limited government

We are taught that the change from monarchy to democracy is progress; that is, a change from servitude to liberty. Yet no monarchy in Western history ever taxed its subjects as heavily as every modern democracy taxes its citizens.

But we are taught that this condition is liberty, because “we” are—freely—taxing “ourselves.” The individual, as a member of a democracy, is presumed to consent to being taxed and otherwise forced to do countless things he hasn’t chosen to do (or forbidden to do things he would prefer not to do).

Whence arises the right of a ruler to compel? This is a tough one, but modern rulers have discovered that a plausible answer can be found in the idea of majority rule. If the people rule themselves by collective decision, they can’t complain that the government is oppressing them. This notion is summed up in the magic word democracy. It’s nonsense. “We” are not doing it to “ourselves.” Some people are still ruling other people. Democracy is merely the pretext for authorizing this process and legitimizing it in the minds of the ruled. Since outright slavery has been discredited, democracy is the only remaining rationale for state compulsion that most people will accept.

Now comes Hans-Hermann Hoppe, of the University of Nevada (Las Vegas), to explode the whole idea that there can ever be a just state. And he thinks democracy is worse than many other forms of government. He makes his case in his book Democracy—The God That Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order (Transaction Publishers).

Hoppe is often described as a libertarian, but it might be more accurate to call him a conservative anarchist. He thinks the state—“a territorial monopoly of compulsion”—is inherently subversive of social health and order, which can thrive only when men are free.

As soon as you grant the state anything, Hoppe argues, you have given it everything. There can be no such thing as limited government because there is no way to control an entity that in principle enjoys a monopoly of power (and can simply expand its own power).

We’ve tried. We adopted a Constitution that authorized the Federal Government to exercise only a few specific powers, reserving all other powers to the states and the people. It didn’t work. Over time the government claimed the sole authority to interpret the Constitution, then proceeded to broaden its own powers ad infinitum and to strip the states of their original powers—while claiming that its self-aggrandizement was the fulfillment of the “living” Constitution. So the Constitution has become an instrument of the very power it was intended to limit!

The growth of the Federal Government might have been slowed if the states had retained the power to withdraw from the confederation. But the Civil War established the fatal principle that no state could withdraw, for any reason. So the states and the people lost their ultimate defense against Federal tyranny. (And if they hadn’t, there would still have been the problem of the tyranny of individual states.) But today Americans have learned to view the victory of the Union over the states, which meant an enormous increase in the centralization of power, as a triumph of “democracy.”

Hoppe goes so far as to say that democracy is positively “immoral,” because “it allows for A and B to band together to rip off C.” He argues that monarchy is actually preferable, because a king has a personal interest in leaving his kingdom in good condition for his heirs; whereas democratic rulers, holding power only briefly, have an incentive to rob the public while they can, caring little for what comes afterward. (The name Clinton may ring a bell here.)

And historically, kings showed no desire to invade family life; but modern democracies want to “protect” children from their parents. By comparison with the rule of our alleged equals, most kings displayed remarkably little ambition for power. And compared with modern war, the wars of kings were mere scuffles.

Democracy has proved only that the best way to gain power over people is to assure the people that they are ruling themselves. Once they believe that, they make wonderfully submissive slaves.

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in the Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

Copyright (c) Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, Reprinted with permission.

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5 replies to this post
  1. Here in Nepal, many want the monarchy back because the royal family "had fewer parasites than all these politicians."

  2. Its an interesting concept, but I think it misses a few obvious facts. First, when kings ruled society was poorer– much poorer. That's primarily why kings were unable to tax the way "democracies" do. Second, all governments are run by inherently evil men. So no government will ever be truely just. Third, the Constitution (although to a lesser extent) still slows and constrains the actions of government and did so very well up until the twentieth century.

  3. Monarchies fought monarchies for power and to grab land from defeated foes. How is this any different from conservative corporatism, where companies with the most amount of goods fight other companies for power and to grab the property of the companies that they run down and take over? If anything, the sort of conservatism proposed here just plays into the hand of the corporations, making them the new monarchies, while the rest of us become their serfs to no longer be controlled passively by commercial incentive and free market to persuade us of how good they are, but more directly because they privatized the world and put us all on 'term life policies'.

    Plus, true Democracy is not majority rule. Populist Democracy allows for another check and balance where, if our representatives are misrepresenting us, we can recall them, or put up initiatives to vote on in order to challenge the current policies made by representatives. Being that it is in the constitution for states and local communities to have their own constitutions and charters, we do have freedom to shape our communities. If you don't like a community, you can live on your own, or participate as little as possible in community involvement. Self autonomy is simply self governing. And if you can't govern yourself, then you ought not have right to govern others, regardless of how long or short you're in an office to do so.

    As it is, regardless of all this 'anachy conservatism', you still have your own community rules here, such as this:

    "Please demonstrate a generous spirit in all comments. Comments deemed to violate a high standard of civility or which do not enhance discussion within the Imaginative Conservative community will not be published. Publishing of comments occurs after a brief delay while they await approval of the moderator."

    How do you define a 'generous spirit'? What is the 'high standard of civility' and who makes that judgement on the standard, not to mention whether or not a comment 'enhances discussion'? The same old "who watches the watchmen" to which comes down regarding any form of government can also be applied here, in this Imaginative Conservative Community.

    Obviously there is someone, or a group of someone's in charge here. Do they follow a monarchy, a democracy, an oligarchy, and aristocracy? If an anarchy, then how so, especially if any sort of governing system of policy is considered tyranny. People either agree or disagree to participate in the Imaginative Conservative community, so how could it be anarchic when it compromises individual liberty to give a certain amount of control to the moderator(s) of this community?

    I'm trying to be generous, and feel this is a written comment and critique made in the spirit of honesty and generosity. People are entitled to their beliefs, and I can agree with some aspects of libertarian, but will not forsake a populist, constitutional democracy and be thrown in the chains of a monarchy because people have abused the system. Neither will I give up my Christian beliefs and become an atheist just because of church and laity abuses. This is the problem of anarchy in general – that all it seems to be about is giving up pretending to be independent while being enslaved by one's own selfishness.

  4. I find this article is misleading. Hoppe was not arguing for monarchy, but rather showing how much worse democracy is. Hoppe is an anarchist. Yes, he believes that an aristocracy/meritocracy would naturally occur, but he never argues in favor of a monopoly of force (the State, whether democracy or monarchy).

  5. A democracy is unjust, and for a variety of reasons. The most unjust reason of all is the concept of “one man, one vote”. As such, that concept grants equal voting power to the nuclear physicist and any gibbering fool, placing them both on the same plane of importance when it comes down to choosing who shall assume the reigns of power. In fact, I both discovered and wrote several articles about this phenomenon several years before Dr. Hoppe published his book, so he cannot justifiably take credit for originating the concept of a “Democracy being a god that failed”. Expanding upon it, yes; originating it, no.

    That said, it is good to see that others are now catching up and becoming aware of democracy’s inherent flaws. But being aware of the flaws does not necessarily correct them. What is needed is a new form of government, which I have developed. It consists of a modified democracy, whereby the “modification” is a strong dose of meritocracy, along with a number of other things—including the abandonment of the “one man, one vote” voting system. Creating a new form of government is one thing, however. Adopting it is altogether another. To do so, nothing less than a blood-drenched revolution would be necessary.

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