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Hans-Hermann Hoppe: What Is Exploitation? Who Exploits Whom?

Updated: Feb 13

This is part of a series of blogposts republishing previous events of the Oxford Hayek Society and the Oxford Libertarian Society. The original blogpost was published here.

On Thursday 23 October 2008, Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, spoke to the Oxford Libertarian Society at Balliol College on the subject of: 'What is Exploitation? Who Exploits Whom?'.

You can find a YouTube video of the event below. The audio recording is available for downloading here, thanks to the Mises Institute.

Hans-Hermann argued that Marxist class analysis is essentially true in its nominal conclusions, but its fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of exploitation has produced the correct conclusions by faulty reasoning. This has meant that it has been misapplied to voluntary free-market exchange.

Marxism is correct in recognising the exploitative character of the state, which prospers only by expropriating legitimate property owners and interfering in private exchange. The state is exploitative, then, in that every act of the state cannot occur without making some people - the taxpayer, the conscript, etc. - worse off, contrary to the mutual benefit of both parties in the voluntary exchange:

"There is, of course, some truth in the statement that there's a difference between criminals and states. But the difference is actually one that makes states look even worse than plain criminals."

Refuting the claims of Hobbes and Rousseau, Hans-Hermann rejected the state as a necessary evil, explaining its origins as equivalent to those of criminal gangs and the mafia, who monopolise 'protection' not for the benefit of those being protected, but for the enrichment of the protectors. Discussing how the state has evolved from its primitive origins into a largely acquiesced institution, he draws on the thought of French essayist Étienne de La Boétie, pointing out the central place of education and custom that permitted the perpetuation of the state:

"It is true that in the beginning men submit under constraint and by force; but those who come after them obey without regret and perform willingly what their predecessors had done because they had to. This is why men born under the yoke and then nourished and reared in slavery are content, without further effort, to live in their native circumstance, unaware of any other state or right, and considering as quite natural the condition into which they are born ... the powerful influence of custom is in no respect more compelling than in this, namely, habituation to subjection."

(Discours de la servitude volontaire (1577), Étienne de La Boétie, p. 60)

In further consolidating its control by monopolising the supply of currency and prosecuting as counterfeiters those who engage in equivalent activities, the state makes itself a party to all transactions, facilitating further exploitative rent-seeking. Hans-Hermann also considered the role that intellectuals played, sharing Nozick's analysis of the symbiotic relationship between anti-capitalist intellectuals and the state.

Hans-Hermann concluded by arguing for the development of a "clear class consciousness" not based on narrow, misleading, Marxist criteria of income, but a coalition of the exploited - that is, the productive agents who are net losers from the state - against the exploiter.

Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is the Senior Fellow of the Mises Institute, the founder and President of the Property and Freedom Society, and a former Editor of the Journal of Libertarian Studies. Hans-Hermann is a renowned anarcho-capitalist philosopher also known for his culturally-conservative views and his marriage of social conservatism with libertarianism.