A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism
by Hans-Hermann Hoppe

This is an excellent book. All of its conclusions are libertarian and I agree with them. It contains many brilliant insights. However, Hoppe sometimes jumps to conclusions too fast. He leaves out steps in the proofs, fails to deal with some of the more obvious objections to his arguments, or uses a line of argument that "proves" things that aren't true.

One of Hoppe's key arguments is that the libertarian property-rights ethic is implicit in the act of arguing for any theory. This may be true, but Hoppe does not provide enough of an argument to explicitly prove it. If a person states an argument in support of a theory, the person must use his body to make the statement. Therefore, according to Hoppe, the person must have the exclusive property right to his own body. Getting to this conclusion requires a small leap over a couple alternatives, but few people would deny that they have a right to use their own bodies anyway. (One alternative is that nothing is right or wrong, so when a person defends the theory that he can do anything he wants, it is not self-contradictory for the person to use his body in the process. Another alternative is that people have partial property rights to their own bodies and that one of the activities that are within their rights is the right to express themselves. A person could be in chains and still be able to argue that he has the right to speak.)

Another problem with Hoppe's argument is that it could serve as a model for other arguments that prove untrue things. For example, if a person states an argument in support of a theory, the person must use a language of some kind to express the argument. Therefore, ... what? The person must have the exclusive property right to that language? A person stating an argument must be occupying space. Therefore, ... the person has the exclusive property right to occupy that space and the land beneath his feet? If so, one could become a land baron simply by walking around spouting arguments. Yet Hoppe expressly denies that private property can be obtained simply by declaration.

At times he seems to be saying that socialism is impossible. If it is impossible, why is he so worried about it?

Another problem with Hoppe's theory is that he tends to equate socialism with all forms of statism. Historically, socialism is a recent development. To combat all forms of statism, which Hoppe wants to do, requires arguments against feudalism, monarchy, aristocratic government, and all other forms of government besides the various forms of socialism. So the book tends to vacillate between attacks on socialism properly defined and attacks on statism in general labeled as attacks on socialism.

His argument for the moral relevance of prior claims versus claims of future generations (pages 142-144) is persuasive.

Year Read: 1989


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