In Libertarianism: For and Against, Tibor Machan who defends libertarianism squares off against Craig Duncan who objects to it. Machan and Duncan’s essays alternate for six chapters.

Of note is Machan’s definition of government regulations as “prior restraint” or “imposing burdens or restrictions on the conduct of someone who has not been convicted of having violated or threatening the violation of someone’s rights. It is only right-violating conduct… that justifies restraining a person.” (19) By this clear deontological standard, almost all regulation stands easily condemned.

Machan’s second useful point is that “positive rights” are simply privileges. They can never be universal; they one way or another constitute legal plunder. “Fealty to positive rights requires that we be provided with goods and services at the expense of other persons, which can only be accomplished by systematic coercion.” (22) “The alleged positive rights of the citizenry must clash constantly,” both with negative natural rights to life, liberty, and property and even with each other. (25)

The political arena then is a battleground among the connected pressure groups for the booty the government steals each years through taxes and borrowing:

Government [becomes] arbitrary and incoherent. As long as some people are getting resources that were earned by somebody else, that’s all that counts.

One day it’s aiding AIDS research that tops the to-do list; the next it’s fostering the arts by splurging on PBS; the next it’s curing everyone of smoking and plundering the tobacco companies.

No principles, no logic, no standards of restraint tell us from day to day what one will be free to do and what one will be prohibited from doing; there is no surefire way to know.

As under fascism, whatever the leaders say, goes, so long as they continue to genuflect mechanically before the altar of democracy. (29)

Now a privilege can be granted either to a minority or to a majority. In the first case, we have, to quote Will Durant, the elites exploiting the masses through “ability or subtlety”; in the second case, it’s the masses who exploit the elites through “violence or votes.” (Who loots who how gets complicated quickly, but the gist is correct.) As a result, positive rights should be anathema to Duncan who exalts rights to “fair treatment.”

Machan also points out that affirmation action (such as for blacks) strengthens racism by making anti-racism seem unjust when government coerces entrepreneurs into not “discriminating.” The book was published in 2005, and it is obvious by now that racial strife has increased, and anti-racism has been discredited beyond hope.


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