Intimidation by Argument—Once Again

From Liberpedia

Liberty, Volume 3, Number 2, November 1989 (

Hoppe répond à Loren Lomasky, The Argument from Mere Argument,

Liberty, Volume 3, Number 1, September 1989 (


Hans-Hermann Hoppe

Loren Lomasky was intimidated and angered by my book A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism. The book is more ambitious than its title indicates. "It is," he laments, "no less than a manifesto for untrammeled anarchism." So be it. But so what? As explained in my book--but conveniently left unmentioned by Lomasky--untrammeled anarchism is economy, then, should never come up nothing but the name for a social order of untrammeled private property rights; of the absolute right of self-ownership, the absolute right to homestead unowned resources, of employing them for whatever purpose one sees fit so long as this does not affect the physical integrity of others' likewise appropriated resources, and of entering into any contractual agreement with other property owners that is deemed mutually beneficial. What is so horrifying about this idea? Empirically speaking, this property theory constitutes the hard core of most people's intuitive sense of justice and so can hardly be called revolutionary. Only someone advocating the trammeling of private property rights would take offense, as does Lomasky, with my attempt to justify a pure private-property economy.

Lomasky is not only enraged at my conclusions, however. His anger is further aggravated because I do not merely try to provide empirical evidence for them, but a rigorous proof "validated by pure reason and uncontaminated by any merely empirical likelihoods." It is not surprising that an opponent of untrammeled private property rights, such as Lomasky, should find this undertaking doubly offensive. Yet what is wrong with the idea of apriori-theorizing in economics and ethics? Lomasky points out that failed attempts to construct apriori theories exist. But so what? This only reflects on those particular theories. Moreover, it actually presupposes the existence of apriori reasoning in that the refutation of an apriori theory must itself be a proof. For Lomasky, however, nothing but intellectual hyperbole can possibly be responsible for "eschewing the low road of empiricism, soaring instead with Kant and von Mises through the realm of a priori necessities."

A book on political philosophy or economy, then, should never come up with unambiguous conclusions as to what to do, what rules to follow. Everything should be left vague and at a non-operational stage of conceptual development. And no one should ever try to prove anything, but instead follow the forever open-minded empiricist approach of trial and error, of tentative conjectures, refutations and confirmations. Such, for Lomasky, is the proper path, the low and humble road along which one is to travel. And sure enough, most contemporary political philosophers seem to have wholeheartedly followed this advice.

Taking the high road instead, I present an unambiguous thesis, stated in operational terms, and attempt to prove it by axiomatic-deductive arguments. If this makes my book the ultimate insult in some philosophical circles, so much the better. Apart from other advantages--that this might actually be the only appropriate method of inquiry, for instance--it at least forces one to say something specific, and to open oneself up wide to rigorous logical-praxeological criticism instead of producing, as Lomasky and his fellow low roaders have produced, meaningless talk and non-operational distinctions.

Besides finding fault with the arrogance of someone writing a book that presents a praxeologically meaningful and easily understandable thesis concerning the central problems of political philosophy and economy, and that vigorously defends it to the point of excluding all other answers as false, Lomasky also has some specific nits to pick. As might be expected from an intimidated low roader, they are either unsystematic cheap shots, or they display a complete lack of comprehension of the problem.

I am criticized for not paying enough attention to Quine, Nozick, and entire bodies of philosophic thought. Maybe so (though Nozick is actually systematically refuted, if only in a footnote--as Lomasky indignantly notes), but why should that make a difference for my argument?

I am criticized for misinterpreting Locke by not mentioning his famous "proviso." But I am not engaged in an interpretation of Locke. I construct a positive theory and in so doing employ Lockean ideas; and assuming my theory correct for the sake of argument, there can be no doubt as to my verdict on the proviso. It is false; and it is incompatible with the homesteading principle as the central pillar of Locke's theory. Lomasky does not demonstrate that it is not so.

He is annoyed at my dissolution of the public goods problem as a pseudo-problem without so much as mentioning my central contention regarding the matter--that the notion of objectively distinct classes of private vs. public goods is incompatible with subjectivist economics and so must fall by the wayside along with all distinctions based on it. He finds my arguments in support of the thesis of the ever-optimality of free markets wanting, because they must rely on the assumption of "the universal optimality of voluntary transactions." They must indeed. I never claimed anything else. Yet this assumption happens to be true--in fact, as I argue, indisputably true. So what then? Or is Lomasky willing to take on the task of proving it to be false?!

How dare I--in a footnote--criticize Buchanan and Tullock for Orwellian double talk, Lomasky complains. Only he forgets to mention that I give rather specific reasons for this characterization: among others, the use of the notion of "conceptual" agreements and contracts in their attempt to justify a state, when according to ordinary speech such agreements and contracts are non-agreements and non-contracts--non-contracting means contracting! Similarly for my oh-so-disrespectful remarks regarding Chicago-style property theories: I give reasons (their assumption of the measurability of utility, for instance), which Lomasky simply suppresses.

In a true intellectual marvel Lomasky gets me implicated even in eugenics by quoting an argument that is actually presented in the entirely different context of illustrating the economic effects of all redistributive measures, including intelligence-based ones; and he then ingeniously faults me for not offering statistical evidence for a thesis which is framed as a deductive argument and so requires no such evidence for its validation.

The rest, regarding my theory of justice, is either miscomprehension or deliberate misrepresentation. From reading Lomasky's reconstruction of my central argument, which revealingly employs no direct quotes, no one would grasp its main thrust and structure: Without scarcity there can be no interpersonal conflict and hence no ethical questions. Conflicts are the result of incompatible claims regarding scarce resources; and there is but one possible way out of such predicaments then: through the formulation of rules that assign mutually exclusive own- ership titles regarding scarce, physical resources, so as to make it possible for different actors to act simultaneously without thereby generating conflict. (Like most contemporary philosophers, Lomasky gives no indication that he has grasped this elementary, fundamental point; any political philosophy that is not construed as a theory of property rights fails entirely in its own objective and thus must be discarded from the outset as praxeologically meaningless.)

Yet scarcity, and the possibility of conflicts, is not sufficient for the emergence of ethical problems. For obviously, one could have conflicts regarding scarce resources with an animal, and yet one would not consider it possible to resolve these conflicts by means of proposing property norms. In such cases, the avoidance of conflicts is merely a technical, not an ethical problem. For it to become an ethical problem, it is also necessary that the conflicting actors be capable, in principle, of argumentation. (Lomasky's mosquito example is thus merely silly: Animals are not moral agents, because they are incapable of argumentation; and my theory of justice explicitly denies its applicability to animals [p. 212] and, in fact, implies that they have no rights!)

Further, that there can be no problem of ethics without argumentation is indisputable. Not only have I been engaged in argumentation all along, but it is impossible, without falling into a contradiction, to deny that whether or not one has any rights and, if any, which ones, must be decided in the course of an argumentation. Thus, there can be no ethical justification of anything, except insofar as it is an argumentative one. This has been called "the apriori of argumentation." (Insofar as Lomasky has at all understood this, he most definitely appears to be unaware of the axiomatic status of this proposition--i.e.., of the fact that the apriori of argumentation provides an absolute starting point, neither capable of, nor requiring, any further justification!).

Arguing is an activity and requires a person's exclusive control over scarce resources (one's brain, vocal chords etc.). More specifically, as long as there is argumentation, there is a mutual recognition of each other's exclusive control over such resources. It is this which explains the unique feature of communication: that while one may disagree about what has been said, it is still possible to independently agree at least on the fact that there is disagreement. (Lomasky does not seem to dispute this. He claims, however, that it merely proves the fact of mutually exclusive domains of control, not the right of self-ownership. He errs: Whatever must be presupposed--such as the law of contradiction, for instance-- insofar as one argues, cannot be meaningfully disputed, because it is the very pre-condition of meaningful doubt, and hence must be regarded as indisputable, or apriori valid. In the same vein, the fact of self-ownership is a praxeological pre-condition of argumentation. Anyone trying to prove or disprove anything must in fact be a self-owner. It is a self-contradictory absurdity then to ask for any further-reaching justification for this fact. Required, of necessity, by all meaningful argumentation, self-ownership is an absolutely and ultimately justified fact.)

Finally, if actors were not entitled to own physical resources other than their bodies, and if they--as moral agents, categorically different from Lomasky's mosquitoes--were to follow this prescription, they would be dead and no problem whatsoever would exist. For ethical problems to exist, then, ownership in other things must be justified. Further, if one were not allowed to appropriate other resources through homesteading action--by putting them to use before anybody else does--or if the range of objects to be homesteaded were somehow limited, this would only be possible if ownership could be acquired by mere decree instead of by action. However, this does not qualify as a solution to the problem of ethics--of conflict-avoidance--even on purely technical grounds, for it would not allow one to decide what to do if such declarative claims happened to be incompatible ones. More decisive still, it would be incompatible with the already justified self-ownership. For if one could appropriate resources by decree, this would imply that one could also declare another person's body to be one's own.

Thus, anyone denying the validity of the homesteading principle--whose recognition is already implicit, then, in arguing persons' mutual respect for each other's exclusive control over one's body--would contradict the content of his proposition through his very act of proposition making. (For one thing, Lomasky, in a stroke of genius, finds fault with the fact that the first part of this argument provides no justification for unlimited homesteading. True. But then it also does not claim to do any such thing. The second part--the argumentum a contrario--does. And regarding my argument in its entirety Lomasky claims that I have only shown the validity of the non-aggression principle for "the act of argument itself and not beyond... it does not extend to the object of discussion." At best, this objection indicates a total failure to grasp the nature of performative contradictions: If justification of anything is argumentative justification, and if what must be presupposed by any argumentation whatsoever must be considered ultimately justified, then any validity claiming proposition whose content is incompatible with such ultimately justified facts is ultimately falsified as involving a performative contradiction. And that is that.)

Philosophic and economic theorizing is indeed serious work, as Lomasky notes. His reaction to my book, however, demonstrates that he is not up to such a task. Following the style of controversy precedented by him, one might say that while the clearing of one's throat may complete the job for his co-acronymous Linda Lovelace, in the case of Mr. Loren Lomasky it won't quite do.