Tuesday, April 11, 2006

ARGUMENTATION ETHICS

The Misesian branch of the "Austrian" scool of economics claims to be able to deduce all economic principles from a single, undeniable axiom, thus making those principles themselves irrefutable (unless it can be shown that they don't follow from the axiom). This axiom is the claim that humans act. The claim is that this axiom is irrefutable, because denying that humans act is itself an action.

Of course, the tricky bit comes from the fact that Austrians have a particular meaning when they talk about "action"; they mean goal oriented action in a world of scarce means. The number of clauses in their definition of action, the more room for error.

However, this is not my point here. Instead, I am interested in a particular luminary in Austrian scholarship. Hans Herman Hoppe is famous amongst libertarians primarily for three positions. Firstly, for arguing that the state ought to limit immigration, because, controled immigration, he says, is the corollary of free trade. In a fully private world, all property will be private property, and nobody will trade with anybody unless they want to - they transfer property on the basis of having given permission. Likewise, he says, migration requires permission, so in a fully private world, migration will not be "free," but will have to be backed by the consent of whoever owns wherever migrants go. This is not original: Linda and Morris Tannehill say the same thing, as did Rothbard in The Ethics of Liberty.

However, Rothbard said that immigration controls were, on this basis, a violation of rights - not those of the migrant, who has no right to immigrate onto other's property, but of the right of owners who are now forbidden, thanks to immigration controls, to invite certain others onto their property. Hoppe, on the other hand, thinks that since the state is the de facto owner of all of a country's land, it should act like the de jure owner, and thus have, and excercise, a right to control immigration. Of course, this does not follow - nobody would want to claim that simply by being the de facto owner you get to act like you are the de jure owner.

Hoppe has also argued that monarchy is better than democracy, and hence that a dictatorship is, although, to his credit, he says that free market anarchism is better than either. The argument here again focuses on de facto ownership: A Monarch is the owner of a country. Like any private owner, he has an incentive to conserve the capital value, the long term value, of his property. Because of this, Hoppe argues, monarchies will have lower taxes, fewer controls and more productive economies, etc. etc. On the other hand, in democracies, rulers are simply caretakers of a country, and so get none of that long term value, and so have every incentive to destroy it, and that country's civilisation. Its an intriguing theory that I don't think stands up empirically, but there we go.

The issue I mainly am focusing on here is Hoppe's "argumentation ethics." In this he claims to be able to base libertarianism on a single undeniable axiom, just as Mises tried to ground economics. Hoppe's claim is that self-ownership is irrefutible. The argument is that one cannot claim that one does not own oneself without using some part of yourself. And this, Hoppe thinks, involves some sort of contradiction.

Anyway, I tackled him on this issue in an email:

Dear Professor Hoppe,

Doesn't your argumentation ethics confuse de jure and de facto control over ones self? Sure, denying that I have any control over myself would be contradictory, because I would have to have control over myself to do so. But it doesn't follow from that that I have any sort of right to control myself. And without such a right, I have no self-ownership.

What is your solution to this quandary?

Richard Garner


Hoppe sent this extremely short reply:

You also cannot, without falling into contradiction, argue that you have no right to argue (and self-ownership).


My response was thus:

Can I not? First off, if it proves I have any right at all, does it not simply prove that I have the right to argue with you? We have not proved that I have any other rights over myself, or any right to do anything else.

But, that is even if we go that far: Perhaps, rather than a right to argue against you, I have simply a duty. Or maybe it is a privilege. For instance, suppose I don't own myself, but am a slave, and as a slave, I am instructed by my owner to argue against you. Now I would be arguing against you, but the issue of who owns me has not altered.

Richard


For some reason, maybe he just forgot to, Hoppe never replied to me.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Julius Blumfeld said...

"However, Rothbard said that immigration controls were, on this basis, a violation of rights - not those of the migrant, who has no right to immigrate onto other's property, but of the right of owners who are now forbidden, thanks to immigration controls, to invite certain others onto their property."

Actually I think Rothbard was wrong about that. Most cases of immigration will involve the immigrant renting or buying land; and where a mutual trade is prohibited by the State, surely the rights of both the seller AND the buyer are being violated?

10:43 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Perhaps, sure. I'm not sure, though - a canny arguer may say to the immigrant, "I am not preventing you from buying a house, only preventing him from selling it to you." Obviously a person does not have a right to buy a house, unless somebody wants to sell it to him, so the legislation is not obviously violating a right to buy.

It is a difficult issue. A number of "left-libertarians" (second group, land-tax obsessed philosophy lecturers) have argued against the legitimacy of self-assumed slavery on this basis: They say that self-ownership implies a right to sell or give yourself, but a right to sell or give does nto imply a right to buy or recieve.

I'm not convinced, since I would presume that having a right to sell something is a right to engage in some multi-person activity. Like having a right to engage in gay sex.

11:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To clear up fallacies:

-A private property owner sets the terms of entry on to his land. A State is necessarily both the de facto and de jure owner of its land. Hoppe argues that a State (even though he detests the concept) should act as if it were a private property owner, and exclude elements that would lower its value. Nothing more than this. Hoppe's theory on Monarchy does stand up empirically. Look up France under absolute monarchy. Even then in war time, taxes never exceeded 20% I believe. Finally, if it is part of a title deed that you must gain the consent of the other property-owners when selling off the land, then this is binding. The concept is similar to how some appartment buildings require the approval of a majority of existing owners/tenants to allow a new owner/tenant.

-The entire slave argument does not hold. You must prove you are a slave. Hypothetical scenarios in this case cannot replace the facts of reality. It also fails on another level - by saying you're a slave, someone must own you ; in order to own you they must own themselves. In addition, a positive right is a statement to the effect that provided you are able to, you may do something, and nothing more. By saying you can argue you automatically assert the right.

1:09 AM  
Blogger Paul Edwards said...

"Can I not? First off, if it proves I have any right at all, does it not simply prove that I have the right to argue with you?"

Yes. It demonstrates the logical necessity of your supposing you have this right to argue. It is a logical starting point for discourse. And this is general. If it applies to A and B, it applies to A and C and so on.

"We have not proved that I have any other rights over myself, or any right to do anything else."

The logical implication of being a participant in argumentation is that you are an independent rational entity, so supposing a right to argue is the first of a host of implications including the right to homestead and contract, aggression free.

"But, that is even if we go that far: Perhaps, rather than a right to argue against you, I have simply a duty."

A duty to act implies a right to act.

"Or maybe it is a privilege. For instance, suppose I don't own myself, but am a slave, and as a slave, I am instructed by my owner to argue against you. Now I would be arguing against you, but the issue of who owns me has not altered."

How ever you come to suppose the right to argue, the bottom line is you suppose the right to argue. The next question is what methods can we universally agree that it is within reason that we come to possess this right. To add the layer of slave-owners merely pushes away the question. If we introduce them, we are then forced to ask, how do the slave owners come to have the right to argue among others. You must come to the root of the question. And when you do, you will recognize that they simply do and must: again, it is the logical presupposition of argumentation. And the logic that gives the slave-owner the right to argue, to self-ownership, to homestead – to live under a libertarian ethic - refutes the right of the slave-owner to own slaves.

11:23 PM  

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