. Judges are not elected by vote, but chosen by the effective demand of justice seekers. Also don’t forget that on the small local level under consideration, one is talking actually about a demand for one or very few judges only. Whether this or these judges are then employed by the private courthouse association or stock company, or are self-employed individuals who rent these facilities or offices, it should be clear that only a handful of local people, and only widely known and respected local personalities—that is, members of the natural local elite—would have any chance whatsoever of being so selected as judges of local peace.
Only as members of the natural elite will their decision possess any authority and become enforceable. And if they come up with judgments that are considered to be ridiculous, they will be immediately displaced by other local authorities that are more respectable. If you proceed along these lines on the local level, of course it cannot be avoided that one will come into direct conflict with the upper and especially the federal level of government power. How to deal with this problem? Wouldn’t the federales simply crush any such attempt?
They would surely like to, but whether or not they can actually do so is an entirely different question, and to recognize this, it is only necessary to recognize that the members of the governmental apparatus always represent, even under conditions of democracy, merely a teeny proportion of the total population. And even smaller is the proportion of central government employees.
This implies that a central government cannot possibly enforce its legislative will, or perverted law, upon the entire population unless it finds widespread local support and cooperation in doing so. This becomes particularly obvious if one imagines a large number of free cities or villages as I described them before. It is practically impossible, manpower-wise, as well as from a public relations standpoint, to take over thousands of territorially widely dispersed localities and impose direct federal rule on them.
Without local enforcement, by compliant local authorities, the will of the central government is not much more than hot air. Yet this local support and cooperation is precisely what needs to be missing. To be sure, so long as the number of liberated communities is still small, matters seem to be somewhat dangerous. However, even during this initial phase in the liberation struggle, one can be quite confident.
It would appear to be prudent during this phase to avoid a direct confrontation with the central government and not openly denounce its authority or even abjure the realm. Rather, it seems advisable to engage in a policy of passive resistance and non-cooperation. One simply stops to help in the enforcement in each and every federal law. One assumes the following attitude: “Such are your rules, and you enforce them. I cannot hinder you, but I will not help you either, as my only obligation is to my local constituents.”
Consistently applied, no cooperation, no assistance whatsoever on any level, the central government’s power would be severely diminished or even evaporate. And in light of the general public opinion, it would appear highly unlikely that the federal government would dare to occupy a territory whose inhabitants did nothing else than trying to mind their own business. Waco, a teeny group of freaks, is one thing. But to occupy, or to wipe out a significantly large group of normal, accomplished, upstanding citizens is quite another, and quite a more difficult thing.
Once the number of implicitly seceded territories has reached a critical mass, and every success in one little location promotes and feeds on the next one, it will become inevitably further radicalized to a nationwide, municipalization movement, with explicitly secessionist local policies and openly and contemptuously displayed non-compliance with federal authority.
And it is in this situation then, when the central government will be forced to abdicate its protection monopoly and the relationship between the local authorities that reemerge and the central authorities, who are about to lose their power, can be put on a purely contractual level, and one might regain the power to defend one’s own property again.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe is an Austrian school economist and libertarian/anarcho-capitalist philosopher. He is the founder and president of The Property and Freedom Society.