Individuals and Their Rights - a book by Tibor R. Machan
Machan's view is that libertarianism has a "moral superiority" over other political theories and practices - and hence, that reflects one of the pressing needs for this book to be written.
The essence of the author's arguments in this book is that a comprehensive "moral defense" of the sometimes controversial tenets of libertarianism had not yet been presented - albeit this book was published in 1989, and subsequent to its appearance there have indeed been numerous academic justifications and explanations for the libertarian philosophy herein espoused. The author admits, in the Preface (p. xvi), that he had to choose between a) just "charging ahead" and presenting his arguments (ignoring critics), or b) the path of "looking often at criticisms" and giving readers key rebuttals to those attacks. He chose "b" - because he recognized, in an honest editorial position, that his views, and libertarian politics in specific, "are out of the mainstream on a variety of philosophical fronts."
Like other Libertarian thinkers, Tibor R. Machan places heavy emphasis on the rights of individuals - not just the right to "life, liberty, and happiness," but, for one, the right to "life, liberty, and property" (p. xiv). And beyond simply listing the rights that libertarians hold dear, Machan takes the discussion of rights to great lengths: in the title of each of the first five chapters, "rights" appears: 1) "Rights Theory at a Glance"; 2) "From Classical Egoism to Natural Rights"; 3) "Grounding 'Lockean' Rights"; 4) "Rights as Norms of Political Life"; and 5) "Property Rights and the Good Society."
Machan's salient argument in Chapter 3 centers on the idea of "natural rights," and he insists that there be no conflict between the concept of the "basic rights of human beings" and "natural rights." Natural rights, then, are those rights which one is imbued with through "human nature" - not through politics or social strata. This position, he explains on page 64, "faces enormous resistance today," because those who attempt to defend the concept that there is an "unvarnished right" for any two individuals to "do whatever they want under any circumstances" will be met "with vacant stares."
In detailing his understanding of natural rights (p. 68), which is actually a lengthy and esoteric series of explanations, Machan admits that the idea of the existence of "natures...the nature of trees, the nature of planets, or the nature of medicine" evinces "skepticism."
This is "partly justified" says the author because of an "artificial standard which has been thought to be required of a theory" which involves the nature of things. This artificial standard does not prevent Machan from examining - and reworking - the theory of natural rights in his own way; on page 79, he sums up his explanation of "the present account of the nature of a thing...namely its definition" in four parts, not all of which are easy for the lay person to digest: 1) the definition of the nature of a "thing" (which is couched in a form like "X is a, b, c,...n") "states those objective aspects of (some) beings by virtue of which one is rationally warranted in differentiating these beings from all others, as well as integrating them within a scheme of classification of reality."
For number 2, a paraphrase is offered for purposes of clarity for this paper: 2) the characteristic which is the defining characteristic of some being, is objective, he believes; and hence it can be demonstrated to be true beyond a "reasonable doubt"; 3) no commitment to "inner natures" or "innate essences" is part of the view that true definitions can be "produced"; 4) when defining humans, or other "concepts," one must understand that the definition is purely "contextual" - and that the definition will not be permanent, but rather will remain fluid; further, changes in the nature of some "being" have to be interpreted through "objectively identified causes or reasons."
The author is taking these semantic treks through the issue of natural rights, of course, to defend the libertarian view that there are in existence pure human rights, e.g., natural rights, quite above and beyond man-man or politically created "rights." And on page 97 he insists that the "natural rights theory" is not "some alternative to a theory of justice"; to the contrary, he writes, natural rights theory reflects a "systematic respect for the moral and political sovereignty of others." (And by way of explanation as to why he has used so many pages to build his case, it should be pointed out that libertarians are very much in favor of less government, and in favor of more individual choice. It is not a secret that libertarians believe "big government" is too much like "big brother" and is a hindrance to a citizen's natural rights to think and act as he or she wish to, and not act a certain way because laws created by governments expect them to act a certain way.)
And with Machan's lengthy and often challenging Chapter 4 justification in place, Machan, on page 99, launches into why "natural rights" are connected to "property rights" (property rights being, as mentioned earlier, among the most vociferously and notoriously defended precepts of the libertarianism movement). It makes good sense, he insists, to look at property rights "as one of the several human or basic rights" each of us has possession of.
However, he clarifies on page 139, "property - any rightful and exchangeable belonging - cannot include human beings." Nor, he continues, "can one own oneself." True to his way of taking his explanation of specific points to great lengths, he explains that property (p. 140) can be "land...furniture, paper...poetry, computer programs, musical arrangements..." And many more things; and, "property is anything tradable or exchangeable that may be of value to persons," he concludes. "To regard a person...as property, as a belonging, is a metaphysical and categorical mistake."
The right of private property - the point he's been developing for many pages - is "a moral prerequisite for the realization" of self-development, and moreover, private property is justifiable on these two grounds: a) a "sphere of jurisdiction," consisting of items of private property, "is indispensable for the moral life of humans"; and b) a person should be the "authority over items or processes" that person has "recognized and made valuable or received from someone...or from a series of persons who have done the same." When property rights are eroded, he explains on 142, "...the prospect for a moral life will also erode." One can, without expressing a personal reaction - or a value judgment - to his writing, quite easily conclude that for the author, the concept of morality and the right to own and protect one's private property are closely aligned. Again, this thread is found throughout his book - connecting property rights and natural rights with morality - and it clearly is a literary effort to lift the discussion beyond mere political thinking and into a more theoretical discussion of values.
In his "Postscript 1" the author moves from the topics of natural rights and property rights and into the task of rebutting "rightist backlash" (pp.183-185) to libertarian thinking. It must be understood about libertarians at the outset, that they do not like "to grant the state [e.g., federal government] extensive powers" that are beyond those "justified within a natural-rights, libertarian framework," the author explains. And thus, libertarians butt heads with people on the left, and the right, over that issue. One reason for this schism between what libertarians and members of the conservative and liberal movements is that, as he points out on page 191, his framework, "the naturalist framework," is not "fully satisfying for those who wish for mechanical solutions to complex moral and…