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The Limits of Liberty: Between Anarchy and Leviathan; Buchanan, James M.
9 paragraphs found.
Ch. 1, Commencement

I have come to be increasingly disturbed by this basically optimistic ontology. As several of our right-wing critics have recognized, the "theory of public choice" can be used to rationalize almost any conceivable decision rule or almost any specific outcome under preselected rules. In this, the theory seems analogous to the theory of markets as that theory is used by some of the most extreme advocates of laissez-faire. In this tautological sense, the "theory" in The Calculus of Consent provides no agenda for state or collective action, in either procedural or operational terms. A more important source of misgivings arises from my own perceptions. Increasingly, I have found myself describing what I observe as "constitutional anarchy" rather than any institutional translation of individual values into collective outcomes. In the 1970s, much to be explained does not seem amenable to analysis that incorporates positive-sum institutional processes. Zero-sum and negative-sum analogues yield better explanatory results in many areas of modern politics, and I find myself, like Pareto, more and more tempted to introduce nonlogical models of individual behavior along with nondemocratic and nonconstitutional models of collective choice.

Ch. 6, The Paradox of Being Governed

Dissatisfaction with the institutional structure, and most notably with the observed performance of government at all levels, remains widespread, but there is no effective means through which this shared attitude can be translated into positive results. Reactions against the excesses of bureaucracy provide the source for bureaucratic expansion. Frustrations with the status quo are noted by politicians and by actual and would-be self-serving "public servants." Proposals come forward for resolving "social problems," almost on an assembly-line schedule, proposals that necessarily require expansion rather than contraction in elements of structure that generate the evils. The infinite regress involved in what has been called the "public utility attitude" goes on. If something is wrong, have government regulate it. If the regulators fail, regulate them, and so on down the line. In part this is the inevitable result of public failure to understand the simple principle of laissez-faire, the principle that results which emerge from the interactions of persons left alone may be, and often are, superior to those results that emerge from overt political interference. *79 There has been a loss of wisdom in this respect, a loss from eighteenth-century levels, and the message of Adam Smith requires reiteration with each generation. (Modern economics must stand condemned in its failure to accomplish this simple task, the performance of which is, at base, the discipline's primary reason for claiming public support.)

Ch. 10, Beyond Pragmatism

The triumph of laissez-faire was achieved because intellectual and political leaders came to accept a new principle for social order, a principle that enabled them to rise above the narrow and short-sighted pragmatic vision that must accompany analytical ignorance. The principle was that of ordered anarchy: a regime described by well-defined individual rights and by freedom of and enforcement of voluntary contracts. An understanding of this principle enabled man to conceptualize a social process that was orderly and efficient without the detailed direction of a centralized decision-maker, without a necessary major role for governmental action beyond that of the strictly protective state. The importance of conversion to a new organizing principle cannot be overemphasized. It was this conversion that facilitated what can only be judged as a genuine constitutional revolution in Britain. Adam Smith and his colleagues could not have been successful had they chosen to attack the previously existing order on a pragmatic, policy-by-policy basis. The shift in vision was essential, the shift that established new benchmarks against which departures might be measured.


Socialist critics were successful in identifying particular flaws in the conceptually ideal order of laissez-faire, as well as in its practicable counterparts. These critics did not, however, offer an alternative organizing principle that was even remotely comparable in intellectual appeal. Marxian doctrine is characterized by an absence of analytical description of society "after the revolution." Later attempts to model the working of socialist order amounted to a translation of laissez-faire precepts, almost in a literal sense. In practice, regimes organized under socialist rubrics are acknowledged to be bureaucratic monstrosities.


Because of the negative impact on the laissez-faire principle exercised by socialist ideas, however, the pragmatically generated erosion of the minimal government principle achieved intellectual-ideological respectability. The central organizing principle that dominated early nineteenth-century thinking, one that embodied a vision of viable society with minimal government direction, was gradually undermined in particularistic stages. Failures were first identified and acknowledged by intellectually honest men. Following this, corrections were proposed, corrections that almost always took the institutional form of governmental action. Intellectual controversy and political debate shifted away from concentration on alternative principles for social organization and toward specific policy choices in a situational context. Social scientists and/or social philosophers abandoned attempts to examine large-scale institutional differences, and they came to look upon their own functional roles as particularistic critics of the existing structure. Welfare economics, in its twentieth-century gloss, became a theory of market failure.


The facts are different. Both markets and governments fail, and there is no such benevolent wisdom. The man of the 1970s is trapped in his own dilemma. He recognizes that the "grand alternatives," laissez-faire and socialism, are moribund, and that revival is not to be predicted. *135 What modern man does not recognize, in either an intellectual or an intuitive sense, is that the pragmatic alternative is equally suspect, and that viable social order may be seriously threatened by long-continued failure to consider his situation systematically and nonincrementally. In this as in other aspects of his life, modern man seems to be in need of sociopolitical "conversion" to a new conception of society. Without such a conversion, the constitutional revolution that may be necessary for survival cannot take place.


On cursory examination, the attitudinal shift that I have outlined seems to be in accord with straightforward laissez-faire precepts. The orthodox libertarian would find no apparent difficulty in associating himself with the position suggested. When the level of discussion is brought back one stage, however, a new set of issues emerge which have been glossed over in the traditional conceptions. Too often, the libertarian, like his socialist counterpart, discusses reforms under the "as if" assumption that he is simply advising some benevolent despot who will lay down the proposed changes, with little or no reference to the consent of participating parties. With this political presupposition, it becomes relatively easy for the market-oriented libertarian to neglect any analysis of the existing distribution of rights and claims among persons. But unless these rights and claims are first identified and agreed on, what do the terms used above mean? What is an uncompensated transfer? What qualifies as profit-seeking through the use of the political mechanism?


Assume that the problems of income and wealth distribution among persons could be satisfactorily settled in a renegotiated constitutional contract, one that would redefine individual rights and reduce the scope for collectively determined coercive activity. Would this basic step be sufficient to allow for the implementation of laissez-faire principles? If property rights should be redefined so that distributional results are acceptable to all participants, would the operations of private markets, with minimal collective enforcement of contracts, be sufficient to insure efficient outcomes, to remove the social dilemma? A negative answer is immediately suggested with reference to the many problems summarized under the rubrics: congestion, pollution, environmental quality. Here the issues are specifically not distributional, or at least not exclusively or predominantly so. The alleged failures of existing social arrangements in many of these situations cannot legitimately be attributed to markets or to government, if we think of these as alternative processes of postconstitutional contracting. The social dilemma reflected in apparent results here stems from incomplete constitutional agreement, from first-stage failure to define and to limit individual rights. Resolution of this dilemma lies not in any explicit redistribution of rights among persons, not in some reshuffling of claims, but in the creation of newly defined rights in areas where none now exist, at least none that can offer a basis for predictability and exchange. In essence, congestion and pollution describe settings analogous to that generalized in Hobbes's model of anarchy. Individuals find themselves in conflict over the use of scarce resources, with results that are desired by no one because there is no agreed-on and enforced set of rights. The constitutional revolution suggested involves mutual agreement on those restrictions on behavior that are required to achieve tolerably efficient outcomes.


The alternative that falls between anarchy on the one hand and Leviathan on the other must be articulated, analyzed, and, finally, made into models amenable to public comprehension. As an organizing principle, laissez-faire is too closely associated with the rights of property in the historically determined status quo, defined in nominal independence of the contingency claims represented in modern democracy. Socialism is the throughway to Leviathan. The failure of these two grand alternatives need not, however, dispel all of the Enlightenment dreams. The vision of the eighteenth-century philosophers which enabled them to describe a social order that did not require the centralized direction of man over man may yet stir excitement. Free relations among free men—this precept of ordered anarchy can emerge as principle when successfully renegotiated social contract puts "mine and thine" in a newly defined structural arrangement and when the Leviathan that threatens is placed within new limits.