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Wednesday, March 24, 2021 Leer en Español

34 Quotes on Collectivism and Freedom from Tibor Machan

Tibor’s contributions to the freedom movement were as towering as the man himself.

Image Credit: Cato

In 2016, I published a book titled Lines of Liberty, which brought together the words of many who have been most important in the defense of liberty over the years. One of the decisions I made with that book was to restrict its scope to people who had died, essentially because those still living weren’t done yet.

Since then, I have occasionally published words of those who have died after “missing the deadline.” Walter Williams is the most recent example. But perhaps the first person whose words belong with the greats but was not included was Philosopher Tibor Machan, who died on March 24, 2016. Today, on the fifth anniversary of his death, I believe we can benefit from some of his insights.

With that said, Machan’s work includes 40 books, over 100 scholarly papers, and reams more in other forums, so it is hard to fit any sort of comprehensive collection of his inspirational words in a compact space, although one can certainly get a feel for what he was about from his book titles—such as Individuals and Their Rights (1989), Classical Individualism: The Supreme Importance of Each Human Being (1998) and Libertarianism Defended (2006). But most of those books are hard to come by.

So, because of his lengthy connection to the Foundation of Economic Education that included 73 articles from “The Free Society and Its Enemies,” on January 1, 1969 to “Natural Rights Come from Human Nature,” on November 11, 2013, I have chosen to select my favorite Machanisms from those. Even then, there is so much material that I have shortened it to some of his best wisdom, followed by what I consider are his top ten FEE articles dealing with central and enduring issues of liberty, that I think are absolutely worth reading in their entirety.

Short Wisdom

  1. The education of citizens in the philosophy of freedom must be the concern of all those who consider the free society the proper kind of social system under which man can live with his fellow men.
  2. Not only does the system of private property respect the rights of individuals to the fruits of their labor and good judgments…but the alternative of public control seems to be inherently irrational.
  3. What capitalism and liberalism stress is that each individual ought to be protected in his or her liberty to act as he or she chooses.
  4. Human beings are first and foremost moral agents…This implies that any decent society must make room for free choice for individuals…to make the moral agency of individual human beings a real, practical possibility.
  5. It is not the business of a legal system to make people good, to get them to behave well, to engineer their perfection. Rather, it is to provide them room in the company of others to take up the challenge of their moral nature! And this challenge is most accessible to them in a legal system in which there exists strict adherence to the principle of private property rights.
  6. Liberty, limited government, and natural or human rights…are not subject to majority rule.
  7. Virtually all attacks on liberty…rest upon a basic moral error. This is the error of confusing basic rights with what is morally or ethically right.
  8. What one discovers about basic rights is that they represent liberties, and liberty implies the possibility of choosing a “wrong” course of action as much as a “right” one…Our basic rights, therefore, must be understood as essentially liberties; and these liberties are given political expression through Constitutional guarantees against government interference.
  9. Just as market agents can make bad judgments, so can those who would intervene with the behavior of market agents.
  10. An unfree system is to the extent of its lack of freedom a dehumanized system. What needs to be accepted is that the utopian dream of making people perfect through limiting or regulating voluntary, self- regarding conduct is a dangerous dream, not some beautiful ideal.
  11. Collective planning is not only inefficient but morally reprehensible. It implies the undermining of the moral nature of individual human beings.
  12. Collectivism is a mistake in part because no collective capacities exist apart from those which individuals create through pooling their individual faculties and other resources.
  13. Equality as moral agents…must rest on natural, individual, human rights to life, liberty, and property, and be protected in an integrated, principled manner.
  14. A constitution only spells out certain prohibitions and procedural rules, not goals. It does not specify the goals for society but makes goal-seeking possible to all members of society…to serve the innumerably varied purposes of individuals with equal respect for everyone’s task of pursuing the best possible purpose that he or she has come to identify.
  15. The liberal tradition…sees human freedom (from aggression by others) as valuable in itself, because it is a constituent part of human goodness.
  16. There is good reason that governments do not create rights for us—we have them, instead, by virtue of our human nature.
  17. To be sure, there are risks associated with living as free men and women. But they are not so great as the risks involved in allowing bureaucrats to violate our rights to free judgment and action, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
  18. Only when a person has a defined sphere of authority will he have the capacity to make meaningful, concrete moral judgments…That is the first reason why private property rights are necessary for human community life: that sphere can be threatened, attacked, and undermined, and so it must be secure.
  19. It doesn’t seem to occur to…critics of liberty that without the right to private property it is not possible to choose to pursue…allegedly higher goals.
  20. No community…has priority over the adult individual’s personal responsibility to decide what to do in his life. Those communities are in fact derivative of the decisions and choices made by innumerable individuals.
  21. Human beings…do not belong to anything or anyone. Their lives are their own, something that obviously rankles those who would gladly seize the chance to run them.
  22. To put it plainly, “leaving things up to the market” means not interfering with what people do with their own resources.
  23. If your rights can be repealed whenever a bunch of neighbors decides they should be repealed, you obviously have no rights at all. And that is not a good social setting in which to attempt to live one’s life.
  24. The marketplace…succeeds precisely because there is no central direction and each member is free to pursue his own objectives. A free society has no purpose. Rather, it exists because it enables its members to achieve their own purposes, which they do by using spontaneous institutions to coordinate their activities.
  25. All interests are private and vested. The only bona fide public interest is one that actually benefits everyone equally. And there are very few such projects in any community—mostly they amount to keeping the peace and preserving the rule of law.
  26. Perhaps the worst thing about modern industrial life has been the power of political authorities to grant special privileges to some enterprises to violate the rights of third parties whose permission would be too expensive to obtain.
  27. The system of private property rights…is the greatest moderator of human aspirations, keeping them in balance with the diverse and reasonable aspirations of all others.
  28. One of the most important forms [of vigilance] in a relatively free society such as ours is to unfailingly meet arguments promoting the violation of human freedom.
  29. What the founders were saying is…we are all equal as human beings. We are all equal in facing the task of living our lives, of choosing what to do, and in seeking to better our lot. And no one must upset this equality. No one must violate anyone’s rights.
  30. The central novelty of the American polity was its transfer of sovereignty…to the individual human being. …It is the individual person’s life as a project to embark upon with complete authority.
  31. All the moral virtues require, for their exercise in human community life, the protection of the rights to life, liberty, and property.
  32. Whereas the meaning of the right to liberty had been that one ought to be free to go it on his own initiative, without uninvited intrusion from others—which also meant that other people could not be conscripted to be one’s means for even the most benign objectives—today one has a “human right” to nearly everything one values or likes.
  33. The right to private property translates into as concrete an indicator as possible the practical requirements for respecting the rights to life and liberty. It makes clear that those rights require a sphere of personal jurisdiction secured by property law.
  34. People are learning to depend on government to do a great deal for them that it shouldn’t be doing at all.

Top Ten Articles (in chronological order):

For Moral Growth,” October 1, 1970

The Ethics of Privatization,” July 1, 1986

Capitalism and the Environment,” July 1, 1990.

Why the Welfare State is Immoral,” June 1, 1991.

In Defense of Property Rights and Capitalism,” June 1, 1993.

The Fear of Individualism,” July 1, 1993.

Rights versus ‘Rights’,” May 1, 1995.

The Proper Scope of Democracy,” January 1, 1996.

The Perils of Positive Rights,” April 1 2001.

Individual and Society: Irreconcilable Enemies?” October 1, 2001

Tibor Machan was both insightful and inspirational, as this small part of what he wrote demonstrates. And while a search of his name will produce extensive information about him and his works (definitely worthwhile), what sticks with me most is what Steven Greenhut said about him: “Tibor’s contributions to the freedom movement were as towering as the man himself…He had a true passion for liberty and would never hesitate to express his forthright opinion.” Everyone who wishes to successfully advance the cause of liberty could use just such wisdom, combined with the kind of courageous, undeterred passion he exemplified.

  • Gary M. Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University and a member of the Foundation for Economic Education faculty network.

    In addition to his new book, Pathways to Policy Failures (2020), his books include Lines of Liberty (2016), Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies (2014), and Apostle of Peace (2013).