This is a short text in the first place, but it explains Hoppe’s conception of the natural elite or natural aristocracy perhaps better than Hoppe’s longer works (which also depend on the concept). In a way, it’s a good introduction to Hoppe because of that. It also explains relationship of the actual political aristocracy to the natural aristocracy, and its degradation over time into democracy.
The criteria, the principles, employed in deciding a conflict between a present controller and possessor of something and the rival claims of another person to control the same thing are clear then, and it can be safely assumed that universal agreement among real people can and will be reached regarding them. What is lacking in actual conflicts, then, is not the absence of law, lawlessness, but only the absence of an agreement on the facts. And the need for judges and conflict arbitrators, then, is not a need for law-making, but a need for fact-finding and the application of given law to individual cases and specific situations. Put somewhat differently: the deliberations will result in the insight that laws are not to be made but given to be discovered, and that the task of the judge is only and exclusively that of applying given law to established or to be established facts.
Assuming then a demand on the part of conflicting parties for specialized judges, arbitrators, and peacemakers, not to make law but to apply given law, to whom will people turn to satisfy this demand? Obviously, they will not turn to just anyone, because most people do not have the intellectual ability or the character necessary to make for a quality-judge and most people’s words, then, have no authority and little if any chance of being listened to, respected and enforced. Instead, in order to settle their conflicts and to have the settlement lastingly recognized and respected by others, they will turn to natural authorities, to members of the natural aristocracy, to nobles and kings.
What I mean by natural aristocrats, nobles and kings here is simply this: In every society of some minimum degree of complexity, a few individuals acquire the status of a natural elite. Due to superior achievements of wealth, wisdom, bravery, or a combination thereof, some individuals come to possess more authority than others and their opinion and judgment commands widespread respect. Moreover, because of selective mating and the laws of civil and genetic inheritance, positions of natural authority are often passed on within a few “noble” families. It is to the heads of such families with established records of superior achievement, farsightedness and exemplary conduct that men typically turn with their conflicts and complaints against each other. It is the leaders of the noble families, who generally act as judges and peace-makers, often free of charge, out of a sense of civic duty. In fact, this phenomenon can still be observed today, in every small community.
In the case everyone turns to a single aristocrat in the application of law, and the potential development of a natural monopoly in this area:
It might be the case that everyone does in fact turn to him for justice, i.e., that he has a ‘natural’ monopoly as ultimate judge and peacemaker. But everyone remains free to select another judge, another noble, if he is dissatisfied with the king. The king has no legal monopoly on his position as judge, that is. If he is found to make law, instead of just applying it, or if he is found to commit errors in the application of law, i.e., if he misconstrues, misrepresents, or falsifies the facts of a given case, his judgment stands open to be challenged in another noble court of justice, and he himself can there be held liable for his misjudgment. In short, the king may look like the head of a State, but he definitely is not a State but instead part of a natural, vertically and hierarchically structured and stratified social order: an aristocracy.
The transition from aristocracy to monarchy can be summed up as one aristocrat seizing power and beginning to do two things: make new laws, instead of enforcing the natural ones, and imposing taxation.
Accordingly, it appeared only logical that the king, too, should be brought down and that the egalitarian policies, which the king had initiated, be carried through to their ultimate conclusion: the control of the judiciary by the common man, which to the intellectuals meant by themselves, as, as they viewed it, the “natural spokesmen of the people.”
The intellectual criticism directed against the king was not a criticism of the institution of a legal monopoly of ultimate decision-making, however, which, as I have explained, constitutes the ultimate moral and economic folly and the root of all evil. The critics did not want to return to a natural aristocratic order, in which they themselves would play only a minor albeit important role. But they did, in their criticism, make a superficial appeal to the old and ineradicable notion of the equality of everyone before the law or the superiority of law above all. Thus, they argued that monarchy rested on personal privilege and that such a privilege was incompatible with equality before the law. And they suggested that by opening participation and entry into State government to everyone on equal terms — that is, by replacing a monarchy with a democracy — the principle of the equality of all before the law was satisfied.
Appealing as this argument might at first appear, it is fundamentally wrong, however. Because democratic equality before the law is something entirely different from and incompatible with the old idea of one universal law, equally applicable to everyone, everywhere and at all times.
This is an interesting concept about how the lack or reduction of hierarchy under democracy actually reduced resistance or willingness to challenge authority:
In addition: Under democracy the distinction between the rulers and the ruled becomes blurred. The illusion even arises that the distinction no longer exists: that with democratic government no one is ruled by anyone, but everyone instead rules himself. Accordingly, public resistance against government power is systematically weakened. While exploitation and expropriation — taxation and legislation — before might have appeared plainly oppressive and evil to the public, they seem much less so, mankind being what it is, once anyone can freely enter the ranks of those who are at the receiving end, and consequently there will be more of it.
Basically, if everyone knew their place in the aristocratic scheme then it would be far less common for people to abuse that place, be they low or high in the hierarchy. Abuses result from people who don’t know where they stand, the “distinction between the rulers and the ruled.”
Here is an interesting point about how and why wealth redistribution doesn’t tend to go directly to the poorest, but rather those who are already economically well to do or middle classes:
The rich are characteristically bright and industrious, and the poor typically dull, lazy or both. It is not very likely that dullards, even if they make up a majority, will systematically outsmart and enrich themselves at the expense of a minority of bright and energetic individuals. Rather, most redistribution will take place within the group of the non-poor, and it will actually be frequently the better off who succeed in having themselves subsidized by the poor. (Just think of “free” university education, whereby the working class, whose children rarely attend universities, pay for the education of middle-class children!)
And Hoppe’s conclusion / solution:
The final question, then, is “Can we rectify this error and go back to a natural aristocratic social order?” I have written and spoken about the ultimate solution: how a modern natural order — a private law society — could and would work, and I can only summarily refer you here to these works. Instead, I only want to briefly touch here, at the very end, on matters of political strategy: how to possibly approach the ultimate solution that I and others such as my great teacher Murray Rothbard have proposed and outlined — given the current state of affairs.
As indicated, the democratic system is on the verge of economic collapse and bankruptcy as in particular the developments since 2007, with the great and still ongoing financial and economic crisis, have revealed. The EU and the Euro are in fundamental trouble, and so are the US and the US dollar. Indeed, there are ominous signs that the dollar is gradually losing its status as dominant international reserve currency. In this situation, not quite unlike the situation after the collapse of the former Soviet Empire, countless decentralizing, separatist and secessionist movements and tendencies have gained momentum, and I would advocate that as much ideological support as possible be given to these movements.
For even if as a result of such decentralist tendencies new State governments should spring up, whether democratic or otherwise, territorially smaller States and increased political competition will tend to encourage moderation as regards a State’s exploitation of productive people. Just look at Liechtenstein, Monaco, Singapore, Hong Kong, and even Switzerland, with its still comparatively powerful small cantons vis-à-vis its central government. Ideally, the decentralization should proceed all the way down to the level of individual communities, to free cities and villages as they once existed all over Europe. Just think of the cities of the Hanseatic League, for instance. In any case, even if new little States will emerge there, only in small regions, districts, and communities will the stupidity, arrogance, and corruption of politicians and local plutocrats become almost immediately visible to the public and can possibly be quickly corrected and rectified. And only in very small political units will it also be possible for members of the natural elite, or whatever is left of such an elite, to regain the status of voluntarily acknowledged conflict arbitrators and judges of the peace.