Hoppe and Churchill: On the Justice of Strange Bedfellows

Ward Churchill and Hans-Hermann Hoppe might not enjoy coffee together very much. I can clearly see the meeting ending in blows. But they do have some things in common, sure: both are radical critics of the State and the social status quo; both are tenured professors at state Universities in the West; and both have recently found themselves in administrative hot water for making controversial public statements.

Churchill’s case, so far, has been more widely reported. Thanks to the heroic efforts of a student journalist using Google, the Know-Nothing blowhard brigade finally discovered that Ward Churchill wrote an essay called Some People Push Back–which has been distributed on the Internet since 2001, and was expanded into a book-length treatment in 2003–in which he described the September 11 attacks as chickens coming home to roost, pointed out that the plane flown into the Pentagon was striking a military target, and that As to those in the World Trade Center … Well, really. Let’s get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. You’re hearing about all this now because Churchill, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, was scheduled to speak on a panel at Hamilton College in New York on The Limits of Dissent (because God is an ironist, I guess), and after a journalist at the student newspaper dug up Churchill’s essay and wrote a story on it, the Right-wing commentariat saw something they’ve been salivating over for a long time: a perfect opportunity to sink their teeth, hard, into the (allegedly Left-dominated) world of academia. So they deployed a predictable combination of media hue-and-cry and outright threats of violence, and managed to mau-mau Hamilton into cancelling the panel. Now, in hopes of a second victory for silence, they are pushing for University of Colorado at Boulder to follow it up by firing Churchill from his (tenured) professorship. The University’s Chancellor has so far agreed to bring a thorough examination of Churchill’s opinions before the Holy Inquisition:

And Colorado’s DiStefano, after an angry grilling from the university’s Board of Regents — an elected body dominated by conservatives — reversed himself and announced a 30-day investigation of all of Churchill’s lectures and publications. This is the first step, the chancellor said, in the legal process required to fire a tenured professor.

Meanwhile, there have been Web site calls for the resignation of Stewart for allowing Churchill to be invited in the first place.

— Washington Post 2005-02-05

Just a few days later, in Las Vegas, because–again–God is an ironist, anarcho-capitalist economics Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe found himself brought before a disciplinary hearing by the administration at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. Hoppe had a formal complaint filed against him by a student for his comments in a lecture on the economic concept of time preference, in which he decided to illustrate the concept by examples, and claimed that homosexuals, as a group, tend to have higher time preferences than heterosexuals–that is to say, that homos tend to prefer immediate gratification over deferred rewards more strongly than straights. He went on to insinuate that the emphasis on short-run effects over long-run equilibria in J.M. Keynes’s economic theories might be explained by Lord Keynes’s fondness for gay liasons. In response to the student’s complaint, UNLV is demanding Hoppe accept a letter of reprimand and a dock in pay in response to a formal complaint filed by a student in one of his economics classes; Hoppe is striking back with a letter-writing campaign and legal assistance from the ACLU.

The anarcho-capitalists who are coming out for Hoppe and the lefty anarchists who are coming out for Churchill might not want very much to do with each other. But both camps are right to point out that both of these cases represent dangerous threats to academic freedom. (Note: threats to academic freedom, not freedom of speech. The two are importantly different concepts, although both are valuable.) Unfortunately, both camps have also developed a maddening tendency to smother the point about academic freedom (or open debate more broadly) in a bunch of rally-’round-the-black-flag nonsense.

Hoppe and Churchill should not be punished by academic Inquisitors for the contents of their arguments. Academic freedom is absolutely vital to the functioning of a University (as a place of education rather than an indoctrination camp), and it’s absolutely vital to maintain a climate of vigorous, open debate in our culture. But it’s important to note that the reasons for protecting academic freedom apply to bad arguments as well as to good ones: defending Hoppe’s and Churchill’s freedom to make arguments without fear of professional reprisals doesn’t require defending the arguments they make. And that’s a good thing, because Ward Churchill is a dick, and Hans-Hermann Hoppe is a homophobic bigot. Their arguments shouldn’t be defended, because those arguments are indefensible.

It ought to be transparent why Hoppe’s claims are offensive–and I’m frankly tired of seeing libertarians play innocent on the matter. Hoppe’s latest comments are only the latest in a long record, and I’m frankly baffled that Ilana Mercer or anyone else would take seriously the notion that describing the comments as only a generalization about how homos usually prefer immediate gratification more strongly than breeders is supposed to make it less offensive. Does anyone think that Hoppe’s left-field ad hominem argument–insinuations that poofery might explain errors in Lord Keynes’s economic thought that Hoppe finds particularly grave–is really a vital teaching tool? Or that it doesn’t make his other comments on homosexuality and gratification seem just a little, well, bigoted?

Churchill’s essay, for its part, is a farrago of confusions, logical fallacies, and flat-out lies. Most of the nits aren’t worth picking here; what is worth pointing out is that the central theme of the essay depends entirely on the claim that when America–that is, the American government–goes on a rampage around the world, we are acting like bullies, and so we have no grounds for complaint when we are ruthlessly slaughtered by people [who] push back. The problem here is that the people picked out by the we changes with every use: the people who did the rampaging and bullying are the government and its agents; the people who are complaining are, I guess, ordinary Americans; the people who were ruthlessly slaughtered were a couple of thousand workers, the overwhelming majority of them neither involved with the military nor holding any foreign policy position in the U.S. government, who happened to commit the terrible crime of going to work one Tuesday. But the people are not the government, and they are not owned by the government. They are mostly–we’re anarchists here, remember?–the victims of the government. We didn’t attack Iraq; we rarely if ever have meaningful control over the war-policy machine that has wrought so much misery in the Muslim world. The crimes of the United States government do not license crimes against civilians who happen to be in the United States; any more than the crimes of Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein license crimes against civilians who happen to be in Afghanistan, Iraq, or whatever other part of the Muslim world the Leviathan is planning to stomp through next.

Churchill’s critics have repeatedly been accused of misunderstanding his arguments and taking his words out of context. Now, I have read the whole essay through several times, but you never know. So perhaps one of Churchill’s defenders could explain to me exactly what the proper, contextual understanding of this is:

In sum one can discern a certain optimism — it might even be call humanitarianism — imbedded in the thinking of those who presided over the very limited actions conducted on September 11.

Their logic seems to have devolved upon the notion that the American people have condoned what has been/is being done in their name — indeed, are to a significant extent actively complicit in it — mainly because they have no idea what it feels like to be on the receiving end.

Or, while we’re at it, this:

And when they do, when they launch these airstrikes abroad — or may a little later; it will be at a time conforming to the “terrorists”‘ own schedule, and at a place of their choosing — the next more intensive dose of medicine administered here at home.

Of what will it consist this time? Anthrax? Mustard gas? Sarin? A tactical nuclear device?

That, too, is their choice to make.

During the HUAC era, many people in the U.S. were drummed out and blacklisted from teaching because they were genuinely associated with Stalinist parties in the United States. That was wrong; but you shouldn’t have to act like Stalinists were anything other than dupes or bloody-minded opportunists to make the case that the blacklisting and the anti-Communist witch hunts were wrong. The case for their academic freedom shouldn’t have been contingent on their having the right beliefs. And the same is true for both Churchill and Hoppe: the fact that they are wrong does not mean that they should be fired.

I’ll be writing a letter on behalf of both of them; defending both Churchill and Hoppe from the administrative goon squad is important. But we shouldn’t let a siege mentality dull critical thought. The reason Churchill and Hoppe are in hot water is that they made controversial statements which are rationally indefensible and deeply offensive. The problem is the administrative response to the controversy, not the controversy itself; the way to respond to terrible arguments, among rational adults, is with other arguments, not with politically-driven intimidation.

Let’s begin.

14 replies to Hoppe and Churchill: On the Justice of Strange Bedfellows Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Sam Haque

    Regarding Cold War Stalinists, anti-Communist which hunts, and the Ironic God, has anyone checked out the smear campaign David Horowitz has been running lately against Muslim students living in the United States? What an Ass.

  2. John T. Kennedy

    I think it would be great if some schools had the kind of academic freedom you describe, but it doesn’t bother me that some schools don’t produce it. People do better by seeking what they want in a free market than by trying to influence climate.

  3. Rad Geek

    Kennedy:

    People do better by seeking what they want in a free market than by trying to influence climate.

    I’m not at all sure I understand the distinction you’re trying to make here. Free markets aren’t mechanized systems; human beings make them by freely interacting in them according to rational judgments about how best to get what they want.

    So isn’t getting together with several of your colleagues and telling a University what you expect from them–hoping thereby to influence their decisions about what the best course of action is–one way of seeking what you want in a free market?

  4. denny

    regarding “we” and the “people” and the “government”. i’m not so sure that the separation is so clear. i only partially agree that “we” have little control over policies and the waging of war.

    the problem is that “we” do pay our taxes and these taxes are used to wage war. it is not clear to me, and probably not within the scope of a comment here, the process by which u.s. citizens have become increasingly ignorant of “their” government’s policy and behavior in other countries. further, the related process by which american citizens have been distanced from active citizenship.

    it is one thing to simply say that we are not in control of “our” government but that glosses over the details and leaves much unsaid. perhaps my experiences are not the norm but outside of the relatively small activist community my perception (based on my limited experience) is that average americans are not that interested or concerned with the conduct of “their” government.

    so, yeah, it’s just not clear cut. i don’t think the vast majority of americans are innocent.

  5. John T. Kennedy

    Rad,

    So you form a pressure group for academic freedom and others form pressure groups for competing values. I think its terribly ineffective to try to manage climate by pressure group.

    If a firm is acting on the basis of an irrational policy then the real harm is done to the firm and that’s their lookout. But sub-optimal performance by one firm creates opportunities in the rest of the market. Effective market action identifies and takes advantage of those opportunities.

  6. etsuko

    I followed the link in Akane’s journal.

    I love you, and not only because I love articles that require thinking more than I love physics that doesn’t.

    I find myself deeply frustrated by the need to punish people for stupidity of the sort mentioned in this post. Ergo, this post makes me happy, and I can read it and nod my head and feel like I have company.

    Denny– taxes wage war, yes. But don’t taxes (and correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t pay them afterall) go for generally good things too– public schooling, social security? No American can say “oh but don’t use my taxes for anything war-related kthxbye.” I think Americans are most definitely innocent– this isn’t ancient Athens, we don’t toss stones into pots to say what we want; the most we can do is elect folks to make decisions for us and hope they’re good at it. We can protest til we’re blue in the face, but we can’t waltz into the halls of Congress and halt proceedings.

    Nor do I think apathy negates innocence. Apathy itself is deplorable, but I don’t see the logic or fairness in making it a sin. No one should be blown up for apathy.

  7. John Lopez

    The real problem is the public funding of bigots and mouth-frothing loonies:

    “I have to ask again: who is this mythical “public”? Everybody can’t be — which means that the inevitable result is warring pressure groups, which is precisely what we have today.” — Ayn Rand

    Personally, I’d rather set fire to the amount of production that gets stolen from me than see one dime go to pay economics profs, electrical engineering staffs, or any other thing that I’m not going to be using. Jimmy needs a “free” education? Tough. Susie wants to be a nurse? Go indenture yourself to the local hospital and they can pay for it.

  8. Roderick T. Long

    JTK writes:

    So you form a pressure group for academic freedom and others form pressure groups for competing values. I think its terribly ineffective to try to manage climate by pressure group.

    Isn’t that how ideological changes have always been effectively brought about in the past? People act on more incentives than just monetary ones.

  9. Otto M. Kerner

    I’m not so sure what JTK wants people to do instead of what they’re doing. If I was in charge of hiring professors at a university, I would offer to hire Hoppe. But I’m not, and neither is Charles Johnson. So, why not write letters?

  10. Rad Geek

    Denny:

    the problem is that “we” do pay our taxes and these taxes are used to wage war.

    I’d like to find some way not to pay my taxes this year. Besides not having the money to spare, I also think that a very substantial portion of the uses they’ll be put to are profoundly immoral. If you know of some way to avoid paying taxes, or even to pay them so that the money will only be used for purposes other than shooting people, I’d like to hear it. Otherwise, I’m not sure how the fact that the government takes my money and uses it for evil purposes imputes any blame to me.

    further, the related process by which american citizens have been distanced from active citizenship.

    I don’t know that the majority of people in America have ever been in a position of “active citizenship”; for the first half of our history the majority of adult Americans (i.e., women, Black slaves, and Indians not taxed) didn’t have the status of citizens in the first place. By the time most adults were accorded the status of citizens, the processes by which any meaningful citizen participation in government (the imperial presidency, the rise of the trusts, ballot restrictions, etc.) had begun to firmly take hold.

    In any case, though, I take it that the answer to the question is “government”; there have been times when some classes had more power to check the prerogatives of the government than they do today, but the nature of government itself has always been to reduce the population to submission and do things in their name that they would never do themselves. That’s what governments were made for:

    To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality. –P.-J. Proudhon

    Denny, again:

    perhaps my experiences are not the norm but outside of the relatively small activist community my perception (based on my limited experience) is that average americans are not that interested or concerned with the conduct of “their” government.

    It’s true that many if not most Americans are either ignorant, apathetic, or both about how the American government conducts itself in the world. That’s regrettable, but it shouldn’t be surprising: people often tend not to invest a lot of time and effort into studying a process where they don’t have very much individual control and any individual attempt to go against it is much more likely to get you killed, imprisoned, or shunned, than to make any meaningful difference. I take it that’s why the real changes for the better that have been accomplished in American history have mostly been made when people got organized and saw a way that, individually, they could participate in something that was making real differences. I take it that’s also the reason why, where organized resistence and co-operative ventures have both fallen apart, there tends to be a lot of despair or simple tuning-out.

    That’s certainly regrettable. Maybe it’s even blameworthy. But is it a hanging crime? I can’t see what would make it one. Remember we’re not talking about people who frame or enact these policies. At worst, some people (certainly not all and probably not most) support them; but having bad thoughts is not a hanging crime, either. The only legitimate targets, if you are using force to try to stop an ongoing crime, are the people who are actually involved in committing that crime. People who aren’t–even if some arrogant ass is presuming to commit the crime “in their name”–aren’t on the hook for it.

  11. Discussed at www.no-treason.com

    No Treason:

    Hoppe Speaks On The Controversy

    Jeff Tucker points out an MP3 recording of what appears to be more or less a version Hoppe’s standard lecture on Time Preference, the lecture upon which the present controversy is based. Upon listening to the lecture I found that it contains Hoppe sp…

  12. labyrus

    You know, the thing about Hoppe that makes me sort of amused is that Keynesianism worked (in terms of accomplishing the goal it stated), whereas the neoliberal economic theories like his don’t. That and I can’t stand him trying to diginify laissez-faire capitilism as some kind of anarchism. Should I really be that concerned about the impact that a university reprimanding a bad economist, who supports his flawed theories with blatant homophobic strereotypes, has on academic freedom?

    As for Ward Churchhill, the man writes inflammatory things for the sake of being inflammatory, I’m sure the administration of his institution knows that by now, but I’d say kicking him off the panel is a fair call to make, although they propably made it for the wrong reasons.

    A quick read through “Pacifism as Pathology” gives the reader the impression that Churchill is a jerk, but the reader will also grudgingly admit he has some good points. On the other hand, the essay is question doesn’t seem to have much of a point at all, ans ahows a very shallow analysis. It doesn’t seem like something that would be written by someone qualified to be on the panel.

    Maybe I just have a different concept of what Academic freedom should be than you do. In my mind, bad or offensive theories are one thing, but people that can’t clearly articulate and organise whatever their points are shouldn’t be proffessional academics.

  13. Jeanine Ring

    Amen, Reverend (& khaire).

    Thanks for this piece, Msr. Johnson; I belive you hit all the nails right on the head. I’ll be posting this to my Salon.

    thx, Jeanine

— 2009 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2009-06-16 – Idle questions:

    […] * Actually, the lecture had nothing especially to do with investments or investing in the conventional sense of the word. Hoppe’s examples of actions driven by high time-preference included consumption of snack foods, muggings, rape, and tax increases. On the whole sorry, stupid affair see Jason Kuznicki (2005-02-12): Last Words on Hoppe and GT 2005-02-08: Hoppe and Churchill: On the Justice of Strange Bedfellows. […]

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