- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2002

DEMOCRACY: THE GOD THAT FAILED
By Hans-Hermann Hoppe
Transaction, $44.95, $24.95 paper, 328 pages
REVIEWED BY WILLIAM H. PETERSON



Thinkers have not always taken kindly to democracy. Take Plato, circa 370 B.C.: "Democracy is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a kind of equality to equals and unequals alike." Or Aristotle, circa 322 B.C.: "A democracy, when put to the strain, grows weak, and is supplanted by an oligarchy." Or Edmund Burke, 1790: "A perfect democracy is the most shameless thing in the world." Or P.J. O'Rourke who gets off books satirizing democracy like "Parliament of Whores"(1991) and "Eat the Rich" (1998).
Hans-Hermann Hoppe, professor of economics at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Auburn, Ala., follows in this vein. Mr. Hoppe, a disciple of Mises (1881-1973) and more so of another Misesean, the late Murray Rothbard, surveys modern majoritarian democracy or liberalism, and finds it much flawed: a West marred by wars including world wars, heavy inflation, steep public debt, recessions, corrupt or unstable political parties, social security systems on or near the verge of bankruptcy, amoral societies with generally rising rates of divorce, abortion, illegitimacy, crime, family decay, and trash culture.
Mr. Hoppe hails Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence line that whenever government becomes "destructive … [of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness] … it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it …"
Alteration or abolition is exactly what Mr. Hoppe has in mind.
Of lively mind, Mr. Hoppe traces with some 300 citations Western civilization's change from monarchy, which he views as a lesser evil, to democracy, a greater evil, a change expedited here by such devices as the 17th Amendment which replaced appointment of U.S. senators by state legislatures with popular election of senators. He sees today's democratized America as a tragedy of the commons, as public goods or commonly held assets are mismanaged or wasted, as "have-nots" wield majority votes to prey on "haves" via predatory means such as the 16th Amendment-sanctioned progressive income and death taxes.
Upshots of such hits is Mr. Hoppe's envisioning a "natural order based on private property," on a succession of secessionist movements so widespread as to stop "central government crackdown," on the emergence of "an effective anarcho-capitalist system," one providing privatized local and national defense forces with "law and order by freely competing private (profit and loss) insurance agencies."
Whoa, Dr. Hoppe! This is not Mises but Rothbard speaking. Speaking, as I read Mr. Hoppe, in a non sequitur, a reductio ad absurdum dumping out the baby with the bathwater. For wasn't Thomas Paine right in seeing the state as "a necessary [repeat, necessary] evil"? And with Osama bin Laden & Co. breathing down our neck, is this a time to bank on Aetna or the Pru? Yes, democracy has warts or worse but also, properly understood and relimited per the Founding Fathers, rich blessings. This, broadly, is the legacy of Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" (1835) and Ludwig von Mises' "Human Action" (1949).
For isn't there a political case for seeing and enhancing what Mises saw as America's Other Democracy (my phrase) as a key way to reconstitute our polity in this already stormy New Millennium? After all, this Other Democracy, if imperfect, is bigger (reaching abroad) and a lot more moral, voluntary, responsible, cooperative, and participative (virtually 100 percent) than our indispensable First Democracy (where but one of every two eligible voters participated in the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections), which it supports but which Mr. Hoppe would drop.
Where is this Shangri-La Second Democracy? As Mises noted, it's as near as your phone to call a plumber or doctor, order pizza or airline tickets, or book a barber or hairdresser. This democracy is the blithely assumed, little appreciated, ordinary yet extraordinary, daily marketplace our daily endless plebiscite.
Yes, self-interest runs both our First and Second Democracies. But notice the difference. In one, a welfare state coercively ties interest to win-lose transfers, a zero-sum game. In the other, the market freely ties interest to win-win trade, a positive-sum game. In the latter, interest also tends to calm local frictions and antagonisms, as Hindus and Muslims trade with each other i.e. vote for each other in Bombay, as do Catholics and Protestants in Belfast, blacks and whites in Johannesburg. As an old IBM motto put it: "World Peace Through World Trade."
So see our Other Democracy as self-government at work as government of self directly of, for, and by the people, with millions upon millions of free dominions or quasi-governments, from the individual and his/her family (who largely govern themselves) to shopkeepers and farmers, to GM and GE, Yale and Harvard, the Catholic Church and Hasidic Jews, all private hierarchies of power, all under the individual's free assent, all under the rule of law a state.
A state? That's hardly the way of anarcho-capitalist Hans-Hermann Hoppe.

William H. Peterson is an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation and a contributing editor to the Foundation for Economic Education's Ideas on Liberty
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