The Death of Politics

The Death of Politics

Exploring the mindset shift towards authoritarianism in governance, "The Death of Politics" calls for a libertarian "revolution", advocating for individual sovereignty and market freedom over political coercion and control.

Governments’ encroachments on liberties and privacy have become the norm. The way governments responded to Covid was not an accident. It was the manifestation of a mindset that has taken root in practically all societies on the political level. The essence of this mindset is this: “We know what is good for society, and we have the right to enforce it using all means necessary.” It is this belief that practically all politicians are basing their actions on – at least in some areas. The result is what we are seeing now – a society where politicians don’t care about individual rights anymore. Where freedoms are taken away for the “good of society” – which is of course defined by politicians.

Remember that famous quote of George Orwell: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face— forever.” Looking at the last few years, we seem to have come pretty close to this. After this experience, it is crucial to reevaluate our political and economic systems in a radical way. No taboos. No TINA (“there is no alternative”). This is where Karl Hess’s important essay, “The Death of Politics”, comes in. This essay is dynamite in the history of political thought. In its conclusions, it is much more radical than most other thinkers would ever dare to be. This is how Hess starts the essay:

“This is not a time of radical, revolutionary politics. Not yet. Unrest, riot, dissent, and chaos notwithstanding, today’s politics is reactionary. Both Left and Right are reactionary and authoritarian. That is to say, both are political. They seek only to revise current methods of acquiring and wielding political power. Radical and revolutionary movements seek not to revise but to revoke. The target of revocation should be obvious. The target is politics itself.”

That is a bold statement. Most interestingly, Hess does not do what most people nowadays do: he does not paint one political side as the problem, as the source of all evil. Instead, he says that both sides are the problem, and because of that, we should focus on the common denominator to get rid of the problem: politics. Central to Hess’s thesis is the notion that true radicalism and revolutionary zeal should be directed not at reforming politics but at abolishing it altogether. The essay posits that as long as politics exists as a means for some to wield power over others, society will remain mired in conflict, suppression, and inefficiency. Instead, Hess champions libertarianism as the pathway to genuine freedom, where individuals own their lives and interactions are governed by mutual consent and respect for personal autonomy. Hess then argues that libertarianism and its economical corollary, capitalism, are opposed by both Left and Right:

“Libertarianism is rejected by the modern Left — which preaches individualism but practices collectivism. Capitalism is rejected by the modern Right — which preaches enterprise but practices protectionism. The libertarian faith in the mind of men is rejected by religionists who have faith only in the sins of man. The libertarian insistence that men be free to spin cables of steel, as well as dreams of smoke, is rejected by hippies who adore nature but spurn creation. The libertarian insistence that each man is a sovereign land of liberty, with his primary allegiance to himself, is rejected by patriots who sing of freedom but also shout of banners and boundaries. There is no operating movement in the world today that is based upon a libertarian philosophy. If there were, it would be in the anomalous position of using political power to abolish political power.”

He then continues to attack the Right, emphasizing that it was European conservatives who struck the first blows at capitalism by encouraging and accepting laws that led to less disruption, innovation and competition in the Industrial revolution. Big business today is openly at war with competition, he argues – they support a form of state capitalism in which the government and big business act as partners. Despite that, the Right continues to defend big business as if it had not become the bureaucratic, authoritarian force it rightfully attacks when it is labeled as government. The Left, meanwhile, attack this kind of corporate capitalism, but thinking this is the only form of capitalism, they want to substitute it with a state ownership system that is even worse. The alternative, of course, is libertarianism. The difference between Libertarianism and Conservatism on the one side and Liberalism on the other is summarized by him in this way:

“To repeat, conservatives yearn for a state, or “leadership,” with the power to restore order and to put things — and people — back in their places. They yearn for political power. Liberals yearn for a state that will bomb the rich and balm the poor. They too yearn for political power. Libertarians yearn for a state that cannot, beyond any possibility of amendment, confer any advantage on anyone; a state that cannot compel anything, but simply prevents the use of violence, in place of other exchanges, in relations between individuals or groups.”

Hess then criticizes a point that should be well-known, because it was made in a very similar way in the pandemic, and it is continuously made in other areas:

“Freedom is fine — but it must be deferred as long as a hot war or the Cold War has to be fought. All should be struck by the implications of that baleful notion. It implies that free men simply cannot be ingenious enough to defend themselves against violence without themselves becoming violent — not toward the enemy alone, but to their own persons and liberty as well. If our freedom is so fragile that it must be continuously protected by giving it up, then we are in deep trouble.”

But Hess does not think giving up freedom is necessary – not at all. He goes over some problems like drug consumption and monopolies and shows that these problems are not consequences of free market capitalism. Instead, they are problems that result from government interference in a free market, and both the Left and the Right agree that the government has to do “something” about them – meaning more government interference. They disagree about what that “something” is, but they agree that there is a role for government. Hess instead argues that most of the problems would not exist if there would be a free market. And where the problems already exist, they would be resolved best by a free market.

In today’s context, where the intrusions of state power into personal lives have reached unprecedented levels, Hess’s message resonates with renewed urgency. The surveillance state, the regulatory behemoth, the out-of-control social system and the perpetual warfare machine all exemplify the dangers Hess warned against, making his call for a libertarian “revolution” more relevant than ever. Hess’s work serves as a reminder that the path to true liberation lies not in reforming the political system but in transcending it. By embracing the principles of individual sovereignty, voluntary association, and unfettered capitalism, we can begin to envision a world where politics, in its current coercive form, becomes obsolete.

“The Death of Politics” is a vision of a future where human dignity, freedom, and creativity are not casualties of political ambition. They are what they should be: the very foundation of society. In Karl Hess’s vision, the death of politics heralds the birth of a new era of human achievement, unbound by the constraints of authoritarian control and enriched by the limitless potential of free individuals. With technologies that increasingly allow people to protect their freedoms without relying on “rights” granted by governments, which are often revoked or ignored whenever it fits governments, we might be at a crossroads. 55 years after “The Death of Politics” was published, we may be at the verge of the actual death of politics. The last few years of massively increased political power look like the violent nervous convulsions of a dying system. Whether this is good or bad depends on everyone of us.


The views expressed on austriancenter.com are not necessarily those of the Austrian Economics Center.

Do you like the article?

We are glad you do! Please consider donating if you want to read more articles like this one.


Share this article!
Join our community and stay updated!