Blogs > Liberty and Power > The Civil War

Oct 5, 2004 3:05 pm

The Civil War

[cross-posted at Austro-Athenian Empire]

No, not that one. (Though the two are related.) I'm talking about the war of insults and accusations between (people associated with, and/or sympathetic toward) the libertarian movement's two most influential think tanks, the Cato Institute and the Mises Institute -- a conflict that for a while looked like it was winding down, but now sadly seems to be heating up again. I won't link to the relevant posts or name specific names because I have no desire to fan the flames further; but as someone with ties to both organisations I feel a responsibility to say something about the issue. This will probably get me in trouble with both sides, but here goes.

a) Each side accuses the other side of taking some un-libertarian positions. For example, Catoites criticise Misesites for opposing immigration, while Misesites criticise Catoites for favouring vouchers. Well, first of all, neither institution is monolithic in this regard; not everyone at Cato is pro-voucher and not everyone at Mises supports border controls. Each of these groups is much more internally diverse than it appears when viewed, from a distance, by the other group. But second -- okay, I think each criticism is right as far as it goes. I think the anti-immigration position popular among Misesites is a mistaken application of libertarian principles; and I also think the pro-voucher position popular among Catoites is a mistaken application of libertarian principles. But I don't think either position is crazy, or something no intelligent libertarian of good will could hold. (And the same goes for many other policy issues that divide Catoites and Misesites.) After knowing, respecting, and learning from people in both camps, I find it hard to take seriously the accusations from either side that the other side is not sincerely libertarian.

b) Each side accuses the other side of engaging in personal attacks and of uncharitably distorting the other side's positions. Yes, I think both sides have been guilty of such unfairness. I may be told that one side did this first, or has done this more. Well, suppose that's right. As Rothbard would say (though not necessarily in this context!): so what? One doesn't excuse the other; it's unfortunate whoever does it, whenever and however much. Nor, however, do I find it plausible to suppose that either side is being deliberately dishonest in these distortions. When you think your opponent's position is fundamentally screwy, you are likely to be impatient at the prospect of sorting out the position's precise details.

c) Each side accuses the other side of cozying up to horribly anti-liberty groups. Catoites accuse Misesites of making common cause with the racist-homophobic-theocratic-populist right. Misesites accuse Catoites of selling out to the mass-murdering regulatory imperial Beltway establishment. Catoites are horrified when Misesites give banquets in honour of theocratic economists; Misesites are horrified when Catoites give banquets in honour of establishment politicians. Each demands to know why the other side doesn't denounce such folks instead of fêting them. (And each side is inclined to suppose, wrongly in my judgment, that the other side's expressions of horror are either instances of unaccountable looniness or else disingenuous, a cover for some hidden agenda. Again, I know the people on both sides too well to find such accusations plausible.) Well ... the forming of strategic alliances with nonlibertarian groups is a tricky matter. There's the attractive possibility not only of winning aid from statists but of influencing them in a libertarian direction. (Religious conservatives, for example, surely make less dangerous neighbours once they've been converted to anarchism.) On the down side, there's the risk of lending their anti-libertarian positions legitimacy, as well as the danger that influence can be a two-way street. Catoites and Misesites are each convinced that they're doing a good job of handling their own strategic alliances but that the other side has fallen to the dark side. (Murray Rothbard experimented with many different alliances -- Objectivists, Goldwater Republicans, New Leftists, moderate Democrats, paleoconservatives -- at different points in his career, and the Cato and Mises Institutes each partake of the character of whichever alliance Rothbard was pursuing at the time of their respective foundings.) I myself am not particularly comfortable with either the Beltway-style alliances or the paleo-style alliances (I'm personally more inclined toward the New Left sort of alliance that Rothbard was pushing in ’68 -- though I recognise that it has its perils as well); and I certainly don't think either side has negotiated its alliances flawlessly and without erroneous compromise. But I do think each side has been, in its own way, a powerful force for libertarian education, and I can't deny that these risky alliances have played a role in these organisations' success in advancing the cause of liberty.

In short, I am convinced that each side in this conflict tends to exaggerate its opponents' shortcomings, and to underplay arguably analogous shortcomings in its own record. Someday these two camps will put their quarrels behind them and unite; when they do, they will defeat the State. I fear the current wounds may run so deep that any such resolution will have to wait until all the current participants have died off; but I can always hope.

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Justin Patrick Butler - 10/20/2004

Are you saying he denied it happen? When did he imply that "Jews were not 'Germans'"?

I think you're missing his point. For one thing, it seems that he is making a somewhat paranthetical point that could be omitted from the article, but it is one that many libertarians make. (Hoppe is a libertarian, btw.) Basically, he's saying that the Catholic Church was still powerful in Nazi Germany (i.e. the Nazis couldn't control it completely) and was able to keep a check on the Nazi government. Though it's obvious the check ended up failing, it nevertheless prevented the Nazi state from going too far in its atrocities at least ante bellum. The Soviet state, however, had no such check. They had all but destroyed the Orthodox Church in the early '20s and were able to commit horrendous atrocities (such as the starving of the Ukrainians ca. 1930) without worrying about a rebellion or an outrage or anything like that.

Essentially, it's a good thing to have powerful institutions independent of the state that can help keep a check on it.

Juan Fernando Carpio - 10/11/2004

I read the Hoppe critique on Don Lavoie (R.I.P.). It certainly wasn't one gifted with diplomacy or even intellectual courtesy for Mr. Lavoie. But as rude as it could appear to a lot of people (undestandably, since standards are different for everybody), and personally I think it is different to be a maverick than to be rude and you don't need to be the latter in order to be a successful maverick, it was not an ad hominen attack based on drug use. It was simply a far fetched way to make a point. Most of us woulnd't do it in that way, but there is a clear misreading of Hoppe's.

Tom G Palmer - 10/10/2004

Read the articles for yourself and visit the IHR site for yourself and make up your own mind. (The Walter Olson article in Reason is at ). The link above included the final, right-hand side parenthesis. Delete that and it works.

Brandon J. Snider - 10/10/2004

Mr. Palmer, you took Hoppe out of context and are deliberately mischaracterizing his views.
Hoppe wrote that "From 1929 to 1939, in peace time" the Soviets were much worse than the Nazis, but the Leftists of the time covered this fact up. This is an indisputable fact. To a certain degree, they continue to do so today.
Your hysterical statement (thanks for the bracketed exclamation points!!!!!!) "The only killings he mentions are "after the onset of the war," and that deals with "mercy killings" (!!!) No mention of the mass deportations, executions, and enslavement of Jews." is also a deliberate mischaracterization. What Hoppe said was "IMMEDIATELY after the onset of the war" (all-caps mine). The holocaust didn't start until '42.
If you object to Sobran's IHR conference presentation, fine, but IHR isn't neo-Nazi. Whether or not you agree with them, IHR is engaging in the same kind of revisionism that happened following WW1. They're making an argument (one I don't agree with, and Sobran doesn't agree with), and I'll listen to anyone's argument. If they were spouting Nazi slogans and talking about how great National Socialsim was, they would be neo-Nazis, but they don't do that.

Otto M. Kerner - 10/9/2004

You're entitled to your opinion, of course, but I still don't share it. "This is the oldest anti-Semitic trope in the book," is certainly true, but it doesn't establish anything. Anti-semites are also usually anti-Zionists, but, as point out, anti-Zionists are certainly not all anti-semites. Sobran's motivation for speaking at IHR appears to me to be more or less what he says it is, i.e. simply defiance. This could be a good thing or bad thing, but at worst its simply contrarianism. As you pointed out in your recent post, that's a vice, but, after all, we're only talking about a contrarian venue, not even a contrarian idea, here.

Steven Horwitz - 10/9/2004

For what it's worth, that review clinched the deal for me when it came out. As a radical libertarian for almost 25 years, I had no reason to want to think that Hoppe was as bad as I now believe he is. I had my problems with the MI by that point in time, but they were more about issues in Austrian economics and their uncivil, unscholarly behavior. I could still get beyond that if their work was good (and in some cases, it has been). But the moment I read that review, and realized the larger context of his "omission," there was simply no other conclusion to draw. In the context of a Stalin-Hitler comparison, you can't get off the moral hook by saying "everybody knows it." It's the central point of comparison.

"Aside from that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?"

Steven Horwitz - 10/9/2004

"A mildly exaggerated suspicion about the influence of Jewish people in American life." This is the oldest anti-Semitic trope in the book. But that's the bigger issue for me: making a conscious choice to speak, and have one's work and name lent to, an organization that is known at the "scholarly" headquarters of Holocaust denial is a strong piece of evidence of anti-Semitism. Combine that with the particular content of the talk, and I'm willing to draw the conclusion, as others have before me.

And let me be clear: anti-Zionism need not be anti-Semitism. Sometimes it is; often it isn't.

Roderick T. Long - 10/8/2004

I have a new post on this topic:

Geoffrey Allan Plauche - 10/8/2004

FYI, the Reason Magazine link doesn't work.

To briefly comment on Hoppe on Stalin and Hitler... I am incredibly wary of employing the Straussian methodology of reading into everything that an author doesn't say as having a hidden intention. It is an incredibly dangerous and shaky method of scholarship, and that is why I am worried about this attributing guilt by omission business.

I don't see anything morally reprehensible in Joe Sobran's piece at IHR. There doesn't seem to be any anti-semitism in there. Nor have I seen any anti-semitism in any of his other writings that I have read (though I am sure there is a lot that I have not yet read). The same goes for Gary North; I haven't seen anything to support charges of theocracy or anti-semitism against him. Regarding Hoppe, I have seen the Don Lavoie comment in a footnote but it isn't clear whether Hoppe is accusing Lavoie of doing drugs or is simply equating the holding of ideas like Lavoie's to being on LSD. In any case, isn't this like the pot calling the kettle black? If we should judge people not for what they say to other people but merely for where they choose to say it, shouldn't we also judge certain groups for who they decide to welcome as honored guests? I've seen wild accusations against Hoppe, North, and Sobran in response to Long's post (not to mention elsewhere) that are as bad or worse than anything these three (may) have done. Isn't it time, as Long asks, for both sides to behave civilly, give it a rest, and sue for peace? We can do so much more if we spent less time fighting each other and more time fighting the welfare-warfare state.

Roderick T. Long - 10/8/2004

By "unity" I didn't mean all libertarian organizations should form a single institution or adopt a single strategy. I just meant that they should fight on the same side, i.e. against the same enemy, rather than against each other.

Tom G Palmer - 10/8/2004

Fair points, both. But I'm not moved by them. For one thing, many of the killings during wartime organized by the National Socialists were not some sort of "collateral damage," but active extermination policies that were unrelated to any aims related to war per se. (Not that that would excuse killing people in a war of aggression, anyway.) The National Socialists were motivated to exterminate millions of Jews and Gypsies just because they hated them and thought that they didn't deserve to live. That seems not to have entered into Hoppe's absurd comparison.

With regard to Sobran, what anti-Semite wouldn't make a claim like that? What if he had said "Even positing that I was speaking to a disreputable audience, I expect to be judged by what I say, not whom I say it to" before a KKK rally, festooned with burning crosses, or a meeting of the American Nazi Party or the Aryan Nations or whatever other morally depraved people attend Institute for Historical Review functions? There are cases in which one should judge people by the places they choose to make their remarks and the Institute for Historical Review is certainly one of those places.

Otto M. Kerner - 10/8/2004

Crimeny, Mr. Palmer, did you really read the article you cited from Joseph Sobran? "Even positing that I was speaking to a disreputable audience, I expect to be judged by what I say, not whom I say it to." He sounds as if he's responding to you. The most one can say about him from this article is that Sobran has a mildly exaggerated suspicion about the influence of Jewish people in American public life. Of course, he is also against Zionism -- is that what you mean by anti-Semitism?

Steve Lalanne - 10/8/2004

In that excerpt, Hoppe compares the record of both regimes during peacetime. This excludes the Final Solution, which was put into practice during the war.

While Hoppe mentions "Soviet citizens" as victims of Stalin and the Bolsheviks, he is consistent when he reminds us that Hitler "ruined the businesses and careers of hundreds of thousands of German citizens"--which obviously includes Jews (e.g., during Kristallnacht in 1938).

The passage from Hoppe isn't morally reprehensible, nor does one need to be "charitable" to see that.

Tom G Palmer - 10/7/2004

I should add one more point. Don't you think that not considering the Jews as victims of Hitler is more than a bit odd, more than just "guilt by omission"? Hoppe considers Stalin to have been worse than Hitler because Stalin killed his own people.....Get it? Even the most charitable interpretation of Hoppe's remarks still leaves them morally reprehensible. That's merely a small symptom of the disturbing mentality at the core of the strange world of Hoppean dogmatics.

Tom G Palmer - 10/7/2004

I wouldn't offer one item and ask someone to judge a person on that basis. In Hoppe's case, there is soooo much more: his ad hominem attacks on others (e.g., suggesting that Don Lavoie's arguments were bad because he was a druggie; saying that people who don't agree with his truly strange claims about immigration are "mentally arrested," etc., etc.); his dogmatic and strange claims; his remarkable mischaracterization of the economic theories of economists; his characterization of hte Nobel Laureate Gary Becker as an "intellectual criminal"; and so on. There is a larger issue than Hoppe's uncivil, unscholarly, and despicable behavior in promoting his personal cult, however, which is is a pattern (as I indicated in my brief email to you) of associating the good name of Ludwig von Mises (and of classical liberalism) with the most unsavory of characters, attitudes, and positions. You can find some of the other bits of evidence in Walter Olson's Reason magazine article on Gary North ( and the presentation of Joseph Sobran at the holocaust denial (and neo-Nazi) Institute for Historical Review ( -- look through the IHR site and see what kind of person would want to be associated with them).

There are plenty of serious thinkers and fine people who have been attracted to that group and who have been invited to speak there. I think that it's a shame when they lend their good names to the likes of Hoppe, North, and Sobran and that they risk damaging their own reputations at the same time. More people should be aware of both the cultish and unscholarly nature of that group and the truly creepy connections that Lew Rockwell and Co. cultivate.

Geoffrey Allan Plauche - 10/7/2004

Guilt by omission? I'm not saying you are wrong Mr. Palmer, but it will take more compelling evidence than Hoppe's failure to emphasize something that everyone already knows. As evidence goes, this is a bit of a stretch.

Tom G Palmer - 10/7/2004

Here is what Hans-Hermann Hoppe wrote of the comparison of Stalin and Hitler in a review of "The Failure of America's Foreign Wars" (ed. by Richard M. Ebeling and Jacob G. Hornberger):
While the facts and the conclusions reached are largely correct and reasonable, the book is not without shortcomings. Even a professed revisionist such as Ebeling cannot free himself entirely from orthodox-leftist historical myths when he appears to liken and classify as on a par the evils of Stalin and Hitler and the socio-economic character of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. From 1929 to 1939, in peace time, Stalin and the Bolsheviks killed about 20 million Soviet citizens, for no predictable reason. Hitler and the National Socialists ruined the businesses and careers of hundreds of thousands of German citizens, but the number of people killed by them before the outbreak of the war was only a few hundred, most of them fellow Nazis and all of them for a predictable reason. Even immediately after the onset of the war, when it became known that the Nazis had begun to engage in mercy killings of the incurably insane (euthanasia), the Catholic bishops, led by Bernhard von Galen, openly protested, and German public opinion compelled the Nazis to halt the program. Bishop (later: Cardinal) von Galen survived the Nazi regime. Under Stalin and the Bolsheviks, any such opposition was impossible and Bishop von Galen would have been quickly disposed of.
You'll notice that there is no mention of the Holocaust and the clear implication is that, after all, Jews were not "Germans," so what was the big deal? Stalin killed his own citizens, but Hitler, well, just a few hundred. The only killings he mentions are "after the onset of the war," and that deals with "mercy killings" (!!!) No mention of the mass deportations, executions, and enslavement of Jews. That is remarkably twisted and shows a lack of concern for the humanity of a huge percentage of the victims of National Socialism.
(The URL for the review is at;printable=Y. It appeared in the November 1996 issue of The Freeman.) The piece got by the editor, who certainly did not share the view of the author, and caused an uproar when it came out, leading to the resignation of a very valuable member of FEE's board.

Geoffrey Allan Plauche - 10/7/2004

Maybe I am just too new to Austrian economics and the Mises Institute, but I have yet to see any evidence of this talk of theocracy, racism, and/or antisemitism.

The southern nostalgia I'll grant. I've seen that. what? So long as everyone keeps in mind that the South was hardly any better than the North in that conflict. To my knowledge it isn't only some libertarians at the Mises Institute who feel southern nostalgia.

If anyone could enlighten me on this theocracy, racism, and antisemitism business I would appreciate it.

You can email me at

John T. Kennedy - 10/7/2004

"Someday these two camps will put their quarrels behind them and unite; when they do, they will defeat the State. "

Mises and Cato?

Bill Woolsey - 10/6/2004

Is this all about Tom Palmer?

When I look at the Cato Website or
any of their publications, I will find
things that I don't support entirely,
but all of it points towards less
government and more freedom. It
all seems pretty sensible and plausible.

I can't say that about the Mises

But I see some things of value there.

Cato has a consistently libertarian reform
agenda. Sometimes I don't agree with their
particular approach, but it is a libertarian
reform agenda.

The Mises Institute holds itself out as being
hardcore libertarian, but it takes a few
anti-libertarian positions.

Worse, of course, are the cranky positions
that have nothing to do with libertarianism.

Yes, that southern nationalism business counts.

But the fractional reserve banking as fraud
takes the cake!

Bill Woolsey

Steven Horwitz - 10/6/2004

I didn't mean to say that the version of AE they are learning is racist or theocratic. Let me be clear about that. What I did mean to say is that the same place that talks about one has connections to the other. "Has to do with" is not the same thing as "a racist version of...". My complaints about their work in Austrian economics are separate concerns about issues of scholarship and fairness, both to other Austrians and other economists.

Roderick T. Long - 10/6/2004

I think most of the people who come to Austrian economics through the Mises Institute would be very surprised to hear the claim that they'd been learning a racist or theocratic version of Austrian economics. That description bears little resemblance to what Mises Institute conferences are like. When I first moved to Auburn I had some trepidation about the Institute given its reputation, but I was pleasantly surprised. I know people coming from the Mises orbit who had similar pleasant-surprise experiences with Cato et al. Maybe a forced exchange of hostages is the solution to this problem.

Stephen W Carson - 10/5/2004

"Someday these two camps will put their quarrels behind them and unite; when they do, they will defeat the State." There's something odd here. Dr. Long is a leading advocate of de-centralization, polycentrism, anarchy. But in regards to the libertarian movement he starts talking about victory through unity. Is there a serious reason that Dr. Long thinks that unity is the way to go here? Don't the usual advantages of polycentrism apply here as well? For example, the kind of contention that results in the libertarian critique of school vouchers, a policy proposal that could have easily slid by since it was advocated for so long by the well respected Milton Friedman. Another advantage is having multiple strategies being tried in parallel so that all our eggs aren't in one basket. Whatever our personal feelings about contention, if this movement is to have success then we will have to learn how to live with a great deal more contention. Success will mean more people drawn into the libertarian camp. The more that are drawn in, the greater diversity there will be in cultural inclinations and so much else. There is little chance that we are going to particularly like everyone who is drawn into the movement and a good chance that we won't be able to personally stand a significant minority.

Steven Horwitz - 10/5/2004

As L&P readers know, I agree with Rod's strategy of working with, or at least feeling most comfortable with, leftist intellectuals of the New Left sort. I don't see a lot of real gains coming from inside-the-beltway work, although some for sure. And the Mises Institute strategy is one I really do find to be morally repulsive. I do think you can judge people by the company they keep, and the MI's company is questionable at best and anti-liberty in any meaningful sense at worst. I'd never go to the barricades for Cato, but I sure as hell think their strategy is superior to the Mises Institute's, even if I think on some issues, the MI is more libertarian.

Finally, as an Austrian economist, I think the MI has done far more damage to Austrian economics than good. I am *embarassed* when someone knows Austrian economics through the MI and then puts me in the position of having to explain why what I do has nothing to do with theocracy, Confederacy nostalgia, xenophobia, and, yes, anti-Semitism. (Unlike Rod, I don't see *any* merit in the anti-immigration arguments that MI types have raised.)

I better stop here. :)

David T. Beito - 10/5/2004


You're right about the Independent Institute. I have become a big fan. No group, IMHO, comes closer to combining the best, and avoiding the worst, of both worlds.

William Marina - 10/5/2004

You know what happens to those attempting peace — caught in the middle & shot by both sides. I don't really agree with either group, which is why I enjoy working with the Independent Institute.
Bill Marina

David T. Beito - 10/5/2004

I generally agree with you. I am glad that you wrote this.

One problem the Mises/Cato rift is that people feel compelled to choose sides and reflexively adopt rigid party lines. The personal tone of some of these "debates" would be funny if the consequences weren't so destructive.

Stategic alliances are unavoidable, especially in fly over country. At UA, the ASA has made a very effective strategic alliance with the Eagle Form on issues of academic standards and opposition to political correctness.

I am sure that some libertarians (and certainly some leftists) would be bothered by this. But I have no problem with it as long as both sides enter these alliances with their eyes open.