Reply To: Hoppe


Hello again, Rob.

This is what I’ve written in response to the second part of Hoppe’s A Short History:

“The second part of Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s A Short History of Man is largely concerned with offering an explanation of why the Industrial Revolution occurred when it did and not earlier. 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,’ he writes, ‘and it took time (until about 1800) to “breed” such a level of intelligence.’ [Hoppe 2015, 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.’ [Hoppe 2015, 100] What is overlooked by such 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.’ [Hoppe 2015, 100] I am disinclined, however, to believe that the historical and theoretical 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. Newton famously remarked, ‘If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ For me, then, human progress is not so much a matter of a rising level of intelligence in a 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. The resultant theoretical advances and technological developments are diffused throughout society and so the platform is raised yet again.”

I agree entirely with you that The Economics and Ethics of Private Property is a wonderful book, and I believe Hoppe is absolutely correct to attack the idea that ethics is merely subjective.

Clearly, there are differences in intellectual capacity between individual human beings. My experience as a teacher tells me that the Bell curve seems to fit the reality of things here: some very small number of individuals are exceptionally brilliant, some small number are irredeemably stupid, and the mass are more or less on the same level – differences in achievement here are directly correlated with the amount of work put it. Measuring the intelligence level of aggregates is subject to the usual methodological problems of aggregate measurement and, as is usual, the best of the worst is better than the worst of the best.

Take the (uncontroversial) example of the heights of men and women. If I were to make the claim that “Men are taller than women”, most people would agree with me. Of course, there are women who are taller than most men but this doesn’t affect the truth of the claim which doesn’t tell us anything about the relative heights of a particular male individual and a particular female individual.

Best wishes,

Gerard Casey