September 07, 2004 1:22 PM

The Machinery of Freedom

Many years ago, I loaned my copy of "The Machinery of Freedom" by David Friedman to a friend who never returned it. Recently, I re-purchased it, and over this past weekend, while I was vacationing in the countryside, I re-read it for the first time in about 15 years.

I had forgotten how wonderful it is. It is one of the most important texts on libertarianism out there.

"The Machinery of Freedom" is structured as a series of short essays, all discussing a small part of the overall picture. Each is a small jewel. The essays are not academically rigorous — Friedman claims that such a style tends to interfere with coherent presentation of an argument, and I think he's correct. What the essays lack in academic depth, however, they make up for in clear argumentation and grand vision.

As I re-read each essay, I was stunned by how closely the ideas corresponded to my own world view. I kept wondering if I had held these opinions before reading the book, or if I had so thoroughly assimilated them years ago that I could no longer distinguish their origin. I suspect the latter. Although I was a libertarian before reading "The Machinery of Freedom", it is obvious that it profoundly effected my thinking. My belief that the state is likely superfluous certainly originated with Friedman's arguments.

Although David Friedman professes to feel that libertarianism is superior morally as well as pragmatically, he takes a pragmatic/utilitarian approach throughout on the basis that such arguments are more convincing than moral arguments. The result may have been a stronger one than he had intended — many of his disciples, such as myself, have long since ceased to make the argument for libertarianism on any sort of moral terms at all. Perhaps someday Friedman will write a book on moral philosophy and reverse the unintentional effect he has had on so many of us.

I've started reading Friedman's newer book "Law's Order", a text on the economic analysis of law. I may review it here in the next few weeks.

Posted by Perry E. Metzger | Categories: Economics, Politics