The most interesting thing about libertarians is that their normative arguments fail on their own terms. Well-constructed theories only permit disagreement on the basic principle level. Excepting consequentialist libertarians, libertarian theories are so bad that their basic principles don’t even generate the conclusions libertarians claim they do. The arguments are internally contradictory on a scale that I’ve never seen in any other brand of political thought, and sometimes spectacularly so. What follows is a discussion of one such argument, my favorite in fact due to its sheer idiocy.
Hoppe’s Argumentation Ethics
A performative contradiction occurs “when the propositional content of a statement contradicts the presuppositions of asserting it.” For instance, if I said “I am dead,” that would be a performative contradiction because to assert something, I must be alive.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe uses this idea to argue that it is impossible to argue against libertarianism without falling into a performative contradiction:
Now then, Hoppe claims that in order to justify something with propositional exchange, people must have exclusive control over their bodies; and they must have the right to homestead unowned property, and to voluntarily obtain ownership of others’ property, in order to sustain themselves in debate. In short, anyone who engages in a rational argument must be granted the full range of libertarian rights.
So essentially, Hoppe is arguing that you must have libertarian institutions in place in order to have argumentation at all. But he is making this argument right now in a world where he says they don’t exist. He is literally arguing, in the status quo, that it is impossible to argue…in the status quo. He is arguing that he can’t argue. When Hoppe makes his performative contradiction argument, he is involved in his own performative contradiction! If performative contradictions disqualify arguments, then his falls.
If we wander into the substantive content, Hoppe finds himself in even deeper problems. An argumentation ethic of this sort clearly entails welfare rights. Hoppe’s whole argument is that to debate you need to be able to sustain yourself, i.e. remain alive and such. But libertarian institutions are neither necessary nor sufficient for sustaining people. They aren’t necessary because we don’t have them now, yet people are alive (something Hoppe should know on account of being alive, but it eludes him somehow).
They aren’t sufficient because libertarian institutions alone don’t ensure that a given individual will be able to stay alive (John Locke himself realizes this and provides for redistribution and other provisos as a result). Hoppe also clearly realizes this. In one of his books, he gleefully expounds upon his libertarian future where, because everything is private property, the unwanted are exiled out of society altogether and into the wilderness to die. You can’t forward arguments in this nightmare world.
More than that, in Hoppe’s libertarian world, there is no reason to think there will even be a wilderness to exile the unwanted into. As Herbert Spencer pointed out:
Equity, therefore, does not permit property in land. For if one portion of the earth’s surface may justly become the possession of an individual, and may be held by him for his sole use and benefit, as a thing to which he has an exclusive right, then other portions of the earth’s surface may be so held; and eventually the whole of the earth’s surface may be so held; and our planet may thus lapse altogether into private hands. Observe now the dilemma to which this leads. Supposing the entire habitable globe to be so enclosed, it follows that if the landowners have a valid right to its surface, all who are not landowners, have no right at all to its surface. Hence, such can exist on the earth by sufferance only. They are all trespassers. Save by the permission of the lords of the soil, they can have no room for the soles of their feet. Nay, should the others think fit to deny them a resting-place, these landless men might equitably be expelled from the earth altogether.
When the entire globe has been snatched up as property, something possible in a libertarian regime, you may literally find yourself with nowhere to physically stand. You would not be able to exist on the earth whatsoever. Being able to exist on the earth is clearly a presupposition for making arguments on it, meaning that in fact it is a performative contradiction to argue for libertarian institutions.
I could go on, but I don’t think it is necessary. It is worth noting that Rothbard, an equally bad philosopher, thought Hoppe’s argument was genius. What you think that says about Rothbard’s intellect is your call.