Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. –H.L. Mencken

Conservatism: An Inconsistent Ideology

democracy-the-god-that-failedI’ve just finished reading Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s book Democracy: The God That Failed.  I’m not going to write a full review of it as I don’t think I could do it justice.  I’ll just say that it is an incredible book, filled with lots of thought-provoking history and analysis of politics, and of democracy and monarchy specifically.

The footnotes alone, some of which consume 90% of the page, are worth the price of the book.  They are as enjoyable and engaging to read as the actual chapters are, and contain so many references to other books, magazines, and papers that it would take one quite literally years to plow through them all.

One of my favorite parts is in chapter 10, On Conservatism and Libertarianism, where Hoppe analyzes and identifies Pat Buchanan as a statist, and more specifically a national socialist.  Priceless.

But in lieu of a full review, I do want to highlight a couple of points that Hoppe raises in chapter 11, On the Errors of Classical Liberalism and the Future of Liberty.  He doesn’t link them together, but I think they are complementary.

Hoppe quite effectively takes on liberalism’s inconsistency when it comes to the premise that government is required to achieve its ends.  I would like to tackle the conservatives as well and show that they are equally inconsistent.

When talking about the need for the state to have a judicial monopoly in order to produce justice, Hoppe says:

Once it is incorrectly accepted that in order to protect and enforce peaceful cooperation between two individuals A and B, it is justified and necessary to have a judicial monopolist X, a twofold conclusion follows.  If more than one territorial monopolist exists, X, Y, and Z, then, just as there can presumably be no peace among A and B without X, so can there be no peace between the monopolists X, Y, and Z as long as they remain in a “state of anarchy” with each other.  Hence, in order to fulfill the liberal desideratum of universal and eternal peace, all the political centralization and unification, and ultimately the establishment of a single world government, is justified and necessary.

One is not required to accept the initial premise regarding the judicial monopolist, which both modern liberals and conservatives uphold, in order to follow this logic.

While most modern liberals would have no problem following this line of thinking to its logical conclusion, i.e. one world government, conservatives bristle against the idea.  It is, however, the liberals who are consistent.  To say that A and B must be subject to X’s judicial monopoly but that further and further consolidation of power is wrong is totally arbitrary and inconsistent.

Yet this is what one gets from conservatives, the idea that larger and more consolidated government is bad (despite evidence to the contrary that they are fine with it as long as they get to be in control of said government) but the already super-massive state which reigns over their particular land mass with lines around it is just the right size.

The related point concerning conservative inconsistency is found at the end of this same chapter, where Hoppe discusses the right of secession.

Ask a conservative if the thirteen colonies had the right to secede from England and you’ll almost certainly get an agreement.  Ask further if an single state or part of a state, like Texas or northern California, has the right to secede from the US government and you will probably still get some, if not a majority, to agree.

But ask finally if that doesn’t mean that you as an individual should have the right to secede and you’ll be laughed at and ridiculed as some type of crazy person for even suggesting it.

Hoppe’s final footnote in chapter 11 is helpful here:

Interestingly, just as Jefferson and the American Declaration of Independence consider secession from a government’s jurisdiction a basic human right, so Ludwig von Mises, the twentieth-century’s foremost champion of liberalism, has been an outspoken proponent of the right to secede as implied in the most fundamental human right to self-determination.  Thus he writes:

The right of self-determination in regard to the question of membership in a state thus means: whenever the inhabitants of a particular territory, whether it be a single village, a whole district, or a series of adjacent districts, make it known, by freely conducted plebiscite, that they no longer wish to remain united to a state…their wishes are to be respected and complied with.  This is the only feasible and effective way of preventing revolutions and civil and international wars…If it were in any way possible to grant this right of self-determination to every individual, it would have to be done. (Mises, Liberalism, pp. 109-10)

Essentially, with this statement Mises has already crossed the line separating classical liberalism and Rothbard’s private property anarchism; for a government allowing unlimited secession is of course no longer a compulsory monopolist of law and order but a voluntary association.  Thus notes Rothbard with regard to Mises’ pronouncement, “[o]nce admit any right of secession whatever, and there is no logical stopping-point short of the right of individual secession, which logically entails anarchism, since then individuals may secede and patronize their own defense agencies, and the State has crumbled.” (The Ethics of Liberty, p.182)…

Here we see another aspect of the conservative inconsistency: the admission that certain types of secession (i.e. ones that they agree with) are OK, but anything else is not.

In the end, it should come as no surprise that both conservatism and liberalism are inconsistent.  Both are statism and statism is inherently inconsistent.

As Rothbard points out, the state would crumble without its inconsistency as no state could tell its subjects, as they all do regarding theft and violence:

“Do as I say, not as I do.”

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