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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5979/imperialism-and-the-logic-of-war-making/

Imperialism and the Logic of War Making

December 6, 2006 by

Commentaries on war stretching back more than two millennia to the Peloponnesian Wars have enshrouded the fundamental causes of war in an almost impenetrable fog of myths, fallacies, and outright lies. In most studies, war is generally portrayed as the inevitable outcome of either complex historical forces or accidental circumstances generally beyond the understanding or control of the human combatants. Fortunately, there exists a science of human action that is applicable to all purposeful activities. This science is referred to as “praxeology.” Although economics is its most developed branch, the basic principles of this science can also be applied to analyzing violent action including warfare. FULL ARTICLE

{ 68 comments }

RogerM December 6, 2006 at 9:53 am

“We thus arrive at a universal, praxeological truth about war. War is the outcome of class conflict inherent in the political relationship — the relationship between ruler and ruled, parasite and producer, tax-consumer and taxpayer. The parasitic class makes war with purpose and deliberation in order to conceal and ratchet up their exploitation of the much larger productive class.”

Here’s another example of extremely sloppy reasoning. The author starts out making weak, indefensible assumptions about the motives for war:

“All governments past and present, regardless of their formal organization, involve the rule of the many by the few.”

This is a half-truth, the most dangerous type of falsehoods. It’s true for most of history; not true under republics, not necessarily true under democracies.

“Genuine “majority rule” on a permanent basis is impossible because it would result in an economic collapse as the tribute or taxes expropriated by the more numerous rulers deprived the minority engaged in peaceful productive activities of the resources needed to sustain and reproduce itself.”

The author seems to assume that all people want to steal from their neighbors and they have no other thought in their heads. Religion and general decency restrain most people. Most democracies, but especially republics, limit the power of the state and people to use it to enrich themselves. But he also assumes that if the majority rules, it quits working and tries to live off the few productive people who are not in government. He doesn’t even consider possible the current state of affairs in the US where the majority rules (except on matters limited by the Constitution) and works at productive jobs at the same time! As large as the government is in the US, government employees don’t even come close to the majority and they don’t represent a permanent class; they rotate.

“[In] all human groups at all times there are the few who rule and the many who are ruled.”

Again, half-true. In a republic the people who rule can be changed, so they frequently rotate. There is no class of people, like the nobility of Europe, who rule perpetually.

“War has a number of advantages for the ruling class.”

Because war has advantages for a few people, the author assumes that these advantages are the only motivations for war; none others exist or at least are not worthy of considertion. He also assumes only evil motivations on the part of his so-called ruling class. He then builds his whole case against war on these false premises. You don’t need to read further because you know that any conclusions built on such shaky foundations are going to be false.

“We thus arrive at a universal, praxeological truth about war. War is the outcome of class conflict inherent in the political relationship — the relationship between ruler and ruled, parasite and producer, tax-consumer and taxpayer.”

Of course you arrive at this “truth about war” if you accept the author’s ridiculous premises. We have no permanent ruling class in the US. And I can’t tell you what the motivations of the people in power are at the time of war. Knowing people, I’m sure they’re mixed.

I love this: “The term “democratic” is here being used in the broad sense that includes “totalitarian democracies” controlled by “parties” such as the Nationalist Socialist Workers Party in Germany and the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. These political parties, as opposed to purely ideological movements, came into being during the age of nationalist mass democracy that dawned in the late nineteenth century.”

So I guess we could call any politcal party that came into being during the late 19th century democratic. The chief demonstration of a weak argument is when the author has to resort to private definitions of words. No one on the planet would accept this definition of democracy, except for a handful of anarchists. Under any common understanding of democracy, Nazism, Communism and Maoism are the opposite of democracies. But the author must have his private definition in order for his argument to work. He needs to lump the US in with the greatest criminal governments in history in order to make it look evil by association.

If anyone can define any word as he sees fit, so as to make a sloppy argument appear coherent, then here’s mine for anarchy–chaos and the rule of criminals.

jeffrey December 6, 2006 at 12:24 pm

I must say, this is one of the best articles Mises.org has ever published.

David White December 6, 2006 at 12:56 pm

RogerM:

“The author seems to assume that all people want to steal from their neighbors and they have no other thought in their heads.”

No, the author merely assumes what history has gone out of its way to prove: that the few have always dominated the many, no matter how they have rationalized their doing so.

“There is no class of people, like the nobility of Europe, who rule perpetually.”

Not in perpetuity, perhaps, but certainly over long periods of time. But in any case, the point is not that one particular class rules for any length of time but that the few always rule over the many. And to contend that majoritarianism in any way vitiates this truth is simply to fail to understand how the few use majoritarianism to suit their purposes. Who was actually “ousted” in the midterms elections, after all? Did one faction of the ruly elite not merely swap seats with the other — again — while nothing else changed?

Methinks your ignorance of history is exceeded only by the all-too-commonplace exceptionalism that you bestow on America and upon which its rulers endlessly feed. But then, not for nothing did Goethe say: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”

Francisco Torres December 6, 2006 at 1:03 pm

Roger, in a Republic as in a democracy you still have a few representatives governing over the many. It is not a half-truth; it simply does not include any romantic or adorning language.

Again, half-true. In a republic the people who rule can be changed, so they frequently rotate.

Seems naive from your part. There is not one democracy in history where the governing class was totally replaced in each election. Even in Mexico where there is no reelection of representatives, the ruling class is still the same – they simply change jobs within government.

He also assumes only evil motivations on the part of his so-called ruling class. He then builds his whole case against war on these false premises. You don’t need to read further because you know that any conclusions built on such shaky foundations are going to be false.

Roger, the motives are besides the point. It is the ACT itself that is the point of argument. The author assumes something that is true by itself: that aggressive warmaking IS evil, since it involves the taking of life and property. From this premise he can argue successfully against war.

Because war has advantages for a few people, the author assumes that these advantages are the only motivations for war; none others exist or at least are not worthy of consider[a]tion.

The author is looking at the issue from a praxeological point of view. If a person is to act (doing something rationally), he or she must find an advantage of that act over others. If a government (i.e. the ruler or rulers) are willing to go to war (as aggressors), is because they find the act to their advantage.

We have no permanent ruling class in the US.

This is besides the point – the author is not talking about a permanent ruling class. At any point, there is only a few individuals in power ruling over the many.

Under any common understanding of democracy, Nazism, Communism and Maoism are the opposite of democracies.

It would be to the advantage of your criticism to privide this “common” understanding, in order to compare it to the author’s. This would help in determining whether his definition is private, and if yours is NOT private.

RogerM December 6, 2006 at 1:08 pm

David:”But in any case, the point is not that one particular class rules for any length of time but that the few always rule over the many.”

Who makes up this mysterious ruling class in America? How do they persuade voters to cast their ballots for them? Are you saying that voting is a sham, that the ruling class fools voters into thinking they’re making a difference in government while all along the ruling classes are making the decisions? This sounds a lot like the conspiracy theories where Jews, international bankers, the Illuminati, the Council on Foreign Relations, or a number of other groups actually control the world but trick the rest of us fools into thinking we have a say in matters by letting us vote.

RogerM December 6, 2006 at 1:29 pm

Francisco:”…in a Republic as in a democracy you still have a few representatives governing over the many. It is not a half-truth; it simply does not include any romantic or adorning language.”

Unless elections in the US are a sham, then the author’s statement doesn’t apply to the US, nor to any democracy in the world.

“There is not one democracy in history where the governing class was totally replaced in each election.”

Who makes up this governing class? This is the first I’ve heard of it.

“The author is looking at the issue from a praxeological point of view. If a person is to act (doing something rationally), he or she must find an advantage of that act over others. If a government (i.e. the ruler or rulers) are willing to go to war (as aggressors), is because they find the act to their advantage.”

No doubt a person will act for his advantage, but that advantage can encompass far more than what the author suggests. That the author limits the advantage to stealing from the productive class shows nothing but his lack of imagination.

“It would be to the advantage of your criticism to privide this “common” understanding, in order to compare it to the author’s.”

Dictionaries represent the author’s attempt to discern the common understanding of words. Here’s Wikipedia’s: “Democracy (literally “rule by the people”, from the Greek δημοκρατία-demokratia demos, “people,” and kratos, “rule”) is a form of government in which all the citizens have a vote.”

Evans Munyemesha December 6, 2006 at 1:30 pm

Great exposition!

David White December 6, 2006 at 1:57 pm

RogerM:

“Who makes up this mysterious ruling class in America?”

You mean you haven’t seen them on TV?

“How do they persuade voters to cast their ballots for them?”

Beats me; must be a testament to the endless gullibility of the American people.

“Are you saying that voting is a sham, that the ruling class fools voters into thinking they’re making a difference in government while all along the ruling classes are making the decisions?”

But of course. As freedom fighter Emma Goldman famously said, “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”

quasi-Austrian December 6, 2006 at 3:00 pm

The Austrians’ (considerable) skill and insight seems to break down when they venture outside of economics.

It saddened me to read Rothbard’s ham-handed attempt to establish the axiom of “human action” early in Man, Economy, and State (the book got profoundly better when it moved to his natural domain: economics… and I’ll include liberty and defense in Rothbard’s domain, but not epistemology) – how does the ability/inability to conceive of something (or it’s absence) contribute to it’s proof/disproof… (and why won’t you people just leave it as an axiom, or even analyze what makes it an axiom and exactly what the assumption involves… i.e. what you’re leaving out)

Mises seemed more skilled with epistemology, but it troubled me greatly to read Mises’s ad hominem psycho-analysis of Marx.

I think the problem is that you (proponents of the Austrian school in general) have your conclusions before you begin, and then concoct theory to get from point A to point B (when dealing outside economics, where you don’t have the shoulders of giants to stand upon).

btw, I don’t agree with RogerM above, but the article was too easy to pick apart.

The quality of the anti-copyright ‘articles’ (if you can call them that) is also quite poor.

As a side note… I was playing Unreal Tournament 2004 the other day… and there was a guy on named LudwigVonMises… so I renamed myself to MurrayRothbard… got in a manta (fast moving hover vehicle)… and squashed him… he was amused… got a “lol”. :-)

RogerM December 6, 2006 at 3:42 pm

David:”You mean you haven’t seen them on TV?”

May have. I’m not sure. Are they the Jews, UFO’s, or the Knights Templar?

Brian Drum December 6, 2006 at 4:02 pm

May have. I’m not sure. Are they the Jews, UFO’s, or the Knights Templar?

Have you never seen a politician or bureaucrat or state-funded ‘expert’ on TV? That’s your ruling class right there.

tarran December 6, 2006 at 4:20 pm

I think Roger is confused, because he assumes that to enter the ruling class, one must be born into it.

In the U.S. nearly anyone can join the ruling class. It requires only a bit of luck and hitting the ritght entry point for example interning with a politician, amassing influence through business acumen or being an entertainer.

Despite the relative ease of joining it, it still is, in effect, a class of rulers who dominate a larger number. Inevitably a few people must decide how to use the resources siezed by the state. There can only be one president, only 535 members of Congress, etc.

Of course, these people will use these resources as they personally judge to be best. This will inevitably not jibe with the desires of those from whom these resources were taken.

End result, the few rule the many.

RogerM December 6, 2006 at 4:36 pm

tarran: “Of course, these people will use these resources as they personally judge to be best. This will inevitably not jibe with the desires of those from whom these resources were taken.”

OK, so you’re saying that anyone in a government office or job is in the ruling class. But how do the get those positions? The 535 in Congress and the President have to persuade voters to vote for them. And as the last election showed, the voters can fire them, too. Voters fire them when their elected servants don’t do what the majority thinks they should do. So to equate our “ruling classes” with those of the USSR, China, or Rome is simply dishonest.

I doubt any anarchist would be so cynical as to believe that those who want to be in the ruling class don’t have to appeal to voters at all. So the debate is over how much power voters have to throw out bad public servants.

Still, everyone in a government position isn’t evil. Most are decent people trying to do the right thing. Even the few bad one find themselves constrained by principle, religion, public opinion, desire to be re-elected, peer pressure and the law.

For anarchists to claim that all people in all government positions are there only to loot and start wars to hide their theft is ridiculous!

Francisco Torres December 6, 2006 at 5:55 pm

Unless elections in the US are a sham, then the author’s statement doesn’t apply to the US, nor to any democracy in the world.

What does the alledged legality of an election have to do with the fact that only a few people rule? People do not vote in order to rule themselves, they vote in order to empower a few to rule them.

No doubt a person will act for his advantage, but that advantage can encompass far more than what the author suggests.

For instance?

That the author limits the advantage to stealing from the productive class shows nothing but his lack of imagination.

The author is not limiting anything, he is making a logical deduction. If the final result from an act is that people lose their property and the ruling class possesses that property, and if the rulers acted rationally, then one cannot conclude that there existed a greater advantage in doing something else besides taking that property.

Still, everyone in a government position isn’t evil. Most are decent people trying to do the right thing.

Ah, the “They are simply too decent to…” fallacy.

“By their acts they should be judged”. If they try to do the “right thing” with stolen money, they are no better than thieves. I cannot know nor assume if people in government jobs are decent or undecent – I can only judge by the results, and the net result is that my money gets stolen while I receive poor products in return.

quincunx December 6, 2006 at 6:05 pm

@ RogerM

“This is a half-truth, the most dangerous type of falsehoods. It’s true for most of history; not true under republics, not necessarily true under democracies.”

You are syaing that because people get some choices in picking who the ruling minority is, therefore there is no ruling minority. Huh?

“The author seems to assume that all people want to steal from their neighbors and they have no other thought in their heads.”

No, some people want others to steal from their neighbors on their behalf. Actually doing it is a dirty job. The easiest way to steal from your neighbors is obviously to prevent good things from coming to them: raise tariffs, print more paper tickets, create legal monopolies, etc. They’ll never know what isn’t coming!

“Most democracies, but especially republics, limit the power of the state and people to use it to enrich themselves.”

Really? Which ones?

Switzerland may be the best example, but it too has grown.

“We have no permanent ruling class in the US. And I can’t tell you what the motivations of the people in power are at the time of war. Knowing people, I’m sure they’re mixed.”

The ruling class is not just those that sit in the bureaucracy, it is also the corporations that sponsor the bureaucrats. I think they are even more important.

George Gaskell December 6, 2006 at 7:23 pm

Most democracies, but especially republics, limit the power of the state and people to use it to enrich themselves.

Of all the errors and fallacies in your arguments, Roger, this is one of the more glaring ones.

About 95% of what our federal government does today is blatantly unconstitutional. It seized these extra powers during periods of crisis, most notably the War of Southern Independence, the so-called Progressive era (under Roosevelt and Wilson), and the Great Depression.

The ultimate insult is that the federal government created each of these crises before using the harm that flowed from them to seize power.

The limits on power in which you place so much faith are illusory.

Also, on the topic of a temporary, rotating ruling class, I highly recommend Hoppe’s Democracy, the God that Failed. It explains how rulers who occupy a position of power for a limited term are actually more predatory on the populace compared to hereditary aristocrats. Monarchs take a more long-term view of exploitation, whereas democratic governments take what they can while they can. Democracy was a step backward for the cause of freedom.

Sam December 6, 2006 at 11:26 pm

What about the part in Joseph Samelo’s article where he absolves the crimes of the many to the few leaders? Why should the soldiers go free whilst the officers get jailed? Are we naive to believe that Hilter coerced and hypnotised the Germans to become Nazis? Isn’t the real situation one of the everyday person joining the conflict so that they too could hope to share in the plunder? Wasn’t murder, rape and pillage the footman’s reward for his participation of which many were quite eager to join up and enjoy. To suggest ALL ordinary folk don’t automatically want war and only the leaders do could just as well come from any Liberal or Marxist commentator.

I think Eric Cartman, that fat kid from South Park, and Homer said it best:

“If you had a chance to go back in time and stop Hitler wouldn’t you do it? . . . I mean I personally wouldn’t cause I thought he was awesome.” – Eric.

“It takes two to lie. One to lie and one to listen.” – Homer.

PS that’s Homer Simpson not the ancient Greek guy! ;D

Tim December 7, 2006 at 2:13 am

An excellent article. Unfortunately the Joseph Schumpeter quotation lacks citations. Does anyone know where Dr Salerno sourced this quote?

M E Hoffer December 7, 2006 at 5:07 am

“Also, on the topic of a temporary, rotating ruling class, I highly recommend Hoppe’s Democracy, the God that Failed. It explains how rulers who occupy a position of power for a limited term are actually more predatory on the populace compared to hereditary aristocrats. Monarchs take a more long-term view of exploitation,…”

Yes. The ‘short-term’ owner, of the Cow, is more likely to walk off with the Hide, than just a Quart of Milk.

adi December 7, 2006 at 5:42 am

What if the monarchs time-preference is so high that he tries to consume all wealth in the country as quickly as possible? :)

Old saying: “There might as well be Great Flood after I’m gone”

Didn’t Hoppe himself said something about how certain sexual minorities have so high time preference that they practise many dangerous activities?

gene berman December 7, 2006 at 6:19 am

I can’t understand what objection the anarchistically-inclined have to the (real, observable) phenomenon that those ruling are always few in relation to those ruled. The simple process of increasing specialization of function would bring about such a result in any case.

Whether fortunate or not, we have not much in the way of ongoing, observable examples of significantly numerous human groups existing without some method for establishing just who would constitute that small number (of rulers).
I’m no anthropologist but it seems that the aborigines of Australia might be close to the anarchist ideal. And, in fairness, we should also admit that they never–even once (that we know of) launched a war designed to rape, pillage, and bring under their dominion those of a foreign land.

The arguments of Roger M. are correct; all attempts at refutation, though consisting of factual statements, make no more point than that present systems are flawed in one way or another. These continually beg both questions: “Is there a better way?” and “How is the better way to be brought into existence?” Without reasonable answers to both those questions, reasonable (which is to say most) people will remain unconvinced. And, what is more, they will tend toward association of more liberal (and libertarian) policies and recommendations with descent into lawlessness and the war of all against all. In this wise, they do not serve the cause they espouse but merely insure positions within a marginalized “kook” fringe.

It’s working. References (to Mises.org) I see elsewhere on the web are almost exclusively directed to its anarchistic radical libertarian views rather than to any economic knowledge propounded by Mises himself.

M E Hoffer December 7, 2006 at 7:18 am

“some people want others to steal from their neighbors on their behalf. Actually doing it is a dirty job. The easiest way to steal from your neighbors is obviously to prevent good things from coming to them: raise tariffs, print more paper tickets, create legal monopolies, etc. They’ll never know what isn’t coming!” –quincunx

+

“About 95% of what our federal government does today is blatantly unconstitutional. It seized these extra powers during periods of crisis, most notably the War of Southern Independence, the so-called Progressive era (under Roosevelt and Wilson), and the Great Depression.”–GG

+

“ignorance of history…+…all-too-commonplace exceptionalism that \one bestows\ on America allows its rulers endlessly feed. But then, not for nothing did Goethe say: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”"–D White

“They’ll never know what isn’t coming!” –quincunx

2X

RogerM December 7, 2006 at 8:32 am

In my attempt to keep my posts short, I may have given the impression that the author is dishonest. What I intended to say was that some of the techniques he uses are dishonest, though he may not know it. Those techniques are commonly used in everday speech and especially in the popular media. Using private definitions–such as the anarchist one for democracy– is one is just one example.

I had forgotten that anarchists also have their own definition of taxes–theft. For the uninitiated, that explains why they feel free to accuse all people in government of theft. But if you look up theft in a dictionary, you won’t find taxes equated with theft. That comes from the Rothbard/Hoppe property covenant.

A more subtle technique, is to use a vague word with a lot of meanings, starting out with one meaning and switching to another without telling the reader you’re switching meanings. This article does that with the term “ruling class”. At first, the author uses it to refer to despots in the Roman Empire and pre-modern Europe. Then he applies the term to elected officials and bureaucrats in republics. Both concepts of “ruling class” are legit, because the words “class” and “ruling” have dozens of meanings. But the “ruling class” in republics is very different from the “ruling class” in despotic regimes. In the despotic regimes, the ruling class came to power through violence or heredity, was very limited in size and entry, and had no restraints on its power. In a republic, entry into the ruling class is easy, the limits are power are large, and entry requires convincing the majority of your worthiness. So the author starts out with one definition of class and switches to another when using it for republics, not telling the reader that he’s switching definitions.

Most people don’t recognize these as dishonest techniques because they’re so commonly used. The left is the worst offender, particularly with the uses of the words “justice” and “exploitation.” But these are techniques that libertarians want to avoid.

RogerM December 7, 2006 at 8:44 am

“I highly recommend Hoppe’s Democracy, the God that Failed. It explains how rulers who occupy a position of power for a limited term are actually more predatory on the populace compared to hereditary aristocrats. Monarchs take a more long-term view of exploitation…”

I’ve read Hoppe’s views on the wonders of monarchy. I think his argument has a lot of problems, but the main one is his assumption that the higher taxes under republics are inherent in the nature of democracy. In econometrics, we would call that error mispecification. In other words, when analyzing cause and effect, you want to consider as many causes as seem reasonable in order to make sure you have the right ones and you’re not leaving anything out that should be included.

Hoppe takes one cause, the fact that in democracies rulers are short-timers, and builds his whole world around it. He should consider other legit causes, such as the rise of the popularity of socialism and social engineering. He would also need to compare apples with apples. For example, compare monarchies/dictatorships in the 19th century with democracies/republics in the 19th century. That would factor out the social changes common to both. Instead, he compares monarchies of the 17th and 18th centuries with democracies of the 19th and 20th centuries, leading the reader to believe that nothing had changed between those centuries but the type of government.

Francisco Torres December 7, 2006 at 9:35 am

I had forgotten that anarchists also have their own definition of taxes–theft.

This is ludicrous. What do you call the act of coercively taking someone’s property? Loving?

It is not the anarchists’ “own” definition. Tax as theft has been the underlying reason for many uprisings, and not precisely anarchist uprisings.

In the despotic regimes, the ruling class came to power through violence or heredity, was very limited in size and entry, and had no restraints on its power. In a republic, entry into the ruling class is easy, the limits are power are large, and entry requires convincing the majority of your worthiness. So the author starts out with one definition of class and switches to another when using it for republics, not telling the reader that he’s switching definitions.

The reason is because they are not definitions, just variations of the same result: SOMEONE rules, over MANY. Whether the ruler has all the power or has the aquiescence of a majority, both will show that warmaking endeavours appeal to them equally, as the author (and history) has demonstrated.

Guy December 7, 2006 at 9:36 am

Enjoying your article — not finished. There is a new little website, with a little chit chat section, called praxeology.org just getting cranked up. I think they’re about a week old. The URL is http://www.praxeorium.allscience.org/. I don’t know where they are or who they are. I stumbled across them by a Google Alert for the word praxeology. They seem very very interested in praxeology.

I have wondered about your first quote of Rothbard’s for years and a similar one by Mises.

George Gaskell December 7, 2006 at 10:32 am

A more subtle technique, is to use a vague word with a lot of meanings, starting out with one meaning and switching to another without telling the reader you’re switching meanings. This article does that with the term “ruling class”. At first, the author uses it to refer to despots in the Roman Empire and pre-modern Europe. Then he applies the term to elected officials and bureaucrats in republics. Both concepts of “ruling class” are legit, because the words “class” and “ruling” have dozens of meanings. But the “ruling class” in republics is very different from the “ruling class” in despotic regimes. In the despotic regimes, the ruling class came to power through violence or heredity, was very limited in size and entry, and had no restraints on its power. In a republic, entry into the ruling class is easy, the limits are power are large, and entry requires convincing the majority of your worthiness. So the author starts out with one definition of class and switches to another when using it for republics, not telling the reader that he’s switching definitions.

This is not a change in definitions of terms.

You simply disagree with the use of terms that have been employed to criticize hereditary governments (of which you disapprove) to apply to democratic or republican governments (of which you approve).

Using the same terms paints them in the same light. It points out the similarities, whereas you want to emphasize the differences.

This is not dishonest, nor does it involve a change in the definitions of terms. In plain, literal terms, the ancient Roman imperial government AND the modern American republican bureaucratic democracy consist of minority ruling classes.

Even if it makes you feel better to argue that one form of minority ruling class is somehow more or less legitimate than some other form of minority ruling class, the simple fact is that they are both minority ruling classes.

George Gaskell December 7, 2006 at 10:38 am

In keeping with the discussion about Hoppe’s thesis, I also highly recommend this article about the change in the economic lives of the people of England during the Stuart period, which includes the execution of the monarch, the republican period, and the Restoration of the monarchy (albeit in an altered form).

I think this fact sums up the author’s main point:

By contrast, once Parliament assumed the dominant role in government, taxes jumped to record levels.

RogerM December 7, 2006 at 11:07 am

George:”This is not a change in definitions of terms. Using the same terms paints them in the same light. It points out the similarities, whereas you want to emphasize the differences.”

Yes, it is a change in definitions. No honest person can tell me that no differences at all exist between the ruling class of despots and the ruling class in a republic. The real question is whether or not those differences are large enough to disregard.

Francisco claims they’re not, saying it’s still a situation of the few ruling the many. But the dictionary definition of a republic is rule by the majority of the population except for those issues covered by the constitution and law. Essentially, a republic is rule by law. The so-called ruling class in a republic is the hired servants of the rulers, which are the voting citizens.

I maintain that the differences are so huge as to make attempts to conflate them under the same term, “ruling class”, dishonest. Much of the author’s reasoning requirs such a conflation.

RogerM December 7, 2006 at 11:28 am

George,
The article you linked to is interesting. But it introduces another problem I have with Hoppe’s reasoning. The author writes “Hoppe argues that because the monarch is the government’s owner, his incentives are those of an owner, and he will tend not to try to maximize his current income at the expense of the capital value of his assets…By contrast, because officials in a democracy are caretakers and not owners, they control only the current use of the state, not its capital value.”

Hoppe assumes economic rationalism on the part of the monarch. But we know that most of the nobility and monarchs did not act rationally on economic matters. Conspicuous consumption was required by social customs, and as a result, monarchs and nobility regularly bankrupted themselves. Also, they resisted investing in new farming/manufacturing techniques because such investment would delay consumption until the investment began to pay off.

All other things being equal, ownership by the monarch should provide better management of resources than the stewardship of a parliament. But we know that all other consideration do not remain equal in the change. And those other things change the dynamics to the point that ownership versus stewardship no longer matter as much as the multitude of other things.

George Gaskell December 7, 2006 at 1:19 pm

But the dictionary definition of a republic is rule by the majority of the population except for those issues covered by the constitution and law. Essentially, a republic is rule by law. The so-called ruling class in a republic is the hired servants of the rulers, which are the voting citizens.

This is just metaphor and propaganda.

A “hired servant,” according to the ordinary meaning of the term, is someone who actually does what I say. A democratic government agent is at least two or three steps away from actually being a genuine hired servant.

What happens when government actors disregard their documented limits? You cannot honestly say that the US government we live under today actually resembles the one spelled out in the text of the Constitution. If they exercise power that no one has given them, which no one even had the authority to give to them, then what are they? Criminals! What is the difference between some person who engages in acts of violence beyond the scope of his authority and someone who engages in acts of violence for personal profit? His good intentions? Where is the “law” that is supposed to “rule” these unconstitutional actions?

I cannot understand how you can purport to defend democratic government using such metaphorical conceits as “hired servants” while at the same time objecting to plain, literal descriptions of government agents as a “minority ruling class.”

“Minority ruling class” is at least objectively, factually, literally true, even if you dispute the moral significance of that term. “Hired servants” and “rule of law by republican government” are just propaganda tools used to justify the aggressive behavior of government actors, and in most cases, are just fantasies.

RogerM December 7, 2006 at 2:48 pm

George:”What happens when government actors disregard their documented limits?”

We fire them! That shows that the voters rule, not the elected officials or bureaucrats.

quincunx December 7, 2006 at 4:04 pm

Oh come on, Roger, how often does that really happen?

We still have not managed to get King George dethroned, even though he has violated 700+ (IIRC) federal laws.

And what happens when the documented limits are tossed aside by our monopoly courts?

Seriously, you’ve been commmenting here for a while, why are you still harboring delusions as to how politics actually works?

Paul Edwards December 7, 2006 at 6:12 pm

George:”What happens when government actors disregard their documented limits?”

Roger: “We fire them! That shows that the voters rule, not the elected officials or bureaucrats.”

Roger. Such a comment is amazing. If an unpopular policy or constitutional infraction gets implemented, enough for a few politicians to loose their seats will their replacements immediately and vigorously agitate to have the unpopular legislation reversed? Rarely. Over the long haul, things are not reversed; they progress on their way, one politician after another.

This is how we came to have such things as increasing federal income taxation, inflation, military aggression, government debt, removal of local state legislature control over the senate, and federal courts ruling on abortion.

The view that the two parties are substantially different in philosophy has been seriously mistaken since before the 1900′s. You may take pleasure in seeing a bum thrown out of office. But surely you realize that it is simply another bum who replaces him; a bum with very similar perspectives and interests as the one he replaces, and which seldom are in alignment with those of constituents’.

Mark Brabson December 7, 2006 at 6:32 pm

Actually, the parties are different in philosophy and ideology, the problem is both of them are bad.

The Republicans are the Mercantilists. That means aggressive subsidies and anti-market interferences and of course aggressive foreign interventions. The only difference between the modern Republicans and their Federalist/Whig/early Republican forbears is that they have eschewed protective tariffs in favor of structured trade arrangements (i.e. NAFTA, ad naseum).

The Democrats are the Socialists. They prefer to use the term “Progressive” but we all know that “Progressive” = “Socialist”. That means regulatory schemes, wage and price controls and blantantly socialist programs such as Social Security. They soon intend to create a fully socialist medical system.

So they are NOT the same. Both very bad, just in different ways. The only political party that represents true free market capitalism is the L.P. and they are not likely to gain power anytime soon, if ever.

Sam December 7, 2006 at 6:42 pm

What stumps me is the way Libertarians seem, in the choice between Dictatorship and Democracy, to suggest that Dictatorship is more preferable.

Would they suggest that the average person has it better in China than the USA? Do they suppose the average person in Medieval times had more choice and freedom than now?

It would make me cringe to think that would-be Dictators could use Libertarian arguments to discredit and demolish Democracy. For Liberations to want to discredit democratic values because it isn’t quaintly libertarian is to cause people to presume that there are really two types of societies: Dictatorship and Self-Rule.

And where is there any proof of a complex Self-Rule society for the modern world? How would it look any different from a great many tiny-property-owning dictatorships with private sovereignty and duty to self-arm against the other tiny dictatorships who might be tempted to start imperialist aims.

So far Libertarian ideas towards Self-Rule if put into practice would only allow for a quaint psuedo-medieval style of living. I’m sure most people would like to live in modern technology era.

After all Dictators who may be concerned about the long-term interests of their own nation, don’t usually care much for the interests of other nations and are quite open to imperialist aims if it enhances their nation. To complain that Democracies are open to imperialism too, would suggest we should all revert to Monarchies and Dictatorship for honesty’s sake and then start to talk of a perfect Self-Rule society?

averros December 7, 2006 at 7:23 pm

Sam – monarchy is not dictatorship. Libertarians never ever said anything in defense of dictatorship – and of the monarchy they only say that it was better than democracy, on average, not that it is the best possible system. (In fact, the unifying view of both anarchist and minarchist fractions of libertarianism is that the best system is polity, in Aristotelian classification of forms of the government).

The current misunderstanding of the nature of monarchy is caused by the century of systematic socialist propaganda (the socialists being so afraid of the monarchies past that they still spew outright lies and very selective presentations of the history – concentrating on anecodtes about excesses rather than mundane things which affected plain people much more than the glorious wars and court intrigues – like, real tax rates and such).

Like any democratic government, a monarch can only rule as long as subjects respect him. The history is full of deposed kings. And, unlike the democratic rules – subjects of monarchies are keenly aware that the ruler has its own interests, different from the interests of his subjects. So the kings had to tread very carefully, if they wanted to keep their heads on their shoulders.

You may want to reflect on the meaning of the famous quip by Montesquieu that the honour is the principle of monarchy.

Paul Edwards December 7, 2006 at 7:31 pm

Mark,

“Actually, the parties are different in philosophy and ideology, the problem is both of them are bad.”

I think you have somewhat of a point, in that the rhetoric of the two parties can sometimes be different and along the lines of what you are saying. Their actions: I’m not convinced. Not that I think it’s a crucial point, but I’ll just point out a few reasons why I disagree with you.

“The Republicans are the Mercantilists. That means aggressive subsidies and anti-market interferences and of course aggressive foreign interventions.”

FDR and LBJ were both key democrats who both favored aggressive foreign military intervention. Today, Hillary Clinton is considered a war Hawk and a potential democratic presidential candidate. I am unaware that democrats have a strong and reliable track record of rescinding subsidies and market interventions, and it would surprise me if this were the case.

“The only difference between the modern Republicans and their Federalist/Whig/early Republican forbears is that they have eschewed protective tariffs in favor of structured trade arrangements (i.e. NAFTA, ad naseum).”

But did the Whigs have a “no child left behind” slogan? I think the republicans have a strong streak of egalitarian social democratic socialists amongst themselves as well.

“The Democrats are the Socialists.”

Yes, they are.

“They prefer to use the term “Progressive” but we all know that “Progressive” = “Socialist”. That means regulatory schemes,”

Didn’t you say it was the republicans that tend to enact the “anti-market interferences”? But never-mind; I agree with you on both counts.

“wage and price controls”

That was one great republican Nixonian implementation wasn’t it? (http://mises.org/daily/1875 )

“and blantantly socialist programs such as Social Security.”

But what is the current republican/Bush view on Social Security? Isn’t it pretty democratic? Or have they been talking about eliminating it without my knowing it?

“They soon intend to create a fully socialist medical system.”

But will the republicans resist this thrust tooth and nail? Surely it is only those voting republican, rather than those republicans in office, who hold such delusions.

“So they are NOT the same. Both very bad, just in different ways. The only political party that represents true free market capitalism is the L.P. and they are not likely to gain power anytime soon, if ever.”

I guess they are different, but still, their differences confuse me.

Paul Edwards December 7, 2006 at 7:48 pm

Sam,

“What stumps me is the way Libertarians seem, in the choice between Dictatorship and Democracy, to suggest that Dictatorship is more preferable.”

The way I would look at is this: Libertarians prefer liberty to despotism. Liberty comes in different degrees under different forms of government, as does despotism also, and I think it is true that monarchs can have a tendency to be despotic. However, I think that democracies are far more predisposed to becoming despotic.

Here’s an interesting observation that I found very hard to get my mind around originally. Despotic dictatorships arise out of some form of democratic process and with popular support. It turns out that, while mobs can certainly be despotic in their own right, in a mob rule democracy such as was demonstrated in France’s disgusting and murderous revolutions, mobs can also be in favor of individual despotic rulers as well, and they select them through a democratic process. Democracy is highly unstable and subject to the whims of the typically ignorant and envious masses, and also the whims of the demagogues who manipulate them. Hitler, Lenin and Stalin are such examples of this.

So the libertarian hates despotism in all its forms and nuances. It is just a simple observation, from a praxeological perspective, that monarchs, if not less prone to despotism, are less able to act on their despotic impulses, for the many reasons given here and by Hoppe. Such inhibiting factors can be shown to be logically not in play in democracies, and history bears this out in pretty vivid living colors.

RogerM December 7, 2006 at 8:30 pm

I forgot! In addition to a private dictionary in which none of the words are used with their commonly understood definitions, anarchists have their own private histories, too. In those histories, all the kings are good, the women are strong, the men handsome and all the children are above average.

Sam December 7, 2006 at 10:51 pm

Interesting replies averros and Paul Edwards you better do indeed say that Monarchies are indeed better than Democracies. That Monarchs have long-term families interests and are ‘protectors of the realm’. Whereas politicians can’t see past the next election, etc.

Indeed the Bible and most history supports the notion of ‘Divine Right’. After all doesn’t the Bible say (somewhere) that ALL Monarchs rule by God’s whim. Weren’t Hebrews supposed to respect to ALL kings as even pagan kings had the Right? Hence I heard somewhere about Daniel showing basic acts of respect towards Nebuchadnezzar . . .

Strange how I would think Democracy was better than various forms of autocratic rule (by which I mean the average person takes orders and has no say on how society runs). I for some reason think that people can have say and be heard, especially with all these advocate groups all around, and might be a good thing for better change. Likewise I would have thought Monarchies and Dictator were worse because the average person would only get ordered around for the ‘betterment of society’ which means usually means enrichment for the upper class. Similarly I would have thought that such societies prefer to keep the average person unarmed and ignorant to stop the average person wanting greater freedoms over themselves.

The fact is that Dictators, Emperor, Kings, Queens, etc., take a long-term interest in their own society doesn’t bode well for the rest of humanity. After all, wouldn’t imperial wars against weaker, but resource-rich neighbours, make sense? Wouldn’t such wars enrich and improve the winning society and tough luck to the losers? Similarly where is also the incentive for innovative change too, you know, the changes that empower the average person? Sounds like a Monarch would prefer a static, and therefore hopefully, predictable society.

To be sure, yes, I do cringe when Democratic leaders can go to war despite against the wishes of most people, but it does seem more that Democracy is on the wane rather than Democracies are no better per se. Especially when Democracy is a cutesy ideal and most ‘Democracies’ are usually are half-heartedly so at best.

Finally, to averros, are revolutions preferable to reforms? To Paul and others, if Democracy is apparently as false as Socialism is, sounds good but never seems to work, then what is Self-Rule and how is it supposed to be any more than a nice idea on paper where everyone plays nice and gets along with one another?

Reactionary December 8, 2006 at 9:45 am

RogerM,

Most people, as in most voters, want something for nothing, are not very bright, and are easily manipulated into supporting disastrous policies. Thus, whereas under monarchy you’re subject to the whim of a single moron, under democracy you’re subject to the whims of every moron in society.

When government is run by a few people who are assigned based on the luck of the hereditary draw, the citizens fear and distrust it. It’s not that government under a monarch is qualititatively better. Rather, it’s that because of citizen distrust, the number of things government is allowed to f*** up is much, much smaller.

When government IS the people, then there is no systemic limit on what government is allowed to do. Debt can pile up into the trillions because, after all, we only “owe it to ourselves.” Taxes are paid by the minority since “the majority rules.”

And please don’t waste your time with talk about constitutional limits on government. The only effective limit on government is the threat of retaliatory violence by the citizenry. But if government IS the citizenry, then there is no recourse.

RogerM December 8, 2006 at 10:51 am

Reactionary: “The only effective limit on government is the threat of retaliatory violence by the citizenry. But if government IS the citizenry, then there is no recourse.”

Does it strike anyone else that anarchists sound more and more like Marxists? Reactionary’s statement reads like a section from Das Kapital.

I debated Marxists and atheists for decades before discovering Austrian economics, which I’m very greatful for. But I was discouraged to learn that anarchists use the same rhetorical devices that Marxists and atheists use–selective, distorted definitions of words and histories. Reactionary’s description, and those of most anarchists, of the US system of government is so distorted as to be completely dishonest. Such practices only underscore the weakness of the anarchist arguement; it can’t stand the light of truth.

Reactionary December 8, 2006 at 11:09 am

RogerM,

I’m not an anarchist, as I would have hoped my posts on this blog would have made clear. You almost but don’t quite get it. Anarchists are comrades-in-arms with the Marxists in that, to be pure to their ideology, they must be permanent levellers of organic society.

Now to my point: unless the governors fear for their very lives, government growth will not be constrained. There is some exception to this: an organic society where traditional and stable three-generation families for the most part govern themselves and their relations with each other. Otherwise, I challenge you to provide a single contrary example.

Reactionary December 8, 2006 at 11:32 am

“Reactionary’s description, and those of most anarchists, of the US system of government is so distorted as to be completely dishonest.”

RogerM,

Lincoln’s war against the Confederacy is how the US system of government works. This process has been repeated, albeit on much smaller scales, in Waco, Texas and elsewhere.

RogerM December 8, 2006 at 11:49 am

Reactionary:”Now to my point: unless the governors fear for their very lives, government growth will not be constrained.”

If democracy naturally causes government spending to increase, as Hoppe claims, then explain to me why it didn’t in the US until the Great Depression. I’m aware of the hatred of many for Lincoln, but please, take time to look at the actual historical figures for government spending. Other than for war time, government spending didn’t increase significantly until the Depression. It increased for wars but shrank quickly to pre-war levels aftewards. We had a republic, for over a century without large increases in government spending. What changed in 1930? We still had a republican form of government. That did not change. We did not have a monarchy before 1930.

US government spending was constrained very well until the Great Depression and no government official feared for his life. The explosion in spending came about because the rulers, the voters, swallowed socialist propaganda. The majority voted to surrender control of their lives to the government because the majority believed in social engineering. Had Hoover and Roosevelt no expanded government spending, the voters would have elected someone else who would. In fact, a handful of conservative legislators restrained Hoover and Roosevelt from pleasing the masses with even greater spending.

The fault lies with the people, the voters, not the system.

Reactionary December 8, 2006 at 12:09 pm

RogerM,

“The fault lies with the people, the voters, not the system.”

But if the people are voters then they are the system. And since most people prefer something for nothing and are not particularly bright, giving them a hand in running the country can only mean a long but sure march to socialism.

adi December 8, 2006 at 12:10 pm

RogerM, do you believe that ordinary people who often dont have much knowledge about economics would believe when you educate them and offer true insights on working of economy?

There is a tendency for people to believe that there are free lunches available and most economic decisions are also political ones (e.g “end of poverty is just a political decision”).

And of course there are those who would claim that our subjectivist Austrian economics is just a bourgeois class economics, which doesnt work in truly socialist economy. Intellectual bancrupcy of modern mainstream economics doesnt necessarily advance our position, since some might classify Austrians as being just a minor group inside economic orthodoxy.

RogerM December 8, 2006 at 12:21 pm

Adi: “…do you believe that ordinary people who often dont have much knowledge about economics would believe when you educate them and offer true insights on working of economy?”

Good question. I really don’t know. I’m pessimistic. But I don’t know anything else to do, other than continue to try to educate people. A slim chance exists that the current system will collapse, but that doesn’t mean libertarianism will prevail, since most Americans are socialists. It’s more likely that some form of totalitarianism will follow.

Reactionary December 8, 2006 at 12:35 pm

RogerM,

“US government spending was constrained very well until the Great Depression and no government official feared for his life.”

Which government do you think would tax more: a government with only a small standing army and a few cannons in a nation populated by riflemen or a government with a large standing army, an air force, and nuclear weapons?

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