My Pleasures, My Vices

Tibor R. Machan

I am not in the habit of airing my dirty laundry, so this will be a rare case of that. I feel the urge to confess that I have some guilty pleasures, ones that actually have political implications.

I am someone who wants strict adherence to the ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence—namely, that “to secure these rights [to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness], Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” It is offensive to me that governments engage in innumerable activities and pursue endless policies that have absolutely nothing to do with securing our basic rights. One must do whatever one can to avoid becoming complicit in the abridgement of the limits on government authority spelled out in a statement that clearly restricts government to exercise very limited powers over the citizenry it is elected to serve.

Complicitness arises when one takes subsidies from government, accepts special treatment, or enjoys benefits that are only possible for governments to provide if they abridge proper limits on their power. I have in mind, for example, citizens gaining perks from resources (grants, subsidies, and the like) that governments obtain through the extortionist practice of taxation. I myself have obtained such perks, not unlike most others who receive government handouts in forms such as entertainment, research support, and more. For the most part, my involvement is minimal: on occasion, I visit a government-funded museum or art gallery or forest or beach.

But I do readily accept the offerings of PBS—for instance, programs produced in Europe, such as one of my favorites, the television rendition of Georges Simenon’s Maigret crime novels. I like much of the other entertainment that’s broadcast by PBS, such as American Masters (which recently produced a wonderful program on Mel Brooks, a truly brilliant comic, and Woody Allen, the funny but also rather pathetic movie director and actor). But that is not all. I am also a fan of imports from the BBC, such as MI5 or the reruns of some very pleasant sitcoms such as As Time Goes By with Judi Dench. Then there are the detective programs from Sweden, Italy, and France, mostly featured with subtitles.

You get the point, I am sure. These are guilty pleasures all, programs produced with stolen funds that the victims of the theft might have instead used for their own purposes (which could, of course, have included funding some of the productions I find so entertaining). How can I justify this, given my strict opposition to government support of entertainment, science, and culture in general? Well, that is a long story; but let me just say that I have long been opposed to the rip-offs that make all this possible and have consistently advocated shutting down PBS and NPR, which I consider on par with the Soviet Union’s Pravda and Izvestia. Indeed, one of my earliest contributions to The Freeman, then perhaps the only publication with a libertarian editorial stance, was a critique of government funding of the Olympic games!

Given that the progress of liberty can often be slow, two steps forward and one back, I know not too many other ways than these to fight mighty Leviathan. In time it may bear fruit.


Tibor R. Machan holds the R.C. Hoiles Chair of Business Ethics and Free Enterprise at Argyos School of Business and Economics at Chapman University. He is the author of The Promise of Liberty (Lexington, 2009).

Tibor R. Machan

Tibor R. Machan is a Hoover research fellow, a fellow at the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco, a professor emeritus in the Department of Philosophy at Auburn University, and holds the R.C. Hoiles Endowed Chair in Business Ethics and Free Enterprise at the Argyros School of Business and Economics at Chapman University


A libertarian opposed to most government programs wrestles with his enjoyment of the programs he likes.

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