Interview: Joakim Kämpe

Joakim Kämpe is editor and co-founder of the Ludwig von Mises institute in Sweden, as well the Spanish speaking Instituto Mises Hispano. He has a degree in software engineering and has also studied a master of economics under the guidance of Jesús Huerta de Soto in Madrid.

Keir Martland: Thank you Joakim for agreeing to take part in this interview for ‘The Libertarian’. As has been the custom with the two preceding interviews, could you begin by telling our readers just what you think libertarianism is?

Joakim Kämpe: Thank you for having me on as a guest! For me libertarianism can be boiled down to the non-aggression principle, that no man may initiate force against another man. You can extend it and develop it more, but in the end it always ends up there, at least for me. However, for something that is not so complicated it sure took me a long time to “get it”.

Keir Martland: Non-aggression ‘principle’? Is there any significance in you using this term rather than ‘axiom’? I remember Stephan Kinsella saying that he simply says ‘principle’ to avoid confusion.

Joakim Kämpe:  Yeah, I also use the word principle in order to avoid confusion, and not have to get into a semantic debate.

Keir Martland: Speaking of ‘axioms’, it would probably have shocked Ludwig Von Mises himself that he is often associated with what is called the action ‘axiom’. Do you think he really would have used this term?

Joakim Kämpe:  I am not sure it would shock him terribly. After all, an axiom is something that is so evident that you have to accept it as true, and that is exactly what the “action axiom” is. Yet as, I think, Hoppe points out, as evident as axioms are, that doesn’t mean that they are easy to arrive at. It takes a lot of mental effort in order to get there, and it is to Mises’ great credit that he arrived at this, now seemingly basic, axiom. Of course, other scholars after him have developed it in more detail, but in Human Action there are already a lot of things. It is a wonderful book.

Keir Martland: Could you explain how the Swedish Mises Institute started and what your role is within it?

Joakim Kämpe: Mises Sweden started on a bus trip in Spain, between Madrid and Salamanca. The bus was heading to the first Mises conference in Europe, The Birthplace of Economic Theory, and I was going there together with two friends, one of them which happened to be my co-founder Joakim Fagerström. We had met some time earlier at work, by a coincidence, and quickly found out that we both had a passion for liberty. For some time we had been talking about doing something within the liberty movement in Sweden, which we sort of felt was not in such a good state, and in hindsight most of our ideas were just horrible.

However, on this bus ride we met Helio Beltrão of Mises Brazil. We listened to his story on how he created the Brazilian institute, and when we asked him how to do the same in Sweden he said “just do it”. So, when we returned home from the conference, which by the way was also the place where I met my soon to be wife, we quickly started organising everything, and within 3-4 months we were up and running. The focus was to be in principled and uncompromising radicalism, and I think we have held up to those ideals quite well.

As for my role, I am the editor and I make sure that what is on the site is what we want to be on the site, as well as coordinate some work. I also write the occasional article, but unfortunately not often enough. In the beginning only Joakim and I were involved. Pretty quickly we came in contact with more people, such as Markus Bergström, Per Bylund and Klaus Bernpaintner, and right now we have grown even more and we are, at the moment, approximately ten wonderful people. I am very proud of the work we are doing.

Keir Martland: What would you say Mises’ significance is? And do you think the relative popularity of Hayek and his recognition by the mainstream intellectuals shows that Hayek is much less radical than Mises? What good can a Misesian actually say about Hayek?

Joakim Kämpe: I think Mises’ significance is huge, and he is very much underappreciated. This is a man that created his own science, praxeology, and managed to reach an astounding number of people and continues to this day to inspire a new generation, yet he never got the recognition that he deserved. Hayek even raised him to the levels of Voltaire, Montesquieu, Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill, which is to say, a thinker of Mises’ calibre is very rare and doesn’t come around too often. But Mises is not just a role model based on his ideas, but also in his character. He suffered so many setbacks in his life, yet he still kept going without compromising. He wrote for what Albert J. Nock called “the remnant”, and I think that in an increasingly mad world, his sound ideas and clear thinking are just going to gain traction and attract anyone interested in figuring out what is wrong with the world.

As for Hayek, I completely agree with your assessment that the reason that Hayek is more recognized is that he, unlike Mises, was much less radical, as well as more willing to compromise. I also think, although this is pure speculation on my part, that Hayek was more easily swayed by his surroundings.

If you read Mises, one thing you notice is his extreme consistency. His views mainly stayed the same throughout his life, maybe a little bit refined here and there, but mostly the same. But when it comes to Hayek, all of a sudden you have different “Hayeks”, so to speak. Hayek I and Hayek II, maybe even a Hayek III. Unsurprisingly, the Hayek that is the best is the one that was more closely related to Mises. Hayek was also something of a muddlehead, in Hoppe’s words. There is even an essay written by Hayek himself where he classifies himself in a similar fashion called “Two types of mind”. With Hayek it is not entirely clear what he wants to say when you read him. I think this is yet another reason why he is more popular in the mainstream than Mises or Rothbard for instance. With Mises and Rothbard, you know what they are saying. They leave no doubt. Hayek leaves things open to interpretations and you can read many things into what he is saying. Mainstream academics seem to love that.

As for good things to say about Hayek, like I said, his earlier work when he was more influenced by Mises is generally good. However it seems to me, and I am not an academic or professional in any sense, that most of Hayek’s work is already in Mises. What Hayek, perhaps, did was go deeper than Mises in some issues, but it seems to me that it was not necessarily something new with Hayek. I could be wrong though, and I won’t pretend to have read everything by Hayek. As for Hayek’s later works, there are some bits and pieces that I like, but that is about it. Also, I suppose he did bring a lot of people to the libertarian cause with his “The Road to Serfdom”, so I guess there is something to be said for that.

Keir Martland: You’ve mentioned your role in the Swedish Mises Institute, but what about the Spanish speaking Mises Institute? Also, why have you featured Rothbard on the Spanish Institute crest and Hoppe on the Swedish one? Is Hoppe more popular in Sweden among Austrians than Rothbard or did you just want to honour both of these men?

Joakim Kämpe: My role in Mises Hispano is the same, but I do considerably less there. Most of the credit has to be given to Mariano Bas Uribe, who has tirelessly translated thousands of articles for five or more years. He is doing an extraordinary job. We also have a wonderful team working with translation, social media, public outreach, programming, the making of e-books etc. I think Mises Hispano has a great potential of reaching a lot of people, and it is steadily growing.

As for the difference between the crests, Rothbard was chosen for the Spanish crest because Rothbard was the one that started the Austro-libertarian movement, and that fit well with Mises Hispano. Hoppe is on the Swedish crest because he truly is an intellectual role model, and I can’t think of anyone else that fit the Mises Sweden motto of uncompromising radicalism as well as he does. In my view he is also the latest in the Austrian progression from Menger, to Mises, to Rothbard and then to Hoppe.

Our choice had nothing to do with Hoppe’s popularity in Sweden at all. I think Hoppe was largely unknown in Sweden, and to the extent he was known I am pretty sure that he was disliked or even hated. I know that some Swedish “liberals” have attacked him, calling him various names not fitting for an intellectual debate, based on second or third hand accounts. I have unfortunately not seen any serious discussion of his ideas. I hope that we can help making his ideas more known in Sweden, and encourage debate and discussion.

Keir Martland: Indeed. Some time ago, you and Joakim Fagerström co-authored an article for entitled ‘Hoppe’s Dangerous Books‘ to illustrate the intellectual timidity of some libertarians. Could you explain to us what happened with the European Students For Liberty?

Joakim Kämpe: Sure. Last year Joakim Fagerström, the president of Mises Sweden, was invited to speak at an ESFL event in Stockholm. Joakim was supposed to speak on the topic on “How to achieve freedom”, and he was going to bring up Mises and use him as an example of a role model to use in the struggle for freedom. Mises didn’t try to appeal to the masses. He stayed true to his principles and his quest for truth, and this is a very important lesson for any freedom lover. Indeed, I urge everyone interested in freedom to read Hülsmann’s incredible biography of Mises. It leaves no one untouched.

Anyway, as a part of the event we were going to sell some books, and we checked with ESFL to see if this was ok, which it was. A few days before the event we posted on the Facebook page of the ESFL event that we were going to sell some books, and we listed the books with title and author. Shortly thereafter we were told by the people responsible for the event that we had to remove the comment we just made, and that we were not allowed to sell Hoppe’s books. The explanation given was that someone responsible for the event didn’t like Professor Hoppe, and that Hoppe’s ideas were deemed to be too controversial. Indeed, as I have come to learn later, this seems to be something of an ESFL policy in regards to Hoppe.

Now, of course, the ESFL have the full right to discriminate certain authors from their events. The right to discriminate comes with private property. One of the passages that Hoppe has been most widely criticized for has to do with discrimination. Thus I found it somewhat ironic that he was discriminated against, because he argued in favour of the right to discriminate!

After being told that Hoppe’s books and his person were not welcome, we chose to withdraw from the event.

I understand that some of Hoppe’s ideas are very controversial and radical. They were for me too the first time I heard them. But to simply exclude them because “some people” might deem them to be controversial or unpopular is, in my view, not what libertarians should do. I am not a libertarian because it is popular or uncontroversial. If that was my goal I would chose feminism or socialism instead. I am a libertarian because I believe non-aggression is true and just. That’s it.

One good thing that came out of the article however was that we got in contact with a lot of great, radical, people in the SFL and the ESFL. I still don’t care much for the organisation as such, but it is nonetheless comforting.

Keir Martland: What is the situation, economically and socially, in Sweden? Is it, in your opinion, much better than that of other European countries or much worse?

Joakim Kämpe: So far, I think Sweden has come away fairly well in the latest crisis, compared to other countries. One explanation for that can be the simple fact that we, thank god, are not in the Euro; however, the emphasis in the previous sentence should be on “so far”. I think it is merely a question of time until the crisis hits here as well. And for that matter until it hits in the rest of Europe.

Keir Martland: Are there any moderately libertarian parties or politicians in Sweden? Have you ever declared openly your support for a candidate, and if not would you ever consider doing so?

Joakim Kämpe: There are no moderately libertarian parties among the big parties, no. They are all different shades of socialism. To give you an idea of how bad it is, the current “right wing” party, Moderaterna, won the election in 2006 by declaring that they were “the new worker party”. In 2010 they declared themselves the only worker party.

There is however a much smaller party, Liberala Partiet, that I suppose styles itself after the libertarian party in USA. According to Wikipedia they got less than 1000 votes last year, I thought it was more.

I don’t care much for politics these days to tell you the truth. On the one hand it bores me, and when it doesn’t it enrages me. I have never declared any support for a candidate, nor would I ever do that.

Keir Martland: Imagine you’ve been designated as the leader of a new libertarian dictatorship (an oxymoron, of course), let’s say that it is over Sweden, what would be your immediate actions?

Joakim Kämpe: Haha, well, I suppose I would resign immediately. In Tolkien’s words, the only thing that you can do is to throw the ring of power into the fires of Mt. Doom. No matter if the intentions to use it are good or not, the end result will just be massive destruction and suffering. In short I would, as Rothbard says, press the button for the immediate dismantling of the state.

I think any work towards bringing down the state from within is ultimately bound to fail. If a change towards liberty will happen in the world it will not happen through politics. Politics doesn’t lead, it just follows. It will never be the leader of change. But, in playing along with the question, I suppose I would shut down the state apparatus completely, and then I would create a private protection agency offering services to paying customers, and hiring consultants such as Kinsella to oversee our legal system.

Keir Martland: Finally, if you could recommend any 5 books for a ‘beginner’ libertarian, what would they be?

Joakim Kämpe: I think for any libertarian, “Human Action” has to be there. It is a massive book, and perhaps not the first book that you should read, but you should definitely make sure that it is one of the five.

Maybe a better book to start with is Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson“. I think you need to understand economics in order to understand freedom, and this book does a great job of teaching you that.

Hoppe’s “A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism” is another wonderful book that deserves to be on the top five. It contains some of my favourite chapters by Hoppe.

I am also particularly fond of Butler Shaffer’s “Boundaries of Order“, as it opened up a lot of ideas in my head.

Last of all I would say that Rothbard’s “For a New Liberty“. It is a great and inspiring book about liberty that explains the basic concepts of liberty in a very engaging way.

Keir Martland: Thank you very much once again, Joakim, for taking part and good luck in the future!

Joakim Kämpe: Thank you too Keir, and all the best to you!