Jacob Hornberger on Libertarian Law, Religion and the Growing US
by Anthony Wile
The Daily Bell
by Anthony Wile: If
Yemen Falls, so Does the Dollar Reserve?
Bell is pleased to publish an exclusive interview with Jacob
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of
Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and
received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute
and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial
attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor
at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics.
In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director
of programs at The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in Irvington-on-Hudson,
New York, publisher of Ideas on Liberty. In 1989, Mr. Hornberger
founded The Future of Freedom Foundation. He is a regular writer
for The Foundation's publication, Freedom Daily.
You have a military background. Tell us about it and how it affected
your perception of libertarianism of which you are certainly
a prime exponent.
My four years at Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and, to a lesser
extent, my 8 years in the Army Reserves, taught me that I never
want to live in an environment in which military officials take
care of me, watch every move I make, regulate my every act, and
tightly control my behavior. It was a great lesson in learning to
despise socialist systems and to love free societies. On the other
hand, VMI taught me the importance of personal integrity, provided
me with an excellent education and convinced me that a free society
depends on citizen soldiers, not a professional standing army, to
defend the nation from invasion.
You are a lawyer as well. As a person with a military background
and a law degree, it is something a miracle that you ended up being
as iconoclastic as you are. How did this happen? Is it a personality
I was born a libertarian but I didn't realize it until a few years
after I had started practicing law. My practice of law gave me a
deep appreciation for the vital importance of the Constitution and
of civil liberties in a society and the threat that zealous
and even well-meaning government officials pose to our liberties.
If it weren't for criminal-defense lawyers zealously guarding the
rights of their clients, there would be a lot more people in jail
or executed. That's why totalitarian regimes hate lawyers.
You were a trial attorney, and trained as so. So let's ask some
legal questions if you don't mind. What do you think of American
justice and the court system?
The system of criminal justice established by the Constitution and
the Bill of Rights and which stretches back into centuries of resistance
to British tyranny by the English people certainly has its faults,
but given the protections of habeas corpus and the Bill of Rights,
America's criminal-justice system has always been the finest in
the world that is, until federal officials used the pretense
of the war on terrorism to circumvent the protections and guarantees
in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
We have arrived, at long last, as the conclusion that tribal justice
is the best. The system that seems to have worked in the world for
tens of thousands of years was one that combined family feuds (unto
the seventh generation) with honor feuds (duels with deadly weapons)
and negotiated settlements with or without "wise men."
In other words, the system was familial, tribal and laissez faire
and depended on the threat of force to discourage illegal acts.
It had no state involvement except when the tribal/clan leader was
approached for settlement purposes. It was not even a Common Law
system, as it predates British common law. It predates Roman law
as well and we call it "tribal law" as a catch-all, or
"private justice." Do you have some thoughts? Is this
practical in any way? Is it even worth discussing within the context
of the current judicial juggernaut?
I believe that justice depends on a judicial system in which people
can fairly present their case before an independent tribunal, preferably
with juries composed of regular citizens, and where the state has
a monopoly of force to enforce the judicial judgments. It doesn't
guarantee perfect justice but no system can. At least it ensures
that people will have the opportunity to be heard, especially with
lawyers to present their case, and that winners will have the ability
to enforce their judgments without gun battles in the streets.
Is the American system of justice now Admiralty justice? Is it true
lawyers are instructed not to cite precedent before 1930 and that
courts will not recognize previous precedent?
Under the Constitution, U.S. federal district courts have jurisdiction
over admiralty or maritime cases, but I assume you mean by the term
"admiralty justice" the claim that some tax protestors
make that American courts are admiralty courts and, therefore, have
no jurisdiction over such tax protestors. I agree with the conclusion
reached by the courts that such a claim is meritless and frivolous.
No, it is not true that lawyers are instructed not to cite precedent
before 1930 or it is not true that courts will not recognize previous
precedent. Lawyers are free to cite any precedent that is pertinent
to their case.
What do you think of the ICC? We think there is no such thing as
a crime against humanity. One might as well commit a crime against
a paper bag. Your thoughts?
I have mixed feelings about this. I understand the desire to have
an international criminal court to bring to justice officials who
engage in criminal conduct but whose government won't do anything
about it (e.g., the U.S. officials who waged their undeclared war
of aggression against Iraq or kidnapped, tortured, renditioned,
or executed people without due process). On the other hand though,
I don't see how such a court acquires jurisdiction over the world
and I agree that a "crime against humanity" is too nebulous.
Also, the procedures of the ICC aren't ideal either, including no
regard for trial by jury.
Is an illegal system of justice being erected around the world?
The judicial system that the Pentagon has established to compete
against U.S. federal district courts in terrorism cases is illegal
under our form of government, but there is little chance that the
Supreme Court will declare it unconstitutional, in large part because
the Court knows that the president and the Pentagon wouldn't comply
anyway. This is a very bad thing and has brought disgrace and shame
to our country. Our criminal justice system the one the Framers
established in the Constitution with the guarantees provided
in the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments, and habeas corpus
in the Constitution is the best criminal justice system in
the world, including for the crime of terrorism.
Is there any value in copyright? Is intellectual property valuable
or, not being scarce, should it be available to anyone without charge?
I believe in copyrights and I believe they should be protected and
not available to anyone without charge unless the owner says so.
I understand that there are many brilliant libertarians who hold
Let's switch gears. Tell us about your relationship with Richard
M. Ebeling and how you came to found the Future of Freedom Foundation,
whose mission is to present an uncompromising moral, philosophical,
and economic case for the libertarian philosophy.
Hornberger: I met Richard when I was practicing law in Dallas,
Texas, and he was teaching economics at the University of Dallas.
We became good friends, and I hired him to give me a personal chapter-by-chapter
tutorial in Ludwig von Mises's magnum opus Human
Action. In 1987, I gave up the practice of law to accept
the position of program director at The Future of Freedom Foundation,
and Richard later moved to Hillsdale College where he became the
Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics. Two years later
1989 I left FEE to establish FFF and Richard served as vice
president of academic affairs for FFF in addition to his duties
at Hillsdale, providing invaluable counsel and contributing a regular
monthly article from January 1990 continuously until 2003, when
he became president of FEE.
Tell us about some of the accomplishments of the Future of Freedom
FFF is the recipient of Ron Paul's Liberty in Media Award for Outstanding
Freedom Website. In 2007 and 2008 we had two of the finest conferences
on foreign policy and civil liberties in the history of the libertarian
movement, the lectures of which are posted online at our website
(www.fff.org). Every month since January 1990, we have published
our monthly journal of essays, Freedom Daily, all of which are posted
on our website. For the past several years, we have published our
daily FFF Email Update, one of the best libertarian commentary pages
on the Internet. We also have a monthly Economic Liberty Lecture
Series in conjunction with the George Mason University Econ Society,
a student group interested in libertarianism and Austrian economics.
Prior to that, we had a great lecture series on libertarianism and
Austrian economics for several years entitled The Vienna Coffee
You'd served three terms on the platform committee of the national
Libertarian Party by 2000. In 1996, the Libertarian Party awarded
you the Thomas Paine award for outstanding communication of libertarian
principles. Are you going to try to run as a Libertarian candidate
for president again?
My three terms on the LP platform committee were very enjoyable
and rewarding. I was particularly struck by the ideological purity
of the platform, which is why I agreed to serve on the committee.
I always considered the platform to be the anchor by which the LP
protected itself from LP candidates who were tempted to compromise
libertarian principles in the hopes of garnering votes. It one of
the biggest honors of my life when the LP awarded me its Thomas
Paine award. I have no plans to run as an LP candidate for president
again. I think political activity is a great vehicle for spreading
libertarianism but I love the educational-foundation arena much
You've written a number of books. Please describe the following
BRIEFLY so our viewers can purchase them as they wish.
of Socialized Medicine (co-written with Richard M. Ebeling)
(1994) ISBN ISBN 0964044706.
This book shows how government intervention into the healthcare
arena, with Medicare and Medicaid, occupational licensure, and regulation,
are the root cause of America's healthcare woes. It calls for a
complete separation of healthcare and the state, entailing a complete
repeal, not reform, of these programs and interventions.
Failure of America's Foreign Wars (co-written with Richard
M. Ebeling) (1996) ISBN 0964044765.
This book explains how America's foreign wars have been a disaster
and calls for the total dismantling of America's foreign military
empire, which would entail closing all the foreign bases and bringing
all the troops home and discharging them.
Security, and the War on Terrorism C) (2003) ISBN 1890687049.
This book shows how U.S. foreign policy is the root cause of the
anger and hatred toward the United States that has led to a constant
threat of terrorism, which government officials then use to infringe
upon our fundamental rights and freedoms. It calls for an end to
foreign intervention and a repeal of all measures that infringe
on liberty and privacy.
Back to politics. Why doesn't the Libertarian party do better in
One reason is the horrible ballot-access restrictions placed by
the Democrats and Republicans, including ridiculous petitioning
requirements. Libertarians have to spend so much money on that that
they then lack the money to run campaigns.
is campaign-donation limits. If people were free to give unlimited
amounts of money to candidates, Libertarian candidates could call
on a few wealthy libertarian donors to fund their campaigns. And
another reason is the propensity of people to vote only for major
Republicans and Democrats abandoned their principles long ago in
exchange for votes, which is why they preach such things as "free
enterprise and limited government" and "loving the poor,
needy, and disadvantaged" while supporting such socialist,
imperialist, and interventionist programs as Social Security, Medicare,
Medicaid, public schooling, the drug war, the war on immigrants,
torture, wars of aggression, and denial of due process. Statists
like to mock the LP for its lack of electoral success, but the fact
is that the LP has always placed a higher value on libertarian principles
than getting votes, which has made its job in the electoral process
more difficult. After all, while things seem to be changing now,
American voters have historically oriented toward statism, despite
its manifest immorality and destructiveness.
Was Ron Paul right to position himself as a libertarian republican?
It's probably killing the Libertarian party, yes?
I think he was right because as a practical matter, I don't think
voters would have elected him to Congress as an LP candidate, and
he has been a tremendously positive force for libertarianism in
Congress. No, I don't think he's killing the Libertarian Party.
On the contrary, I think he's bringing libertarianism and the Libertarian
Party to the attention of ever-increasing numbers of people. One
of the most admirable things about Ron Paul is how he has consistently
embraced libertarians and the Libertarian Party throughout his congressional
terms and during his campaign for president.
What do you think of Ron Paul? Rand Paul?
Ron Paul is one of my real-life heroes, and he has been one of the
libertarian movement's most effective advocates ever. Rand Paul
is not as libertarian as his father, especially when it comes to
foreign policy and the war on terrorism, but he is certainly heads
and shoulders above standard Republicans when it comes libertarian
philosophy, economic principles, and civil liberties. Moreover,
Rand Paul's positions on monetary policy and his attacks on the
Patriot Act have been extremely admirable.
Have you become a gradualist about government change or do you remain
a radical "Libertarian Outlaw."
I ardently oppose gradualism and I remain a radical "Libertarian
Outlaw." If there were button that could be pushed that would
immediately repeal every since welfare-state program, including
Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and every since warfare-warfare-state
program, including the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, I'd
push it. When a thief is caught embezzling funds, do we gradually
reduce his dependency on the money or do we terminate it immediately?
Moral principles are immutable. They're either followed or not.
You're a born-again Christian and a libertarian. We're always amused
by those who believe that a libertarian society would be godless
or at least non-religious when the reverse is true. The freer the
society, the more spiritual or at least religious it usually is
because people need some sort of moral or behavioral structure.
We can see this in pre-revolutionary America. How do you see it?
As a Christian and as a libertarian, I believe people should be
free to live their lives any way they want, so long as their conduct
is peaceful. That might mean living life in an irresponsible, immoral,
and even self-destructive manner.
I agree with
you and I do believe that a free society tends to nurture the values
that most of us hold dear, such as morality, compassion, and responsibility.
But by the same token, it is impossible to predict the outcome of
a free society, which scares a lot of people. One of my beefs with
conservatives is when they intimate that such values are a prerequisite
to having a free society and that people can't be trusted with freedom
until they are responsible, moral, and compassionate. As a libertarian,
I say nonsense to that. Freedom entails the right to be irresponsible,
uncaring, and immoral, so long as your conduct is peaceful (i.e.,
no murder, rape, theft, fraud, etc.)
Isn't it true the more government there is, the more corrupt and
lawless society becomes?
Yes, but only when the government is doing things that it shouldn't
be doing, such as regulating economic activity or criminalizing
the possession or distribution of drugs. When government is limited
to doing the things it should be doing such as going after
murderers, rapists, and thieves more government might be
better and society will less corrupt and lawless.
Should drugs be legalized? Is the war on drugs a failure?
Yes, absolutely, immediately. With the possible exception of public
(i.e., government) schooling, it would be difficult to find a better
example of a failed, immoral, and destructive government program.
Not only has the drug war not achieved its purported end, it has
actually made society much worse off in terms of violence, death,
We think the Internet like the Gutenberg Press before it is collapsing
the Anglo-American empire. Reaction?
The Internet is certainly helping us libertarians educate people
to the reality of their government has become a socialist,
imperialist, interventionist monstrosity that is taking our country
down the road to moral debauchery, government dependency, and financial
bankruptcy. Time will tell though whether a critical mass of Americans
decide to restore a free-market, limited-government republic to
We think the Internet like the Gutenberg Press before it is creating
a new Renaissance and new Reformation Internet Reformation,
if you will? Response?
It certainly is providing people with the means to circumvent the
long-established mainstream media outlets, which is a great thing.
Many believe that a New World Order is being created by an elite
group of banking families residing in the City of London. Conspiracy
It's a conspiracy theory that I don't personally find persuasive.
But whether one believes that such a conspiracy exists or not, our
goal should be the same to end all the socialist, imperialist,
and interventionist programs and establish a total separation of
economy and state, money and state, healthcare and state, and education
and state, dismantle our nation's overseas military empire, its
standing army, and its military industrial complex, and restore
civil liberties to our land.
Is the US Dollar on the way out?
It might well be on the way out since the government keeps spending
and borrowing and the Federal Reserve keeps inflating and debasing
to enable the government to continue spending and borrowing.
We will see a gold backed currency in your lifetime?
Possibly, but I would prefer a free-market in money what
Friedrich Hayek, the libertarian Nobel Prize winning economist,
called "the denationalization of money." Government has
no more business in currency and money than it does in health care,
education, or charity. Separate money and the state by repealing
legal tender laws, abolish the fed, and free the market so that
people can use any type of money they want.
Interesting point. Can you give us your take on free-banking, clearinghouses
and private fractional reserve banking? We're all for money competition
Yes, I favor free banking, along with the likely possibility of
fractional reserve banking, and private clearinghouses. The argument
that fractional reserve banking in a free market is fraud, which
some libertarians make, is, in my opinion, ill-founded because fraud
involves an intentional misrepresentation of a material fact (or
omission of a material fact) with the intent to deceive. If the
bank represents up front that it is engaged in fractional-reserve
banking and the customer agrees, then there cannot be fraud. The
customer voluntarily takes the risk of a bank run and the bank's
going under. Those customers who don't want to take such a risk
can find banks that don't engage in fractional reserve banking and
serve simply as warehouses for people's money.
Let the market decide ... Maybe because the market has been so powerfully
regulated it's having difficulty operating. Are we in the midst
of a rolling, global depression?
It sure seems like it to me. In fact, we might actually be in a
perfect storm of failure and destruction of statism all over the
world, including our nation's own socialism, imperialism, and interventionism.
Is the war on terror a phony war?
It's more a fraudulent war. The U.S. government goes abroad and
provokes people with things like sanctions, foreign interventions,
invasions, support of dictatorships, and foreign aid. Then when
the victims retaliate, as they did on 9/11, the government cries,
"Oh, it had nothing to do with what we did to provoke them.
It's all because they hate us for our freedom and values."
And then feds use the terrorist threat to do more of the same, including
invasions and occupations, thereby producing a perpetual need for
government "protection," which comes in the form of ever-growing
infringements on our privacy and freedom, such as the fondling at
the airports, the Patriot Act, the spying on Americans, the secret
searches of financial information, and so forth.
Is al-Qaeda a made up enemy?
No. Its roots go back to the extremist Muslims that the U.S. government
was supporting when they were trying to oust the Soviet Union from
Afghanistan. After the Soviets were evicted, al-Qaeda committed
itself to ousting the U.S. Empire from the Afghanistan, Iraq, and
the Middle East.
Is there ever a justification for "wars of overseas aggression?"
Does the US seek overseas conflict to further domestic repression?
Perhaps but regardless of whether they intend it or not, that is
the logical outcome of its overseas interventions. James Madison
pointed out that the officials of the Roman Empire were famous for
inciting foreign crises whenever the Roman citizenry became restless
over the Empire's ever-growing taxes, debt, and regulations.
Is the US becoming a police state?
The U.S. has become a police state. Federal officials now have many
of the powers wielded by the Middle East dictatorships that the
U.S. government supports. These include the power to label people
as suspected terrorists, arrest and detain them indefinitely without
trial, ignore verdicts of acquittal in federal court terrorism cases,
torture people, execute people after kangaroo tribunals, kidnap
people and rendition them to friendly dictatorships for torture.
Also, we've got the Patriot Act, the CIA, the ATF, and the NSA.
Then when you combine the powers being wielded in the war on terrorism
with the powers wielded by increasingly militarized cops in the
war on drugs, that's what a police state looks like. Doesn't the
United States jail more people per capita than communist China and
every other country? I think we're Number 1 in this regard.
Is Obama a better president than George W. Bush?
They are both the same. Obama is Bush's third term. He is an absolute
disaster. Not only does he embrace socialist economic policies and
big spending and big borrowing, he's been as big a disaster on civil
liberties and foreign policy as Bush.
Is the EU on the way out? How about the euro?
I don't know. For sure the welfare states of Europe are collapsing
before our eyes, especially given the enormous spending and borrowing
burdens placed on their citizenry. Where it will lead is anyone's
guess, but I have a feeling it's not going to be pretty.
Is every law a price fix?
I'm not sure what you mean by that. Laws against murder, rape, stealing,
and other violent crimes place a price on violation, but I consider
such laws perfectly valid. Economic crimes, such as minimum-wage
laws or price controls, fix prices and are invalid and destructive.
Are laws and regulations ever necessary, hypothetically speaking?
Laws that punish actions in which people initiate force against
others are necessary. Murder, rape, stealing, fraud, etc., are examples.
Laws and regulations that punish peaceful conduct are illegitimate.
Examples including drug laws, insider-trading laws, and minimum-wage
Are central banks necessary? Should they be done away with?
No, central banks are unnecessary and are highly destructive. They
are one of the twin engines by which the federal government confiscates
people's wealth. (The other one is the IRS.) It should be done away
with immediately. (So should the IRS and the income tax.)
Are gold and silver going higher in terms of purchasing power? How
Owning gold and silver might not be for the faint of heart because
of the stomach-churning plunges in price. But as long as federal
spending and borrowing continue soaring, the longer the Fed will
be debasing the currency, which means gold and silver will be going
higher, at least in terms of the dollar. How high is anyone's guess.
Where do you go from here? How about your Foundation?
We continue fighting for a free society by spreading sound ideas
on liberty. With crisis comes opportunity to opportunity
to restore a free, peaceful, and prosperous society to our land.
We invite everyone to subscribe to our daily FFF Email Update and
to our monthly journal "Freedom Daily" and to support
our work with tax-deductible donations and bequests. Our work depends
on the financial support that people give us. As Mises pointed out,
when society is headed toward destruction, none of us can stand
aside. We all have a stake in the outcome. We must all throw ourselves
vigorously into the battle.
Are you working on any other books?
No, we are using the Internet as our primary means to disseminate
our libertarian perspectives.
Is this an exciting era in which to be a libertarian?
This is the most exciting time ever to be a libertarian. People
are finally figuring out that something is fundamentally wrong in
our country. If they can only achieve the breakthrough that we libertarians
have achieved that long ago America abandoned its philosophy
of freedom, free markets, and a limited government republic and
embraced socialism, imperialism, and interventionism, then we've
got a real shot at ridding our nation of the statism that afflicts
our land, along with all the horrible consequences it has wrought.
More people are becoming interested in libertarianism than ever
before, especially young people. With two libertarians who can competently
and eloquently defend libertarianism now running for the Republican
presidential nomination Ron Paul and Gary Johnson
this will certainly add to libertarian excitement.
Any other thoughts?
Thank you for the interview. It's an honor to be added to your cast
of interviewees, many of whom have been heroes of mine for a long
Thanks for sitting down patiently through an extensive interview
and answering the "tough" questions. It's been a pleasure
and honor to interview you.
Like so many
others, we've admired Jacob Hornberger's dedication to the spread
of libertarianism and the eloquent writing he's produced. The Future
of Freedom Foundation is an essential free-market voice, and he's
been an effective spokesperson throughout his career.
As a former
military man and lawyer, he could have aimed his life's work toward
a number of areas. There are certainly more lucrative ways to make
a living, but he decided to focus on what he loved and believed
in. He was "born" to do what he's doing and his passion
a lot in this interview, as we expected to. Jacob Hornberger is
a widely read individual, and that comes through in his books and
articles as well as his interviews and radio appearances. His remarks
on religion, free banking and the West's growing militarism were
most thoughtful in our opinion. One issue where we still have questions
(though admittedly his opinion is more mainstream than ours) is
his perspective on the American justice system.
out some of our conclusions about tribal and clan justice as a workable
and ancient system that predates British Common Law and emphasized
familial as well as "elder" negotiation. His reply, as
you can see in the interview, above, emphasized the system as it
had evolved, including a trial by jury before an independent tribunal
"where the state has a monopoly of force to enforce the judicial
once the state has a monopoly of force, doesn't that allow the state
a good deal of latitude? It seems to us that we're reaping the unfortunate
results of a monopoly of force, today, given the growing government
lawlessness both in America and Europe. We also asked him about
the idea that modern US courts operate under Admiralty law. He seemed
to answer this question carefully: "I agree with the conclusion
reached by the courts that such a claim is meritless and frivolous."
He was far
blunter in regard to the how US courts evolved in the 20th century.
His answer was unequivocal: "No, it is not true that lawyers
are instructed not to cite precedent before 1930 or it is not true
that courts will not recognize previous precedent. Lawyers are free
to cite any precedent that is pertinent to their case."
He was clear
about the ICC, stating that he doesn't see how "such a court
acquires jurisdiction over the world" and that a "crime
against humanity is too nebulous." We certainly agree with
that and were not surprised by his perspective or willingness to
him at the end of the interview for answering "tough"
questions but he's been taking on tough issues throughout his professional
career. Those in the libertarian community are lucky to have his
eloquence and influential think-tank the Future of Freedom Foundation
to call on. The fight for freedom has never been more necessary
with permission from The
Wile is an author, columnist, media commentator and entrepreneur
focused on developing projects that promote the general advancement
of free-market thinking concepts. He is the chief editor of the
popular free-market oriented news site, TheDailyBell.com.
Mr. Wile is the Executive Director of The Foundation for the Advancement
of Free-Market Thinking – a non-profit Liechtenstein-based foundation.
His most popular book, High
Alert, is now in its third edition and available in several
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