The Machinery Of Friedman

For a long time, I’ve felt bad that never included a review of David Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom. I read it and Rothbard’s For a New Liberty back to back, and Rothbard’s book (which I also never reviewed) drew me into Austro-libertarianism and ultimately to The Ludwig von Mises Institute, which was the beginning of the end of my own anarchist website.

But now and again, I will add something to (as I did yesterday) and today I’m adding Joseph Salerno’s review of Friedman from back in 1973:


“Suffice it to say that crippled in its inception, Friedman’s analysis cannot but lead to lame conclusions.”


The Machinery Of Friedman

By Joseph Salerno

[First published in The Libertarian Forum, 5.12, December 1973, available from in PDF.]

In The Machinery of Freedom, David Friedman bases his apologia for anarcho-capitalism on solely “practical” considerations. In so doing, he eschews the bedrock foundation of the natural rights ethic and rests his theoretical structure on the dangerously shifting sands of utilitarianism. All this, we are told, to avert the popular disapprobation that attends ethical vis a vis practical concerns. Consequently, we find Mr. Friedman in chapter 34 equably discussing the production and utilization of retaliatory nuclear weapons in a free society, without recognition of the moral problem entailed in the very existence of weapons of indiscriminate mass annihilation. But this particular shortcoming bears an integral relation to an overriding general flaw in Friedman’s exposition.


Here is how I defined rights at

OBLIGATIONS (Rights & Responsibilities)

Obligation: Something that a moral agent ought or ought not to do.

  1. Positive obligations are those things you are obliged to pursue.
  2. Negative obligations are those things you are obliged to avoid.

Responsibilities: The obligations you have to others in the world.

  1. Positive responsibilities are those things you are normatively required to do for others.
  2. Negative responsibilities are those things that you are proscribed from doing to others.

Rights: The responsibilities that the rest of the world has to you.

  1. Positive rights are those things the world owes you.
    (Examples of claimed positive rights include: the right to employment; the right to healthcare; the right to an education.)
  2. Negative rights are those things that all others must avoid doing to you.
    (Examples of claimed negative rights include: freedom of speech; right to privacy; right to self-defense.)

And here’s what I’ve decided to add today:


We shall be speaking throughout this work of “rights,” in particular the rights of individuals to property in their persons and in material objects. But how do we define “rights”? “Right” has cogently and trenchantly been defined by Professor Sadowsky:

When we say that one has the right to do certain things we mean this and only this, that it would be immoral for another, alone or in combination, to stop him from doing this by the use of physical force or the threat thereof. We do not mean that any use a man makes of his property within the limits set forth is necessarily a moral use.[53]

Sadowsky’s definition highlights the crucial distinction we shall make throughout this work between a man’s right and the morality or immorality of his exercise of that right. We will contend that it is a man’s right to do whatever he wishes with his person; it is his right not to be molested or interfered with by violence from exercising that right. But what may be the moral or immoral ways of exercising that right is a question of personal ethics rather than of political philosophy — which is concerned solely with matters of right, and of the proper or improper exercise of physical violence in human relations. The importance of this crucial distinction cannot be overemphasized. Or, as Elisha Hurlbut concisely put it: “The exercise of a faculty [by an individual] is its only use. The manner of its exercise is one thing; that involves a question of morals. The right to its exercise is another thing.”[54]

[53] James A. Sadowsky, S.J., “Private Property and Collective Ownership,” in Tibor Machan, ed., The Libertarian Alternative (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1974), pp. 120-21.

[54] Hurlbut, cited in Wright, American Interpretations, pp. 257 ff.

Murray N. Rothbard,
The Ethics of Liberty,
“Natural Law and Natural Rights”

And another thing …

From my beloved Chicago Manual of Style:

“Next to the groundless notion that it is incorrect to end an English sentence with a preposition, perhaps the most wide-spread of the many false beliefs about the use of our language is the equally groundless notion that it is incorrect to begin one with but’ or and.’ As in the case of the superstition about the prepositional ending, no textbook supports it, but apparently about half of our teachers of English go out of their way to handicap their pupils by inculcating it. One cannot help wondering whether those who teach such a monstrous doctrine ever read any English themselves.7

7. Charles Allen Lloyd, We Who Speak English: And Our Ignorance of Our Mother Tongue (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1938), 19.

And here’s another one:

a; an. Use the indefinite article a before any word beginning with a consonant sound {a utopian dream}. Use an before any word beginning with a vowel sound {an officer} {an honorary degree}. The word historical and its variations cause missteps, but since the h in these words is pronounced, it takes an a {an hourlong talk at a historical society}. Likewise, an initialism (whose letters are sounded out individually) may be paired with one article, while an acronym (which is pronounced as a word) beginning with the same letter is paired with the other {an HTML document describing a HUD program}. See 5.73.

That’s right, folks, it’s “a history” not “an history”!

It occurs to me that there is a connection between deliberately awkward English usage prescriptions and, e.g., recycling paper: neither makes any sense from the perspective of the supposed goals — clear and consistent communication on the one hand and efficient, environmentally friendly use of scarce resources on the other — but they both appeal to that religious instinct to create an elite minority who feel good about the extra efforts they make while looking down on those who don’t make the same sacrifices.


Someone felt compelled to leave an anonymous comment on this post, giving dictionary definitions for “tinsel,” “tree,” and “bling-bling.” I was surprised that “bling-bling” was already in the dictionary. But here it is, less than a week later, and A.Word.A.Day at is featuring “The Reduplicatives. That could be the name of a rock band — the one known for razzle-dazzle and a hoity-toity demeanor. They come in pairs, have a little chit-chat, and then hurry-scurry off to their next go-go gig.”

Today’s example:


Something’s in the air …

I have seen the future …

… and it gives me the creeps!

I wonder why the legs bend at unexpected angles.

Check out the part where the guy tries to kick to robot over!

(Thanks to Machina Maleficarum for pointing this one out.)

black Americans understood FDR's New Deal

(some of them, anyway)

From the very bottom of today’s daily article at


[1] That blacks in the 1930s knew that they stood to suffer increases in racism is explained in Bernstein, David E., Only One Place of Redress: African Americans, Labor Regulations, and the Courts From Reconstruction to the New Deal (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2001).

Consider also a cartoon that appeared in a black Chicago newspaper, the Chicago Defender, during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term:

In the first panel, a man says to his wife, “Dear, the Old Factory is Now a Member of the ‘NRA’ [National Recovery Administration] which means better wages and better hours!” In the second panel, men crowd a factory before work, reading a sign that says, “UNDER THE ‘NRA’ THIS FACTORY SHALL ADVANCE WAGES AND MINIMIZE HOURS OF ALL EMPLOYEES. HENCEFORTH WE SHALL EMPLOY WHITE HELP ONLY.”

How the same dynamics apply to minimum wage legislation (and all other labor regulation) is left as an exercise for the enterprising reader.


I’m fine with the right-wing claim that the Left is thoroughly hypocritical on the question of Pinochet.

I’m even fine with the consequentialist claim that Pinochet’s criminal actions averted a greater catastrophe.

But to fail to condemn his crimes is thoroughly illiberal and to actually defend them is anti-libertarian.

Skye Stewart, commenting at blog.Mises, did us a service in posting these 2 block quotes:

The Institute featured many articles on Bush’s SS ‘privatization’ proposal that I enjoyed reading. Let’s not forget Pinochet’s similar fascist economic proposals. As well his ‘war on terror’:

Have conservatives taken America in the direction of the Pinochet regime that they hailed and celebrated for so long? How can anyone doubt it? Torture; indefinite detentions; murders; sex abuse; “renditions”; indefinite detentions; military tribunals; and denial of habeas corpus, due process of law, trial by jury, and judicial supremacy. And just as they did during the Pinochet regime, U.S. conservatives are looking the other way while all this is going on — even claiming it’s necessary, all the while hailing and celebrating Bush’s “free-enterprise” policies.

President Bush is claiming the same power that Pinochet claimed — the power to arrest, torture, and kill “terrorists,” not just inside the country, but all over the world. It was, in fact, Pinochet, not Bush, who first developed the concept that the entire world was a battlefield in the “war on terrorism.” This is what motivated Pinochet to send DINA agents (one of whom perceived himself to be a James Bond) to Europe and the United States to assassinate “terrorists.”

– Jacob Hornberger,
“Augusto Pinochet and the Conservative Threat to America”

Rockwell wrote,

“The American right today has managed to be solidly anti-leftist while adopting an ideology — even without knowing it or being entirely conscious of the change — that is also frighteningly anti-liberty. This reality turns out to be very difficult for libertarians to understand or accept. For a long time, we’ve tended to see the primary threat to liberty as coming from the left, from the socialists who sought to control the economy from the center. But we must also remember that the sweep of history shows that there are two main dangers to liberty, one that comes from the left and the other that comes from the right. Europe and Latin America have long faced the latter threat, but its reality is only now hitting us fully.

What is the most pressing and urgent threat to freedom that we face in our time? It is not from the left. If anything, the left has been solid on civil liberties and has been crucial in drawing attention to the lies and abuses of the Bush administration. No, today, the clear and present danger to freedom comes from the right side of the ideological spectrum, those people who are pleased to preserve most of free enterprise but favor top-down management of society, culture, family, and school, and seek to use a messianic and belligerent nationalism to impose their vision of politics on the world.

“The Reality of Red-State Fascism”

All I can add is my bafflement at the consistent hypocrisy of many on the Right who are 100% anti-collectivist in their explicit rhetoric, and then 100% collectivist in their defense of the state‘s theoretical monopoly on force and its actual use of violence.