To: Joe Sobran
From: John Bryant (www.thebirdman.org)
Date: Friday, 04 Jan 2002
Re: "The Myth of Limited Government" ( http://www.lewrockwell.com/sobran/sobran227.html )
Your recent column on Hans-Hermann Hoppe is replete with error. I have dealt with Hoppe's major errors in the following document:
Your own errors are the following:
* You claim that monarchies never taxed their subjects as much as our present-day democracies. This may be true in both an absolute and a percentage sense, but it is still completely misleading. The real measure of taxation is the percentage of disposable wealth left to the people after their bare subsistence needs are met. By this criterion, the taxation in democracies has been much lighter.
* You claim that monarchies are less tyrannical because they don't seek to interfere with personal life. This is false for two reasons. First, the monarchies most certainly DID interfere with personal life, especially religion. Heretic hunting was a favorite activity of the Church-State Leviathan. Then there were the sumptuary laws, which decreed what you could wear; laws on what you could publish or read; and many other tyrannical things (for specifics, try reading the Declaration of Independence), plus, of course, horrific punishments for disobedience (Try reading up on the history of torture sometime -- even George Washington used it, and wanted to increase the maximum number of lashes from 39 to 200 or more for his troops, according to Murray Rothbard in his history of the Revolutionary period, Conceived in Liberty.) The second reason it is misleading to say monarchies were less tyrannical is that their tools for exercising power were much more limited. They didn't have wiretaps, for example, or a mass media to control people's thinking in the way that TV does, or the wealth to support millions of prisoners or zillions of police.
* In your diatribe against democracy, you argue that democracy is an illusion under which people are slaves but believe they are free. Your argument is defective for two reasons. First, democracy does in fact permit input from outside a narrow ruling class; and while it may not be true that 'anyone can become president', the fact remains that there is a counterbalancing power to the rulers, even if imperfect. The second way your argument is defective is to imply that illusion is bad, whereas in fact illusion is a major part of human life, whether it involves paint covering up an ugly building, or clothes covering up an ugly body; so that even if you are right that democracy is just an illusion of freedom, the fact that this illusion makes many people happy is not to be dismissed as without value.
* Following your dismissal of democracy, you claim that Prof Hoppe-Head has finally proved that there can be no just state. But what, indeed, do you mean by 'just'? As Thomas Sowell is fond of pointing out, life is unfair, or unjust. But 'justness' does not seem to be the right question; for as Winston Churchill once pointed out, while democracy is unjust, it is better than any other alternative; and if you presume to show the contrary, I have not yet apprehended it.
* Yet another mistake you make is your seconding of Hoppe-Head's statement that '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)'. The problem here is to think that there is but one source of power -- the State -- when in fact there are many, from individuals to private organizations, and even organizations within the government itself. The latter, indeed, is the idea behind the 'separation of powers' doctrine, in which each branch of government is intended to balance the others. But the real point is that, just as Nature abhors a vacuum, so it abhors a POWER vacuum; so if government is made small, other organizations will grow to take its place. So the question which you and Hoppe-Head need to ask is, Is being controlled by Big Business, Big Labor, Big Religion, Big Charity, Big Ethnics and other Bigs really better than being controlled by those whom we have a hand in selecting?
* The mistake of thinking of the government as a monolithic power is compounded by your statement that we 'tried' the Constitution but it failed to provide limited government. There is, of course, an element of truth to this, but there is no one single cause for any event, and there are many other things at whose door the failure of limited government can be laid. The most important is the Constitution itself, which is so poorly written that it is no wonder we have been left in the lurch. One well-known example is the second Amendment with its militia clause. Another is banning 'cruel and unusual punishments' (what the hell are they?) There are many other possible examples. But my point is that when something is so poorly written, you can expect trouble. And that's exactly what we have. As an aside, I might remark that I have dealt specifically with the defects of the Constitution in my book, Handbook of the Coming American Revolution. If the suggestions I make there were implemented, I believe that much of the abuse stemming from the present government would come to an end.
* Another mistake you make is in lauding Hoppe-Head's statement that 'democracy is positively "immoral," because "it allows for A and B to band together to rip off C."' The problem here is that 'ripping off' implies property rights, but unless we have a state which has established those rights, then there ARE none, and thus A and B have just as much 'right' to what C has as C does. Rights, in other words, exist only in a context of law, and Hip-Hoppe-Head rejects such a context, so he can't say that A and B are violating C's rights. Hip-Hop-Head, of course, is probably assuming the existence of so-called Natural Rights, but this is a piece of mythology created by philosophical epopts which descends to approximately the same intellectual level as Leibniz' absurd monadology. For more information, see my friend LA Rollins' book The Myth of Natural Rights.
In conclusion, it is amazing to find supposedly-intelligent people in the present day like you and Hip-Hop-Head who wish to abandon the progress of our Founders because they are in love with a (very false) vision of the past -- in Hoppe's case, the Rousseauian vision of a State of Nature; in yours, a vision of That Old Time Religion locked in eternal embrace with the State. One has to ask if this is not some form of atavistic psychological trauma set off by the current notable failures of the Unancien Regime. Yes, Vagina, there is progress, but it is not to be found in the same direction as returning to the primordial social slime of monarchy, Church-State daisy-chaining, and the other primitive and brutal institutions which our ancestors spilled their blood to replace.
PS: I will publish this letter as part of this week's Birdman's Weekly Letter, and I also plan to post it on my website eventually. If you wish to respond, I will post, link and/or mail that response as well. As you may know, I consider it a matter of honor to answer my critics, and to link to any document of criticism which they wish to post and have me link. I have this policy as testament to the fact that I am committed to truth, no matter which way it cuts. And as far as I know, there is not a SINGLE PERSON OR WEBSITE that has such a policy, so that puts me light-years ahead of everyone else, morally speaking. As I have succeeded in making plain with earlier communications, Lew Rockwell is morally bankrupt. While I can understand your desire to have your articles posted on a big website like Lew's where they will be exposed to a large readership, you cannot deny that it involves a compromise with the Devil. But if you wished to remove the taint of this situation, you could insist to Lew that he publish my response to you; and if he fails to do so, you could deny him the right to publish any more of your columns. It would take a big man to do that -- not only does it require a big man to accept the criticism of others and be willing to have it posted, but it also (and especially) requires a big man to insist on fairness to his critics. But you are secure and successful enuf to do it. The question is, Will you? I doubt it, but here is your invitation to prove me wrong.
[Sobran did not respond]
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