Monday, October 25, 2010

From Old Hop to Hans Hoppe and Back Again

If John Taylor of Caroline had had his way America would have been busted up into hundreds if not thousands of little autonomous communities that traded freely and shared militia for the common defense, but would have remained otherwise self-governed. This vision approaches Hans-Herman Hoppe’s ideal of “natural orders,” i.e., privately-run communities with their own rules.

In his book Democracy – The God that Failed Hoppe argues for natural orders, but along the way makes a compelling case that monarchy is a lesser evil than democracy. Using the principle of time preference, he reasons that a king – as the absolute “owner” of a country – has a lower time preference than democratically-elected officials, who amount to temporary caretakers. The king has a greater incentive to preserve the capital well-being of his country since it passes to his heirs. Democratic rulers have an incentive to expropriate as much wealth from their country as possible since they pass it to no one. Equally perverse, democracy devolves into mob rule when officials pander to constituents aspiring to benefit from the state’s redistributive powers. These clients are typically located at opposite ends of the spectrum – the weakest and the wealthiest. The productive classes are crushed until the state collapses upon itself – an end that has befallen many democratic societies in history (including socialist states), giving empirical warrant to Hoppe’s theory. To his credit, Taylor of Caroline foresaw this parasitic fate awaiting the United States over a hundred and fifty years before Hoppe wrote.

Perhaps the best empirical example of Hoppe’s monarchy-superior-to-democracy argument is the case of Liechtenstein. Granted, the little principality has all of 35,000 inhabitants; but if nothing else it demonstrates some of the political virtue of the old, free city-state concept that flourished in the early Renaissance period. Prince Hans-Adam II demanded, on threat of resigning his rule, that each district within the principality be granted the right to secede. In turn, his subjects voted to give him sweeping monarchical powers. The “overseers” caught in the middle of this symbiotic relationship are the 25 members of the Liechtenstein parliament. To wit, those that would ordinarily have expropriative power have been largely defanged by the prince and his subjects.

In a similar way, Old Hop of Chota “ruled” over the mid-18th century Cherokees. Politically, Cherokee society was as “bottom up” as they come. No individual could be coerced into doing anything against his will. Each town council consisted of everyone who cared to participate (“direct democracy”); decisions could not be reached without complete consensus (no simple majorities). Town elders – literally the old guys, along with a prominent older woman – represented the town at larger tribal councils. But the uku (“fire-keeper”) was there to personify tradition and give advice. People bowed to his recommendations out of respect for his age, wisdom, and tribal tradition; but ultimately any individual or town could choose to go against his counsel – as was disastrously the case when Great Tellico ignored Old Hop and launched an ill-fated attack on the British.

Economics and diplomacy aside, the Cherokee example is proto-typical of Taylor’s insight and Hoppe’s analysis. In the end I suppose my political philosophy has settled upon “anarcho-monarchism” – not in the silly sense of Salvador Dali, but in accord with the measured sensibilities of J.R.R. Tolkien. Ultimately, we are under One King (Philippians 2:9-11), and that ought to give faithful people pause from giving unqualified allegiance to the modern (mob rule) messianic state.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Broken Wheel

Back in August I took my 10 year old daughter with me to the pharmacy. While she “shopped” I went to the blood pressure machine to check my reading. It registered 150 over 100. Deadly. Heart disease runs in my family, but now I feared an imminent stroke. I made some immediate dietary changes and began a more aggressive exercise regimen. I started running again, going out at 5:00 each morning to run a mile then walk briskly for two. I carried this on for two weeks – the exertion coupled with eating right dropped my blood pressure dramatically and also some pounds, and mentally I was feeling great. And I was preparing to increase my running distance.

Then, on the morning of October 1st I moved to the left hand side of the road to avoid on on-coming car. The outside of my left foot caught the dip between the asphalt and concrete. A few more strides later the tendon attached to the base of the fifth metatarsal ripped the bone away. I’m now in the dreaded “boot” for three to seven weeks. Exercise has been reduced to slowly climbing stairs at work and doing lots of push up’s and sit up’s. I don’t have access to an elliptical machine. Meanwhile, I melancholically watch as my left calf slowly atrophies. It will be much longer than seven weeks before I walk briskly again, let alone run. I need PT or patience.

But I continue to watch markets and read history. Not reading too much theology right now apart from Griffith Thomas’ devotional work. More thoughts from Cranfield’s commentary will come later, though I’ve seen the peril of lifting quotes without capturing their complete context.

Anyone who has followed my blogs for any length has noticed my peculiar affinity for the work of Joseph Stromberg, an independent historian living in north Georgia. He recently completed a long-awaited magnum opus on the thought of another of my fixations, John Taylor of Caroline, to me the most brilliant political thinker in American history: a jeremiad prophet with a keen insight into the system of patronage and privilege latent within the Constitution. His stress on radical decentralization and local autonomy makes him a forerunner of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, author of Democracy: The God that Failed. Stromberg detects in Taylor a foreshadowing of Public Choice theory and proto-Austrian economic understanding.

Speaking of Austrians, our old friend Gary North of the inflationist camp has come up with a startling piece on Ben Bernanke’s recent speech to the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council. In a dramatic turn, North finds in Bernanke’s talk a prophecy that the Fed will not pursue hyperinflation. Interest rates must rise, which, if allowed to follow course, will mean the ultimate default of the U.S. government – unless (ominously) the Fed is taken over by Congress. We’ll see. There are not a few of us who agree with the late Murray Rothbard that the best course would be for the Federal government to default on its debt and sell off its assets.

Short of that end (or perhaps toward it), Ron Paul has an optimistic view that the irreversible laws of economics will eventually bring an end to the “empire as a way of life” that Taylor of Caroline tirelessly preached against.