In his article titled The Memification of Hans Hoppe, CJay Engel explains his wariness and caution with the meme phenomenon surrounding Hoppe, in particular the “Physical Removal” meme propagated by people claiming to be Hoppe fans. He goes on to argue that the “memification of Hoppe” has been detrimental to Hoppe’s reputation as an important libertarian and economic theorist, and has been detrimental to a wider spread willingness (at least among libertarians) to understand Hoppe’s contributions. After all, as Engel rightly points out, Hoppe forms ─ with Mises and Rothbard ─ the Trinity of intellectuals who’ve laid the foundations of our movement.
But more specifically, Engel is expressing a frustration not with the existence of Hoppe memes (which he has stated clearly that he laughs at and enjoys), but the transition of Hoppe from an intellectual powerhouse and contributor to our cause, to someone who is only known for his single paragraph regarding covenant communities under a private property order. In other words, memes per se are not the problem– but is not Hoppe more than just memes? Thus, the complaint was against those who have taken a single paragraph from Hoppe, but who have never gone deeper and in fact may not know there is anything deeper worth reading from Hoppe.
As added clarity, as he articulated to me privately, “the spirit of the article was not against Hoppe memes, or even Hoppe meme Facebook pages or YouTube channels; it is against the degradation and cheapening of a great intellectual hero, and I am thinking more of the 4chan type crowd– those who have never opened, say, his Theory of Socialism and Capitalism– than the Facebook one. I love a good meme– and think they can be useful and entertaining.”
I enter this discussion from the point of view of one of the many creators of Hoppe memes. I run the Hoppe Memes YouTube channel. Most of the Hoppe video memes I have made are on that channel, including ones with the physical removal theme. I want to briefly explain how I got on board the Hoppe meme train, what my intentions were at the time, and why I think Engel makes a good case, for me at least, to get off the train.
I want to start first by saying that I’m not one of those Hoppe fans who’ve only read that one paragraph about physical removal in Hoppe’s Democracy. I’m well versed in his works, and also those of Mises and Rothbard.. Long before this meme phenomenon surrounding Hoppe appeared, I had for at least a couple of years vehemently defended Hoppe’s argumentation ethics and Mises’s praxeology in various forums and private groups online. However, I do have considerable knowledge of the type of unread Hoppe fans Engel is referring to ─ though I am not one..
I first became aware of the Hoppe meme phenomenon sometime in 2015 when a Facebook page called HHH Physical Removal Service appeared — a page Engel has openly confirmed he “likes” and enjoys. The same concerns that Engel raises in his article were the exact same concerns I had when I first encountered this page. Initially, I couldn’t tell if the page was anti-Hoppe, pro-Hoppe, or what. I stood clear of it for the most part because I thought it was meant to mock Hoppe. But after few months went by, I started to see the memes in my timeline being shared by friends and couldn’t help but laugh. (Believe it or not, I actually have a sense of humor.)
Eventually, I came to view the page as probably being a bunch of Hoppeans having some fun, who turned the long-existing physical removal controversy ─ made so by uncharitable and frankly dishonest critics of Hoppe ─ into a giant inside joke. I then started to participate in it myself, along with dozens of others, in making some memes using my highly developed MS Paint skills and posting them to the page. Some of my memes were shared and in a couple of cases received over 100 likes. It felt good creating something that others found funny, so I decided to make more.
Since I did a lot of work with video, I decided to make some crude video memes instead of pictures. My first video meme was of Hoppe doing standup comedy. It was well received. I then made my first physical removal meme, which also got positive reactions. I wasn’t intending to build up an audience but I started to accumulate subscribers. I did the videos mostly for my own sake but I thought, “Hey, if fellow Hoppeans find them funny too, that’s a bonus!” With more and more people subscribing, I felt a little pressure to produce more video memes. Over the next year and a half, I made about 20, most of them under two minutes in length.
From the very beginning my intentions were solely humorous and remain so. The contents of the memes were never meant to be taken as strategic advice on how to achieve political success. It was just for laughs. I was always cognizant of the possibility of the memes being misconstrued, but I thought ─ naively, looking back ─ that no one would be so stupid to interpret the memes literally. By October 2017, critics of Hoppe were getting louder and in particular began accusing Hoppeans who created and spread these memes of advocating for political violence against our ideological opponents (viz. communists), calling us fascists. These assertions became so absurd I reluctantly* added a disclaimer to my “About” section on my channel.
At that point I also become aware of criticism from fellow Austro-libertarians, who argued that the memes were damaging Hoppe’s reputation and the movement. I took the criticism to heart because I hadn’t intended anything like that. With this criticism, in addition to the left-libertarians continued screeching about the fascism and Nazism they see everywhere, I decided to pull back meme production for seven months. It’s only recently that I’ve restarted because I didn’t want to give in to the politically-correct mob, something Hoppe himself says we should never do. But still today, being confronted with the absurd accusations of fascism-promotion from left-libertarians and legitimate criticism from fellow Austro-libertarians, I think it’s time to consider terminating my little meme venture altogether.
Engel correctly points out the that memification of Hoppe, although originating as “lighthearted memes and playful tomfoolery,” has been appropriated by so-called Hoppe fans “who by all appearances have never read much of Hoppe’s actual contributions, such as his critique of the socialism of conservatism.” These appear to be alt-right types who cling to Pepe the Frog and “drool over ridiculous images like these and think it hilarious – when really it’s just childish and counter-productive – to use a twist on 1488 HH, replacing with 14888 HHH.” I had seen those around for quite some time, even before I decided to slow my meme output. I was uncomfortable with the association of the lighthearted memes with OK-gesture flashing alt-right types.
As of today, I now believe no amount of disclaimers ─ to assure the left-libertarians that we don’t literally believe in the memes or the fascism they apparently see in them; to assure the Austro-libertarians that we mean no harm to Hoppe’s reputation and the Austro-libertarian movement by these memes ─ will wash what were supposed to be lighthearted memes of the negative connotations now being associated with them. I’m an intellectual type for sure, and can be deadly serious when it’s required, but I also like to be silly and laugh even at stupid little memes like the ones I and others have created over the last couple years.
The prospect of permanently ending my meme venture seems like a victory for political correctness and this is personally quite aggravating. Despite this, considering the costs of continuing (i.e. both reputational damage to Hans Hoppe and a discouragement of people on the outskirts from diving deep into his rich and highly stimulative essays ) versus the benefits that may flow (i.e. a laugh or two, and a couple hundred likes, and making fun of our intellectual opponents), I think it’s time to put an end to it.
Hoppe and DiLorenzo are correct in suggesting that, in addition to addressing their arguments intellectually, we should ridicule our intellectual opponents for the absurdity of their positions. But perhaps the memification of Hoppe is no longer ─ maybe it never was ─ a good way to ridicule them. Maybe I should expend some of my creative energy on humorous educational videos instead, like I did with my video: Hoppe’s Economy: A Praxeological Tale.
*I say reluctantly because at the time there was a lot of virtue-signaling by mainstream libertarians, who were all signing a document explicitly expressing their opposition to fascism and Nazism, in case there was any confusion about that(?!).