Exposing the madness wehind current economic thought

Monday, June 17, 2013

Hans-Hermann Hoppe on John Rawls

From the introduction to The Ethics of Liberty.

when political philosophy finally made a comeback in the early in the wake of John Rawls and his Theory of Justice, the recognition of scarcity as a fundamental human condition and of private property and private property rights as a device for coordinating the actions of individuals constrained by scarcity was conspicuously absent. Neither "property" nor "scarcity" appeared in Rawls's elaborate index, for instance, while "equality" had several dozen entries.

In fact, Rawls, to whom the philosophy profession has in the meantime accorded the rank of the premier ethicist of our age, was the prime example of someone completely uninterested in what a human ethic must accomplish: that is, to answer the question of what I am permitted to do right now and here, given that I cannot not act as long as I am alive and awake and the means or goods which I must employ in order to do so are always scarce, such that there may be interpersonal conflicts regarding their use. Instead of answering this question, Rawls addressed an altogether different one: what rules would be agreed upon as "just" or "fair" by "parties situated behind a veil of ignorance"? Obviously, the answer to this question depends crucially on the description of the "original position" of "parties behind a veil of ignorance." How, then, was this situation defined? According to Rawls, behind the veil of ignorance "no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status; nor does he know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence and strength, and the like. . . . It is taken for granted, however, that they know the general facts about human society. They understand political affairs and the principles of economic theory; they know the basis of social organization and the laws of human psychology."

While one would think that scarcity ranks among the general facts of society and economic theory, Rawls's parties, who supposedly knew about scarcity, were themselves strangely unaffected by this condition. In Rawls's construction of the "original position," there was no recognition of the fact that scarcity must be assumed to exist even here. Even in deliberating behind a veil of ignorance, one must still make use of scarce means—at least one's physical body and its standing room, i.e., labor and land. Even before beginning any ethical deliberation then, in order to make them possible, private or exclusive property in bodies and a principle regarding the private or exclusive appropriation of standing room must already be presupposed. In distinct contrast to this general fact of human nature, Rawls's moral "parties" were unconstrained by scarcities of any kind and hence did not qualify as actual humans but as free-floating wraiths or disembodied somnambulists. Such beings, Rawls concluded, cannot but "acknowledge as the first principle of justice one requiring an equal distribution (of all resources). Indeed, this principle is so obvious that we would expect it to occur to anyone immediately." True; for if it is assumed that "moral parties" are not human actors but disembodied entities, the notion of private property must indeed appear strange. As Rawls admitted with captivating frankness, he had simply "define[d] the original position so that we get the desired result."[8] Rawls's imaginary parties had no resemblance whatsoever with human beings but were epistemological somnambulists; accordingly, his socialist-egalitarian theory of justice does not qualify as a human ethic, but something else entirely.

If anything useful could be found in Rawls in particular and contemporary political philosophy in general, it was only the continued recognition of the age-old universalization principle contained in the so-called Golden Rule as well as in the Kantian Categorical Imperative: that all rules aspiring to the rank of just rules must be general rules, applicable and valid for everyone without exception.