Reply To: Hoppe


Hello Rob….

I’ve just finished reading Hoppe’s 2015 A Short History of Man. The first part deals with the origin of private property and the family and I have been happy to add some material from this section into my Freedom’s Progress?, which I hope to publish soon.

The second part is largely concerned with offering an explanation for why the Industrial Revolution occurred when it did and not before. Hoppe’s answer is—not leisure and not clearly defined and protected property rights (however necessary such things might be)but rather the development of human intelligence to a certain critical level. ‘A certain threshold of average and exceptional intelligence had to be reached first for this to become possible and it took time (until about 1800) to “breed” such a level of intelligence.’ [p. 98] Hoppe realises that this thesis is controversial, containing, as it does, ‘a fundamental criticism of the egalitarianism rampant within the social sciences generally but also among many libertarians.’ [p. 100] What is overlooked by egalitarians, non-libertarian and libertarian alike, he believes, is that ‘we, modern man, are a very different breed from our predecessors hundreds or even thousands of years ago.’ [p. 100]

I am disinclined to believe that the evidence shows that human intelligence is the kind of thing that can be raised in an entire population except within certain narrowly defined limits. Instead, I think it more likely that human progress is the result of the accumulation of technological developments and the refinement of social institutions over time that, as it were, raise a platform from which the next generation can work. Nobody can invent the electric light bulb before the discovery of generating electricity. ‘If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’ (Newton) For me, then, human progress is not so much a matter of a rising level of intelligence in the group as a whole as it is the presence of an appropriate level of technology and social institutions that provide the combustion chamber ready to explode from the spark of individual intelligence.

In my Freedom’s Progress? (a version of the course which I hope to publish soon) I have written: ‘In many discussions on the ‘nature versus nurture’ debate, there is a tendency to suggest that human nature is either something wholly or substantially genetically determined and thus unalterable, or else that it is nothing more than a product of our history and cultural environment, and thus essentially plastic. Neither of these extremes would seem to be correct. [see Duchesne, 33] The genetic basis of human beings is effectively identical; however, the epigenetic expression of those genes is the function of the dynamic interaction of those genes and their environment, resulting in relatively specific character types that, in turn, facilitate character traits (such as trust, capacity for hard work, a disposition to self-restraint and delayed gratification in respect of sex, food and money, etc.) that in their turn, give rise to socio-political institutions such as war, religion, trade and law. Genes hold human culture on a leash, but the leash, as E. O. Wilson remarks, is very long. [Wilson 1978, 167; see also Penman, Carey, Francis and Wade, passim, and Duchesne, 32-38]’

Best wishes,

Gerard Casey