Remembering Tibor Machan

By: Gary Galles

My 2016 book, Lines of Liberty, brought together the words of many who have been most important in the defense of liberty over the years. But it only included those who had already passed on.

Since, then, a few stalwarts of liberty have died. Tibor Machan may have been the first, only a couple months after I completed my book. Since his insights are well worth remembering, I thought his March 18 birthday would be an appropriate time to do so.

But as someone who devoted much of his professional life to defending liberty, Machan’s work is too extensive to address compactly. He published forty books, far more scholarly papers, and still more in other forums. So, because of his lengthy connection to the Ludwig von Mises Institute, I have chosen to select some of his words from his Mises Daily articles, written between 1998 and 2005 and still accessible at his author archive.

  • With the American Revolution, some ordinary folks who thought about things decided that maybe it’s individuals who matter in society.
  • “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” That means rights that cannot be abrogated, may not be violated, not by majorities, not by kings, not by your local sheriff, not by the vice squad, by nobody.
  • Individual rights don’t mean anarchy. It means people get to do what they choose to do, so long as they do not violate other people’s rights.
  • We’re each supposed to have our rights, unalienable rights … unalienable even by a majority.
  • The freedom of the American founders is … that people in communities require first and foremost not to be thwarted in their efforts to make headway in life.
  • Others may not be conscripted into involuntary servitude.
  • Sovereignty had to lie with individuals, not with governments—that is the central point about being a citizen as distinct from a subject … consent must be obtained if one is to govern a citizen.
  • “Liberalism” … used to signify adherence to the principles of a free society … being free from the intrusions of others, including, especially, governments.
  • The price of liberty is … eternal vigilance in more ways than one. We need to be vigilant both to keep our freedom and to deal with it responsibly.
  • Private property … is one of the most beneficent institutions and certainly the bulwark against any kind of tyranny, be it that of a ruling party, a dictatorship, or even of a democratic majority.
  • Ask someone to tell you whether he or she thinks a person has exclusive authority over that which he or she owns. Those who say yes will find the scope of governmental authority in our lives to be severely limited, mainly to the protection of individual rights. Those who do not will consider it quite all right for government to take, take, and take some more, via taxation and government regulation, for whatever purposes it may have.
  • What must be kept in mind is that governments make people do what they would not otherwise want to do themselves.
  • It is private individuals working in a voluntary setting of voluntary cooperation who do the most good in the world. When government interferes, most of what results is lamentable.
  • The less power some elite has, the more likely it is that people will be pursuing goods with what they legitimately have … in trade instead of what they garner through political dealings.
  • The world can use improvement…. But the best approach excludes coercing … which only makes some people more powerful than others [by] how much force they are entitled by law to use to get their way in life.
  • The best improvement is to leave people as much to their own resources as possible.
  • Private property is anathema to socialism. The institution of the right to private property is a concrete, practical implementation of individual rights … [People] can thus act independently of the wishes of others, should they so choose, including of the wishes of the government.
  • The larger the public realm, the more … subversions of liberty.
  • Big government is not a product of the enlightenment but of socialist ideology, which has not produced civilization but barbarism.
  • Liberalism—the struggle to achieve freedom—has changed from insisting that others not exercise power over us to insisting that power be used to engineer our lives.
  • What we now are witnessing is the gradual elimination, in the name of the people … of individual sovereignty and its corollary, market decision making…. Government should not interfere even when it obtains democratic support. After all, the lynch mob adheres to majority rule, too.
  • Any collective help to eliminate unfairness introduces the most dangerous form of unfairness, namely, giving some people power over others. How do you equalize things but with equalizers? And they must be armed, otherwise some will not yield to the effort to equalize. That makes these equalizers most unequal.
  • From the start the leaders of this country had the revolutionary gall to call for more liberty for its citizenry…. This call has by now been seriously eclipsed by the call of our current leaders who do not even see the point of mentioning, let alone expanding, the protection of individual liberty as one of government’s central tasks.
  • The beginning of the corruption of the proper role of government is the transformation of a system of private property rights into a system of public ownership of valued resources. When this commences, the rights of individuals … begin to be eroded and government begins to set the agenda of society.
  • Governments use force to accomplish their goals. Force, unless used in defense … wreaks havoc in its path, even where the ostensible results seem to be grand. 
  • The only laws that can be applied uniformly and universally in society are the very few that aim to keep us free. Other so-called laws are really just edicts … since they apply selectively, not equally to us all.
  • The founders were terribly afraid of democracy as a form of tyranny…. We ought to restrict democracy to very limited functions, namely the selection of the officials who administer the law.
  • The marketplace unites people on some levels but by no means all…. The bulk accept the common medium of exchange and the ethics of commerce that should guide everyone, without any threat whatsoever to personal, cultural, or religious identity.
  • The free market has nothing at all to do with injustice as that is ordinarily understood. Injustice involves the violation of individual rights … [which] is prohibited and severely punished in a free-market society. It is precisely to prevent pervasive injustice … that the state is restricted from intervening in the workings of the society.
  • The complaint is not that the free market does anything really unjust, only that it fails to provide everyone with … what erudite academics believe would be fair.
  • The last thing we need to combat bad habits is for a bunch of people to arm themselves and enforce their idea of prudent living on the rest of us. They will be exactly what a free society must most seriously resist.
  • No such animal as capitalism exists in the USA … we have a welfare state, a highly regulated, even regimented economy … by no means as free with respect to trading goods and services as capitalist theory would require. But … those who never tire of trying to besmirch the system keep calling what we have capitalism and then finding all that’s lamentable … the fault of this non-existent but merely approximated system.
  • There may be times when more money for government is justified, but in the main, watch your pockets, because it doesn’t matter—the state will want and grab more of your money any time, peace or war, boom or bust, night or day.
  • Individualists are often charged with neglecting the community…. The charge, however, is spurious and certainly unproven, except in a perverse sense … when some folks appoint themselves as the community … and find that people of an individualist bent of mind refuse to accept their self-designation as correct.
  • Do not confuse people who are pressing their own goals … as standing for the goals of the community and those who in fact have managed, rare as that might be, to find out just what does benefit the community. There are very few in this latter group, if for no other reason than that there are very few things that truly benefit every member of a community. The American Founders thought that there really is just one such thing, namely, the protection of the unalienable rights of everyone to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
  • If there is a successful vote to rid the community of the expanding tyranny of government, the liberal democrats suddenly aren’t democrats anymore.
  • In their hearts of hearts democrats are…merely opportunists who make use of the power of the majority over the minority’s rights. But should the majority not wish to go along with this plan, well down with democracy.

Tibor Machan was not just insightful and inspirational, but a wordsmith worth remembering. That is demonstrated in this very small slice of what he wrote. But 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.” That is because 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.

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