[This interview with Jeff Deist and Hans Hoppe will appear in the upcoming issue of The Austrian (March–April 2020).]
JEFF DEIST: Your recent talk in Vienna mentioned growing up happy but poor, the son of East German parents who had been driven west during the Cold War by the Soviets. Can you elaborate on the lasting impact their experience had on you, in terms of how you view state power and its attendant evils? Are you in some ways still influenced by their “eastern” roots?
HANS-HERMANN HOPPE: The fact that my parents were both refugees, ending up in the West by the accident of WWII, driven away and separated from their original homes in Soviet-occupied East Germany, played a huge role in our family life. In particular the expropriation of my mother’s family and its expulsion from house and home by the Soviets, in 1946, as so-called East Elbean Junkers, was a constantly recurring topic at home and assumed even more importance after the collapse, in 1989, of East Germany and the following German “reunification.” My mother, as many other victims of communist expropriations, then sought and hoped for the restitution of her property—in which case I would have been set for life. However, as I already knew and correctly predicted by then, this was not going to happen. There was to be no justice. But my parents were shocked and outraged.
The numerous trips we took to visit various relatives in East Germany confirmed my parents’ judgment of the Soviet system. Shortages, waiting lines, empty stores, inferior products, and lousy services. All around controls, spies, and informants. Everywhere grey ugliness and decay. A prison wall built around the whole country to prevent anyone from escaping. And commie-proles droning on endlessly about the great successes achieved under their leadership.
Yet as a little boy and a teenager I did not understand the reason for all this mischief and misery. Indeed, the East German experience did little if anything to shake my own leftist convictions at the time. East Germany, I thought, was just the wrong type of socialism, with the wrong people at the helm.
Apart from their anticommunism, my parents, as most people of their generation, were highly guarded or even timid regarding political pronouncements. Germany had lost a devastating war, and the German population was subjected to a systematic, American-led reeducation campaign, a Charakterwaesche (character-wash), as I was to realize only many years later, of truly enormous proportions, which involved a complete rewriting of history from the victor’s viewpoint, essentially portraying Germans as congenital villains. This made it all the more difficult to finally discover the fundamental importance of private property rights and the evil of statism and so-called public property.
As far as any genuine “eastern” influences are concerned, I am skeptical. Far more important in any case was the fact that my parents were impoverished refugees who eagerly wanted to recover from their losses, get ahead in life, and instill their own will to succeed also in their children. (In fact, empirical studies later on demonstrated the comparatively greater professional success of refugee children as compared to their nonrefugee peers.) However, in the German context you may count my Protestant—Lutheran—upbringing and the character traits typically associated with it, i.e., the “Protestant ethic,” as described by Max Weber, as somehow eastern.
JD: You also mentioned your time at university, studying philosophy under the direction of left-wing critical theorist Jürgen Habermas. Although your political philosophy differs radically from his, discuss his influence on you and your development of “Austrian” class analysis. Is he purely a malign figure, or can we learn from him?